Sunday, March 01, 2009

My thoughts on the rosy undergarments

I have seen and heard lots of the criticism of the "Pink Chaddi" campaign, some of it intelligent, some not. I'm myself not very sure what to think, so here are some questions and answers.

Q. Is drinking wrong?
A. Medically speaking, moderate drinking is fine and may even be beneficial. The recommended limit in the UK is 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 for men. Few Indians drink to that extent. Where alcohol health warnings on bottles in the West say something like "alcohol abuse is dangerous: consume in moderation", in India it is a flat "alcohol is injurious to health", in type too small to read. However, it is not fine to be teetotal for 6 days and then consume 20-30 units during the weekend.

Q. No, I mean is it morally wrong?
A. Ask your religious leader. But don't impose that advice on others in an extra-legal way. If you disapprove of any form of alcohol consumption, campaign for prohibition and let a law be passed.

Q. Was it right to beat up girls in a Mangalore pub for the crime of drinking?
A. Of course not. Apparently even L. K. Advani agrees. And it is not a crime to drink in Mangalore. If it is a crime in your state, or if you believe the bar was not licensed, call the police.

Q. But what if it was a moral crime, against Indian society and culture?
A. First, see above answer: if you feel so strongly, campaign to make it a legal crime, and then deal with it within the law. Second, why pick on the women alone?

Q. But is this "pub culture" healthy?
A. I don't know. Binge-drinking is not healthy but you can't make everything that is unhealthy illegal. The only pub I've been to in years is Pecos in Bangalore, and that too not recently. I saw nothing unhealthy there, except the tobacco smoke, which legally should be a thing of the past now (if not, complain!) My companions and I did not binge-drink. But perhaps some people do.

Q. I don't mean Pecos. Have you seen what goes on in these night clubs and discos?
A. No. What goes on?

Q. Skimpy dresses, kissing, things that should only be in the bedroom.
A. If that offends you, why are you looking?

Q. What's with the Pink Chaddi Campaign?
A. Apparently several people (not only women) decided to retaliate against the leader of the group responsible for the Mangalore attacks, by sending him pink female underwear. 50,000 pieces were collected, I believe, and duly dispatched.

Q. Isn't that a tacky thing to do?
A. It got headlines and publicity, and has contributed to keeping the issue alive and under discussion.

Q. But for how long?
A. Not for very long.

Q. What practical impact will it have?
A. In terms of direct impact, none at all. It may even have had some short-term negative impact by turning off some large, prudish sections of society from an issue that they would otherwise agree with. But it has demonstrated the numbers of people who are upset by this.

Q. Is the right of women to go to pubs the most important thing that Indian women are being denied?
A. No, but to many urban women, it is a symbol of everything that is going wrong. The Mangalore incident was a trigger, a call to action. And also the proximity to St Valentine's Day helped.

Q. That reminds me. What's with the "Pub Bharo Andolan"?
A. I don't know. Maybe it was secretly planned by Vijay Mallya.

Q. So what to do next?
A. First, as Prem Panicker points out, the hoodlums responsible for the Mangalore attacks (and other recent attacks in Bangalore and elsewhere in Karnataka) are protected by politicians. It is the politicians that must be targeted. If you can mobilise 50,000 pink chaddis, can you mobilise 10,000 people to sit on a dharna in front of the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore every day, until the chief minister is compelled to take action?

Second, there is the larger issue of society, and I am very much afraid that very large sections of society would agree with the Sri Ram Sene that girls shouldn't go to pubs -- even if they may not agree with the Sene's means of tackling the issue. But this is just one symptom of many, many things society finds acceptable and normal in terms of treatment of women, from unequal pay at work to groping on public transport to dowry harassment. Protecting the rights of pub-goers is starting from the top, and it can be done only by heavy policing. (I remember how jarred I felt in England, where outside every pub I saw hefty bouncers standing at its doors. It certainly did not make me feel comfortable.) But you can't police every street, every workplace, every bus, every household. (And do we really want a society where only the very rich have their rights protected?) If we want a society where women can move freely, work freely and socialise freely in places of their choosing, on equal terms with men, without a policeman or security officer watching a few metres away from them, we need to change things from the roots.

Take another example: the girl (again, in the Mangalore region) who was harassed by Hindu-fascist goons for meeting a Muslim boy, and committed suicide the next day. Her parents duly filed a police complaint the next day -- against the Muslim boy!

This is the sort of society we live in, and if we want change, I'm afraid pink chaddis won't achieve it.

But it's a start. Will it now lead somewhere?


Narasimhan said...

Dear Rahul,

Thanks for providing a perpsective that was lacking in blogosphere.

With Regards

Anonymous said...

Dear Rahul Sidharthan,

About the pub incident, I am also of the opinion that goons like Muthalik and similar hooligans should be severely punished.

About the mangalore region girl suicide: i will be a bit cautious and wouldn't make such quick conclusions by reading english newspapers alone. One should also read local language newspapers before making conclusions i guess.

i am not the most informed person on this topic. however i will bring a few facts into your notice. reach your own conclusion.

(1) Newspapers in Kerala reported that Kerala police is investigating about an organization that funds attracting and *converting* non-muslim girls. This is not a joke! This is not a hindu fascist propaganda either! you can read it here in a secular newspaper from kerala. they call it love jihad. strategy is simple. throw money and attract innocent school girls; have sex; blackmail and convert. Police noted that large sum of money is being transfered related to each such conversion event (of course, money comes from abroad) and it is closely related to major black money rackets.

(2) such events happen in many parts of kerala and neighboring regions -- especially in malappuram, kasargod (close to mangalore).

(3) Getting "attracted" to boys of a particular region and ending up in suicide/death is too common in kerala.

Nothing bad in getting attracted to a person of any religion. But attracting innocent school girls throwing money, and converting them via blackmailing is a different thing.

In the mangalore case, i would imagine that parents, relatives and local people would know things better than an English newspaper reporter from somewhere.

So I would work a bit more before concluding who are fascists here and who are not.

ps: I hope you know how English media got it completely wrong when it came to a similar incident near mangalore. It turned out that the abductors were communist party workers and they were in fact trying to save their MLAs daughter.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Anonymous: I am not in a position to look into your "facts", but to me the point is this: the girl had no confidence in her parents or their reaction to such things, and she may well have been correct.

That's what has to change. I'm not saying teens the world over confide in their parents over everything: but certain things are marked as taboo in India to such an extent that it is an invitation for this sort of thing to happen.