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Saying it with panties

ajosephs Icon Posted by Ammu Joseph

February 25th, 2009

Pink women’s underwear appeared on the front pages of newspapers and became a hot topic on prime time news programmes in India earlier this month. The phenomenon appears to have attracted attention elsewhere in the world, too.

In a spirited response to a violent attack on young women in a pub in the southern coastal city of Mangalore on 24 January, followed by threats against couples celebrating Valentine’s Day, a group calling themselves a Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women (reminiscent of Nepal’s Girls of Bad Character) launched a campaign that involved sending pink chaddis (panties) to activists of a hitherto obscure rightwing Hindu organization, Shri Ram Sene, which earned instant notoriety with their attempts to force women to conform to their narrow definition of Indian culture.

Both the attack and the campaign against it involved the media. The Shri Ram Sene had taken a television crew along to record their shocking behaviour with young women in Mangalore, raising questions about the role of the media in such situations. The pink chaddi campaign began and gained momentum on the Internet and was further popularised by the mainstream media (both within India and abroad) – a fact acknowledged on its site. Incidentally, the campaign also raised questions, even among supporters of its purpose, about the appropriateness of its chosen symbol.

Other initiatives against the Sene’s moral policing also used the Net to spread the word – Bengaluru Unites is one of them. Blogs like Ultra Violet also helped spread the word about feminist responses to the developments. Among these was the Joint Statement on the Barbaric Attacks in Mangalore that was quickly endorsed by hundreds of women and men and a discussion paper on Understanding and Responding to the Mangalore Assaults.

Both the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women and Women for Cultural Freedom, a coalition of established women’s rights organisations, recognise that the recent events represent only the latest developments in a long term project to deny and attempt to destroy the inherent diversity of Indian culture, with vigilante groups increasingly using violence and intimidation to restrict and control women’s lives in the name of culture and tradition.

Meanwhile, the pink chaddis have inspired pink saris and pink condoms, as well as a possible law suit against the pink panty campaigners spearheaded by a team of women lawyers .

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