Mumbai: Sri Ram Sene, whose moral policemen attacked young women at a Mangalore pub on 24 January and triggered nationwide outrage, and its chief Pramod Muthalik couldn’t have imagined what they were starting.
Muthalik and his right-wing group, which executed the attack because it thought women drinking in a pub went against “Hindu traditions”, are the target of numerous mock protest movements, many of which were spawned online.
The rallying point of the movements is Valentine’s Day, which falls on Saturday, when lovers traditionally gift each other heart-shaped Valentine’s cards, flowers and chocolates.
Thousands in India and abroad have logged on to social networking websites such as Facebook, Orkut and Blogger to register their outrage against the Mangalore pub attacks. These were some of the Valentine’s Day plans they came up with to fight back: a Pub Bharo (fill the pubs) andolan (movement), Hug Karo (give a hug) andolan and a Pink Chaddi campaign to send pink-coloured underwear to Sri Ram Sene offices.
Net statement: Pramod Muthalik being felicitated in Bangalore. The Sri Ram Sene chief and his group are the target of numerous mock protects. Shailendra Bhojak / PTI
And even a Gandhi-style “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day card” campaign.
“I was surfing on Facebook, looking to form a group to fight back with people who thought like me and were as angry as me, when I came across this group called India’s Shame. I met the founders and we realized we all wanted to do the same thing. We all wanted to fight in a meaningful way and actually make a difference,” said 21-year-old Radhika Ghose, protest manager of the group, Moral Police: India’s Shame.
The group, which has 6,944 members, is planning to start an online petition on the eve of Valentine’s Day. “We are demanding that the men responsible for the attack on the women in the pub be arrested immediately. We are asking the government to use the Goonda Act provisions to deal with those men, and if our demand is ignored, we will go to the Central government.”
The Act provides for detention of troublemakers with tough conditions for bail.
Other protests are cheekier, says Kapil Dhawan, co-founder of the 1,813-member group which has planned Kamasutra Day—“a truly Indian cultural event”—for 1 March. “Initially, we planned to celebrate this event on Valentine’s Day, but we did not have enough time to organize it. So, we have set a later date.”
“We are not trying to celebrate sex with this movement right now. But I want to ask the question—who appointed these people as the keepers of Indian culture? Do they even know what Indian culture is?
“Nowhere is it said that it is okay to beat up women. Nowhere is it said that men can drink and women can’t. And I was thinking of beating them at their own game. They want Indian culture? Well, Kamasutra is Indian culture. Now let them come and debate,” says Nandu Narshiman, 45, founder of the group and executive creative director at the local unit of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi.
The Pink Chaddi campaign, with 18,790 members, is clearly a favoured action plan. “It does not matter that many of us have not thought about Valentine’s Day since we were 13. If ever. This year, let us send the Sri Ram Sene some love. Let us send them some pink chaddis,” reads the blog for the campaign.
“The symbolism is that we wanted something that was irreverent, a metaphor for thinking lightly. At the other end, we were also poking fun at the khaki chaddis of right-wing organizations that hold very extreme ideas about how things should be,” said Divya Raghunandan, one of the co-founders of the movement.
And as this idea of collecting pink lingerie for the Sri Rama Sene chief became popular, it acquired a life of its own and forced the organization to respond. Muthalik announced that he will give away 1,000 pink saris in return for the chaddis. The campaign blog has welcomed the response.
“We greatly appreciate this and hope he continues to choose similar, non-violent methods to get his point across, just as we have chosen to be non-violent and loving in response to the brutality of the attacks on lovers and women in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka. We will gladly wear the pink saris.”
Other groups have adopted a more temperate approach. The “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day card” group says it is adopting a less abrasive way to make the same point. “We decided to take the idea of Gandhigiri from Lage Raho Munnabhai,” said Sarika Vijay, 23, one of the co-founders of this movement, referring to a Bollywood blockbuster in which the villain was inundated with “get well soon” cards and was forced to “change himself”.
“Clearly, he does not know the meaning of love. So we decided to show him. The thing is that this is not about Valentine’s Day at all. The symbolism is that no one can tell me how to live my life. I have constitutionally guaranteed rights and no one can take them from me. It’s about telling him that he cannot thrust his ideology on me. We have chosen Valentine’s Day to make this statement because of its symbolism. And it’s clearly something that agitates them.”
On Orkut, there are at least 10 anti-Sene groups, one “I hate Pramod Muthalik” group and a couple of admiring ones such as Sri Ram Sene fans.
Muthalik says he won’t accept the Valentine’s Day cards or pink chaddis and wants the focus to shift to bigger issues that women face such as domestic violence, dowry and female infanticide. He called Valentine’s Day an alien concept. “Valentine’s Day is a cheap thing,” he told Mint in a telephone interview. “It is a deliberate effort of foreign powers to destroy our sanskriti (culture).”