If there’s one person few associate the beleaguered Valentine’s Day with, it’s Mahatma Gandhi. What on earth, you’d ask too, does our apostle of peace have to do with the one day that everyone in India seems to have a strong opinion on? That’s why I was amused and intrigued when I came across this Facebook group that is ‘peacefully’ protesting against the un-Hindu acts of violence against pub-going women in Mangalore by the Sri Ram Sene. Instead of the red roses that Munnabhai and company registered their Gandhian protests with in the eponymous Bollywood movie, the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women is protesting with pink panties, with which it plans to flood Pramod Muthalik, the Sene chief on Valentine’s Day.
Pink chaddis certainly beat roses in sheer shock value, but there’s a reason for choosing them as a symbol of protest. “The RSS wears khaki knickers,” says Nisha Susan, the Tehelka employee whose brainchild this is, “so we chose pink ones!” The response to her Facebook group has been enormous, much more than she had ever expected. Obviously, there are a lot of people who object to the sort of violent moral policing that the Sri Ram Sene has been indulging in, for in the last ten days or so, the group on Facebook inducted 28,738 members at last count.
“It’s interesting,” said Anirudh, one of Nisha’s friends whose been roped in to handle the unprecedented attention that the campaign has received, “to see the sorts of people who’ve enrolled. We’ve people of all ages (there’s a 75-year old granny whose sent her contribution along with a hand-written note for Pramod Muthalik, the Sri Ram Sene chief) from all over the world who are enrolling?” A related agenda is to throng pubs across the country on Valentine’s Day, to counter the Sene’s claim that going to pubs is an un-Hindu concept. “We’ve had women writing to us saying that even though they don’t touch alcohol, this is one day when they’ll definitely go to a pub, just to cock-a-snook at the moral police and register their protest against it,” he said.
What was originally planned was that poor Muthalik would find himself besieged with mountains of pink knickers on February 14th. Instead, the campaign has generated so much interest and publicity that Muthalik and company know exactly what’s in store for them. But Susan and her Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women (and men too!) see this as being a positive development.
“There was no way for us to protest silently, yet publicly, so we knew that it was a matter of time before someone alerted the Sene about our Facebook group,” says Susan. The Consortium believes that either way the Sri Ram Sene has been caught on the back foot — if they go ahead with violence and mayhem on Valentine’s Day, the whole nation, and indeed the world is going to be watching them. But if they do nothing well, then it will only demonstrate to the world that the feminine pink chaddi can actually defeat the Sri Ram Sene’s sword!
The Consortium has received a fair amount of criticism too, based mainly on the medium of protest it has chosen. But members love the concept. “Sending chaddis is a great way to ridicule and belittle them and tell them exactly what they’re worth, and also how seriously they’re being taken,” notes Kim Arora on Facebook. Another post by Sheila Crosby of Spain sums up the entire campaign beautifully: “I’m not anti-Hindu, I’m anti-bully. I don’t care whether the bullies are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Marxist…I don’t beat people up for disagreeing with me, I just send them knickers….”