Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pink Chaddi Campaign

THE LADIES DO PROTEST TOO MUCH from the Telegraph, Calcutta, India
From pink underwear to passiveness, how can a modern democracy forge new forms of dissent that challenge bigoted notions of Indian Culture without being violent?

To protest against the assault and molestation of girls in a Mangalore pub by Pramod Mutalik’s Sri Ram Sena, the Pink Chaddi Campaign was launched by the Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women on February 5. The online campaign — a “nonviolent and loving response” to the brutal attack on the girls — asked women (and men) to send pink underwear (other colours were permitted, if pink underwear was unavailable) to Mutalik and his men. It also got women to organize a Pub Bharo Action on Valentine’s Day. This gesture was of considerable importance. By exposing themselves to risks in real time (of another assault perhaps), the protesters dismissed cynical arguments that the women were only interested in a flippant campaign protected by the privacy of the virtual world.

The Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women have done what Indians and their elected representatives are averse to doing more regularly: object to a violent and depraved act, mobilize opinion and fight back against injustice. I remember one occasion during which I too had acted in keeping with the precedents set by the passivity of my fellow citizens. This is a story not just about a shocking incident. In a way, it is also a story about me and my uncomfortable, weighty silence.

Sometime in November last year, I boarded the Metro at Tollygunge. After we reached Kalighat, the sound of carriage doors opening and onrushing feet made me look up from my book. I watched as the near-empty compartment filled up with people, including a large group of men and women who had come to visit the temple. The men were wearing vests and lungis, and had tikas on their foreheads. They spoke loudly, as if they were excited and afraid at the same time. The women had their faces covered. They squatted on the floor, clutched one another, their bodies tied in one tense knot. With them was a child — he must have been about ten — who was thrust on the seat facing mine. From where I sat, I could see him shifting uncomfortably beside a smartly-dressed young woman on her way to work.

The woman looked uncomfortable too. She stared hard at the boy, her perfect eyebrows knitted into crooked lines. Suddenly, the boy touched her dangling identity card, turned it towards his face, and began to read from it. This unthinking act, which perhaps comes naturally to those unused to the city’s codes, soon lifted the veneer of civility from that very public space, exposing the faultlines underneath. The woman shouted at the boy, snatched her card back, and pushed him off the seat. Others joined her in abusing the boy and those with him, and forced the terrified group off the train at the next station. A few others, including myself, had chosen to remain mere observers. We said nothing, and went our own ways. Even now, I don’t know why I hadn’t defended the child’s inadvertent act. To ease my conscience, I convinced myself that I didn’t share the bigotry, prejudice and nastiness that were directed at the child. The woman’s behaviour, though vile, had not caused grievous harm. Protests, I was convinced, were meant for graver, grimmer violations.

The woman in the train was in the wrong. But so was I, in trying to believe that simple forms of exploitation ought to be put up with. That cannot be, simply because they grow unnoticed, mutate and acquire monstrous, ungovernable forms such as communalism, casteism, environmental pollution and violence against women, children or freedom of expression. It is not enough to hope that the State will come to the citizens’ aid with the immense resources at its disposal. The State has to be prodded by the people, who have to be equal partners in this act of transformation. A democracy has the space to accommodate legitimate forms of anger and dissent. These need not be of the kind that are practised in parts of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat or Kashmir, or even what we frequently experience in Calcutta: bandhs or unjustified, violent demonstrations by fringe groups such as the one against a writer from Bangladesh. Protests can be smaller in scale — acts performed by individuals — but they have to be risked, no matter how trivial the provocation.

Strangely, cushioned as they are in a democracy, the genteel classes are often wary of protesting. There is fear and shame in standing up and confronting a numerical majority that is in the wrong, in demanding what is rightfully ours, or in challenging those who deny what is rightfully ours. It is this shame and fear that relegate protests to the margins of the political, stripping them of their legitimacy, so that they are looked upon as the domain of the unruly and the dispossessed. This points to a larger failure — moral and institutional — on the part of the people and of the State.

I secretly admire these pubgoing, loose and forward women. They share the markers of my social identity — an education, a job and awareness — but they are different. At a time when we are busy building barriers to screen ourselves from disturbing actualities, they have managed to break a few in order to meet the enemy in the eye.


From the IndianExpress:
Mumbai: Thousands of Indians, many fuming over a recent assault on women in a Mangalore pub, are vowing to fill bars on Valentine's Day and send cartons of pink panties to Sri Ram Sene that has branded outgoing females immoral.
A ‘consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women’, founded by four women on social networking website Facebook has, in a matter of days, attracted more than 25,000 members with over 2,000 posts about the self-appointed moral police.

The women said their mission was to go bar-hopping on February 14 and send hundreds of pink knickers to Sri Ram Sene, that has said pubs are for men, and that women should stay at home and cook for their husbands.

Collection centres have sprung up in several cities, with volunteers calling for bright pink old-fashioned knickers as gifts to the Sri Ram Sene as a mark of defiance.

"Girl power! Go girls, go. Show Ram Sene who's the boss," reads one post on Facebook from Larkins Dsouza...
There are more heated discussion threads as well that range from the limits of independence to religion and politics, reflecting the struggle facing a country that has long battled to balance its deep-rooted traditions with rapid modernisation.

Not to be outdone, the Sri Ram Sene, which has cautioned shops and pubs in Karnataka against marking Valentine's Day, has promised to gift pink saris to women and marry off canoodling couples to make them ‘respectable’.

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