Moral police gets its knickers in a twist

The angry women who created the "Pink Chaddi" campaign on FaceBook, as a means to protest the fascist goings on of Pramod Muthalik and his Sri Ram Sene (SRS) in Mangalore, probably did not imagine how effective their novel protest was going to be. As their initiative drew immediate response, and over 30,000 pink chaddis flooded the Mangalore post office, en route to Muthalik and his cahoots, the response of the SRS-faithful ranged from defiant bluster to an embarrassed silence. They announced a campaign of sending pink saris to these women, but after a feeble attempt this tapered off as the Pink Chaddi campaign knocked the socks off these self-appointed custodians of our culture.

One of the Pink Chaddi campaigners said, "What we had in common is that we dislike the ease with which right-wing groups have been infringing fundamental rights. Isn’t our culture infused with ideas of tolerance and respect for difference? Living in India has begun to feel like being the only adult in a room full of violent, overweight children. You never know what will offend someone and constantly live in fear: We believe that the ‘pink chaddi’ campaign broke through this climate of fear for a few moments and reached adults". And then she goes on to say, "We applauded Muthalik’s sari-for-chaddi riposte because for 15 minutes in his life he was not thinking of beating up someone". The spirit and clarity of this young woman’s thought and will simply took my breath away. The minds of our young people are alive and they can very well defend our society against bullying and exploitation.

Historically, women have always been easy targets for self-appointed custodians of "Hindu culture". Whether it is communal riots or battle, the wars of society are fought on the bodies of women. Routinely, during communal riots, a rumour is spread that a woman from one community has been raped. Instead of going out and bringing the perpetrators to justice, the men of that community, who consider women their property and consequently view rape as theft or despoiling of their property, go out and rape women from the other community. The daily incidents of honour crimes are a further brutal manifestation of this mindset. The family and society consider a woman’s sexuality to be family property and will go to any length, even murder, to ensure that the women behave in ways acceptable to their jaundiced notions.

The blinkered dogma of this ideology is further compounded by their blindness to far worse crimes which happen before their eyes: Policemen raping children, child abuse and trafficking, dowry deaths, abuse of sex workers and the routine exploitation of women that takes place every minute, every day. This is why a society bears mute witness to a young girl and her husband being strung up on a tree as punishment for getting married, and entire village turns into heroes to lynch an old woman suspected of being a witch.

The Sangh Parivar and its new offshoots have always found this simplistic male chauvinism a fertile ground to buy cheap publicity and electoral gain. That is why they target places like pubs. The irony, of course, is that women at the lowest rungs of society drink, as do women of upper classes. These are never targeted. Only middle class teenagers are. If alcohol is the root of all evil, why are only pubs targeted? Why not local liquor vends licensed by the government? For that matter, why were the men at pubs not attacked? Is male alcoholism permitted in their interpretation of Hindu culture? And why is it fine for men to wear trousers and not for women?

To take the argument further to the oft-repeated question: What is Hindu culture? I ask this, of course, rhetorically because the answer is well-known. Hindi culture cannot be defined by these goons and it is certainly not a monolith. Nor is it exclusively a male preserve.

Fascist moral policing is done by fundamentalists of all religions, from Kashmir to Karnataka. Only the religion differs — their objectives and methods are the same. And while none of them have the substance and depth to address real issues of deprivation in their own communities they try to gain instant fame by beating up teenage girls. To repeat, it is a matter of great satisfaction to see that our civil society is willing and able to fight for its basic freedoms.

The truly hilarious aspect of this sorry saga is to watch the terrible knots the BJP tied itself into while attempting to explain its stand on the Mangalore issue. Rajnath Singh actually called it a Congress conspiracy to destabilise the Yeddyurappa government! This was so ridiculous that nobody even bothered to answer. Various other conspiracy theories were floated — all about the Congress party trying to malign chief minister Yeddyurappa and using former Bajrang Dal activist Muthalik to do so. The facts, however, are: the Yeddyurappa government dropped all the earlier cases — related to serious charges of fostering communal tension — against Muthalik and his cohorts.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are sounding more desperate and chauvinistic with each passing day. However, it is gratifying to reflect that perhaps, there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. When citizens begin to ridicule attempts to control and terrorise women and begin to hit back at self-appointed guardians of our culture, then it will very soon become clear to these political opportunists that their tactics of moral policing will fail.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

The views expressed in this column are her own

Jayanthi Natarajan

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