Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Morality Police Versus Valentines

It's not just for Saudi Arabia anymore.

In New Delhi, India, notes Natalie Alcoba in The National Post, "February 14 has been cast as a forbidden holiday in this quickly modernizing country by fundamentalist groups that call it 'un-Indian,' and threaten violence, or even enforced marriage, to those who dare celebrate it in public."

A hard-line, traditionalist Hindu group, Sri Ram Sene, has made threats of violence against anyone they perceive to be making open displays of affection, and were "reportedly organizing to marry off couples seen dating on February 14."

Of course, younger and more modern urban Indians are not taking kindly to the intimidation tactics and threats of such groups. Natalie Alcoba details the counter-protest --

Outraged by repeated acts of violent "moral policing," progressive Indians are beginning to take a stand and a major English newspaper has urged people to ask, "Who decides what is Indian culture?"

Hundreds of pink panties were mailed to Sri Ram Sene in a cheeky revolt by the playfully named Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women.

"After a while, it's time to say enough is enough. It's a pattern, you see. It's going in a regressive direction, incident after incident. I think that's why it has become important for us to say something," said Isha Manchanda, a 24-year-old writer who helped organize the "Pink Chaddi Campaign."

[The Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women! I love that. Vishnu bless them.]

In what may appear to be a widening generation gap in Indian society, in which older Indians remain rooted in traditional cultural norms while many younger Indians flirt with more modern western-style freedoms, the 'spirit of Valentines' is still a long way from gaining popular acceptance. Indian Hindu culture is an ancient culture. While contemporary Hindus are not entirely averse to change and modernity, they are less inclined to forfeit the traditional values of Indian society so readily. Most people may not approve of the "bully tactics" and "moral policing" of Sri Ram Sene, many are still uncomfortable with the more 'liberated' affectations of some of the country's new urban young people.

And Valentine's Day? Well that's just plain weird to many traditional Indians, who still encourage modesty and discretion between the sexes, and inhabit a culture in which arranged marriages and child brides remain common.

So it should come as little surprise that there would be a backlash -- even a potentially violent one -- to the liberalization of social custom.

The Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women is hoping to change that -- it organized the Pink Chaddi Campaign not because its members care that much about Valentine's Day, but because they are tired of being told what they cannot do. They also want to focus the spotlight on women's issues that matter, not the antics of "so called activists" scandalized by women's presence in bars, or if they hold hands with men on the street.

"There are still child marriages, there are still very young women being mothers, there are so many problems of domestic violence," said Ms. Manchanda. "There are so many things to deal with."

So far, more than 30,000 men and women have joined the group online. They have pledged to go to a bar on Valentine's Day and raise a glass (alcohol not necessary) to Indian women.

A capital idea. Tonight, I pledge that my wife and I shall likewise raise a glass of wine, and drink a toast to the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women.

Cheers. And Happy Valentine's Day.

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