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Indian Women Launch Valentine’s Day Panty Raid on Hindu Hardliners

February 12, 2009 12:33 PM
by Anne Szustek
An Indian women’s group is protesting a militant ultranationalist Hindu group’s efforts to squelch Valentine’s Day by asking supporters to mail pink panties to the hardliners’ leader.

“Pink Chaddi Campaign” Defies Sri Rama Sena Threats of Violence

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Threats of violence from a group of right-wing Hindus have not deterred some Indian women from celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Nisha Susan, a 29-year-old female journalist from Karnatka, India, started a Facebook group last Saturday called the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women in reaction to Sri Rama Sena’s vowed crackdown on Valentine’s Day. The group has garnered support across the country and around the world, and has even spawned an underwear-based protest to let the hardliners know what its members think of the anti-Valentine’s Day decrees.

Members of the SRS, a far-right Hindu group whose professed mission is to protect Indian culture from the perceived threats of cultural Westernization and conversion from Hinduism, announced last week plans for violent action against couples thought to be celebrating Valentine’s Day in public.

“If people celebrate the day despite our warning,” Sri Rama Sena member Gangadhar Kulkarni was quoted as saying by British paper The Daily Telegraph, “then we will definitely attack them.”

The SRS has also said that it plans to force unmarried couples seen in public to either marry or put on “rakhis”—string bracelets that signal that a male-female duo are siblings.

So in reaction, the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women urges its followers to join them “on February 14, Valentine’s Day, the day in which Indian women’s virginity and honour will self-destruct unless they marry or tie a rakhi,” as the group’s sarcastic tagline reads. “Walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink. Raise a toast to the Sri Ram Sena.”

As of 11:00 am EST, the Facebook group had almost 30,000 members. Rallying support from around the world, the group has since launched another protest that some would call even more “cheeky.”

The Pink Chaddi Campaign, urges all its supporters to mail pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the SRS. Chaddi is the Hindi nickname for underwear.

According to the Times of London, the inspiration for the panty-based protest comes from the uniform worn by members of the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which the SRS is part. RSS members are known colloquially as “chaddi wallahs,” as their uniform includes loose-fitting shorts.

The chaddi protest has elicited mixed reactions within the Subcontinent. “I have joined the Pink Chaddi Campaign on one of the social networking sites,” entrepreneur Apra Kuchchal told The Times of India. I think it is a really good way to protest against people like Muthalik. This kind of a non-violent reaction is bound to affect them whether they accept it or not. The united spirit of this campaign which has brought women from across India on the same platform is what really matters.”

Indian Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury has also come out in support of the protest. As for members of the Sri Rama Sena, leader Muthalik has responded that he plans to send pink saris to protesters out of love and respect for Indian culture. SRS state convener Prasad Attavar, as evidenced in an interview that ran in the Jan. 29 edition of The Times of India, is convinced that his group has a large contigency of support.

When asked by the paper why the SRS believes it has “the right to act as custodians of culture,” he responded: “It’s not the question of authority. … There are a equal number who support us. The law, which gives permission to pubs, should see rules are followed. Pubs cause women to go astray. When law doesn’t act, we do.”

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Background: Radical Hindus’ violent response to Western culture; Muslims’ mixed reception of Valentine’s Day

Radical religious groups have become fervent in their response to India’s increasing acceptance of Western traditions and influence.

For example, in 2007, a group of more than 100 members of Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena met in New Delhi to burn Valentine’s Day cards and chant, “Death to Valentine’s Day,” and “People who celebrate Valentine’s Day should be pelted with shoes!”

But Valentine’s Day is hardly the only target of religious violence. On Jan. 24, 2009, some 10–15 men allegedly belonging to the Sri Rama Sena, the same group behind this year’s Valentine’s Day threats, charged a bar in the Indian city of Mangalore and drove out women who were inside, accusing them of drinking, being indecent in their dress and socializing with non-Hindus. They also threatened the women with “dire consequences,” if seen in pubs again, The Times of India reports. 

Eyewitnesses of the event said that the customers were “thrashed” by members of the Sri Ram Sena as they tried to flee the bar, located on the busy road in the center of Mangalore. According to IndiaExpress.com, there have been allegations that some of the women were molested as well.

In the Islamic world, Western traditions such as the celebration of Valentine’s Day and even birthdays have been met with mixed reception.

The Saudi Ministry of Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice put the kibosh on the sale of Valentine’s Day paraphernalia last February in the country’s capital city of Riyadh. Representatives of the group visited shops in the Saudi capital city to order the removal of any scarlet red items from the shelves, including roses. The color is thought to symbolize romantic love—thus promoting intermingling between unmarried members of opposite sexes. Kuwait threatened its own ban on the holiday for similar reasons.



Despite the holiday’s roots as a Christian feast day, other Muslim-majority countries have embraced Valentine’s Day—namely its avenues for moneymaking. Since the Western holiday’s popularity took off in Turkey a decade ago, Valentine’s decorations have appeared annually in the windows of traditional tripe soup shops and pharmacies on Tünali-Arjantin, the main shopping drag in Turkish capital Ankara. To an American observer, however, these businesses may seem incongruous with the notion of romantic love. Turkish writer Nazlan Ertan concurs. “Is anyone likely to take his sweetheart for a tripe soup and then present her with a supradyn tablet for the rest of the evening?” she wrote in the Turkish Daily News. 



Egypt has also embraced Valentine’s Day. A poster on TravelBlog detailing her visit to Cairo noted that her hotel restaurant gave all female patrons red roses on the holiday and served “love-themed dishes.”



Not all in the region take part in the annual cupid fest, however. Arabian Business cited a February 2008 Maktoob Research poll of 3,195 people either married or in a serious relationship from 11 Arab countries. Some 46 percent of survey participants responded that celebrating Valentine’s Day would run counter to their religious beliefs and 58 percent thought the holiday was only meant for the Western world. The religious beliefs of the respondents were not mentioned in the Arabian Business article.

Even celebration of important dates in Islam has become a subject of debate as to whether they contravene the teachings of the religion. Mawlid, the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, is treated as a feast day by most Muslims. In Pakistan, for example, Mawlid is feted with candy, a 21-gun salute in provincial capitals, and temporary remission of some prison sentences.

Nevertheless, in Saudi Arabia the holiday is frowned upon, as are secular birthdays. Last fall Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority issued a fatwa—religious decree—against the celebration of birthdays, saying they are not permitted in Islam on the belief that any celebration outside of the two major Islamic feasts is alien and emulates holidays of Jews and Christians.

Reference: Guides to Hinduism, Islam, Valentine’s Day

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