Feb 19 2009

The Valentines Day Pink Chaddi Campaign: Indian Pubgoing Women Vs. Shri Ram Sena

by at 1:11 am

The Pink Chaddi Campaign — organized on Valentines Day by The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women to protest against the right wing Hindu group Shri Ram Sena — has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

It all started on January 24th when a group of 40 activists of the Shri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sena, Shri Rama Sena, Sri Rama Sena, Sri Ram Sene, Shri Ram Sene and Sriram Sena) barged into a Mangalore pub and beat up a group of young women and men, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia). The video of the incident was repeatedly shown on Indian TV channels and widely shared online and became the focal point of a nationwide outrage against the incident (Global Voices) —

However, the incident evoked mixed reactions. Even as most people denounced the incident, and some even called it the “Talibanisation of India” and “Hindu Talibanism”, many prominent politicians suggested that condemning the incident isn’t the same as condoning “pub culture” and “the Westernization of Indian youth”. Some politicians, and even the National Commission for Women, condemned “the loosening of moral standards amongst young women” and called for controls on pub licenses and alcohol consumption in public (NYT, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, India Today).

Shri Ram Sena chief Pramod Mutalik was unrepentant and vowed, on May 4th, to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations in Karnataka, calling it an “international Christian conspiracy against Indian culture”. He also threatened to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day to get married unless they agreed to tie rakhis on their wrists signifying that they are brother and sister (IBNLive, India Today and The Telegraph). Another Sangh Parivar member Bajrang Dal also threatened similar actions (Indian Express). These Valentine’s Day disruptions, often led by Hindu nationalist parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have become common in India over the last decade (BBC).

One organization responded to these threats by calling for pepper-spray squads to protect couples on Valentine’s Day while another organization promised to deploy teams of taekwando experts to blacken the faces of miscreants with shoe polish (Times Online).

Nisha Susan, a journalist, set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and mobilized the protests around the Pink Chaddi Campaign (chaddi is a Hindi word for underwear) —

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on February 5th with the objective of sending 5000 pink underwears to Shri Ram Sena in order to shame them. Using Facebook and feminist blogs, Nisha urged women to mail new or old pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, or drop them at collection points. She also urged group members to share pictures of the pink underwear they were giving, in order to inspire other women. The group decided to use “chaddi” as the focal point because the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers).

Soon, other Indian and international blogs picked up the story. More than 270 blogs have linked to the campaign blog as per Technorati and the “Pink Chaddi” search feed on Twitter is still active. The Facebook group has also been a runaway success. As of now, it has more than 48,000 members and a vibrant community with more than 350 discussion topics and more than 6750 wall posts.

The campaign also supported the Pub Bharo (fill the pubs) campaign proposed by the Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Renuka Choudhury, which encouraged women to visit a pub on Valentine’s Day to show support for the victims of the Mangalore pub violence (TOI and Mid-Day). The Facebook group run by her daughter Tejaswini Choudhury has 4200 members as of now.

Another Facebook group that wants to celebrate March 1st as World Kamastutra Day has 2300 members.

Yet another Facebook group that wants to “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day Card” has 1300 members (TOI).

There is also a Hug Karo campaign asking people to hug each other on Valentine’s Day (see DesiCritics), that is similar to the global Free Hugs campaign.

A group of “ordinary Hindus, who don’t bark on television channels to defend our faith, but definitely get hurt when some people bark against our faith”, started The Pink Condom Campaign to protest against the “sickular Pink Chaddi walas” (Indian Express and DNA). The group behind the campaign — “The Self-respecting Hindus’ Initiative for Equality and Liberty with Dignity” or SHIELD — has been less successful, with only 160 supporters on Facebook and 111 supporters on Orkut so far.

The Pink Condom Campaign

Priyanka Narain at LiveMint has a great roundup of all the pro-Valentine’s Day protests organized on social networking sites.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has resulted in serious embarrassment for the right wing Sangh Parivar, in general, and Pramod Mutalik, in particular. More than 2000 chaddis were sent to him and digs were taken at his single status (TOI and The Guardian).

Even Indian FMCG brand Amul joined in the protests with a characteristic billboard (see CSR Asia for a background on Amul’s socially conscious billboard campaigns) —

Amul Pink Chaddi Campaign

However, Pramod Mutalik responded by calling the Pink Chaddi campaign a “a base tactic to shy away from the core issue of Indian culture” (TOI). He also promised to give pink saris to the women gifting him pink underwear (TOI), with the help of a related women’s organization Durga Sena (TOI). In the end, fearing public backlash, the Shri Ram Sena called off the Valentine’s Day disruptions (TOI and India Today).

The campaign has attracted mixed reactions from the Indian blogosphere, with many observers praising its creativity and virality and others criticizing its frivolity and calling it undignified.

In a poll at Desipundit, 77% of the 459 respondents thought that the campaign was “clever and creative” while only 23% thought that it was a “waste of time”.

Snighdha Sen at BlogHer says that the campaign embodies the spirit of Gandhigiri, a contemporary reading of the tenets of Gandhism popularized by the the 2006 Hindi film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Roshan Krishnan at Desicritics feels that the campaign is an indicator that “civil society is finally asserting itself in India”.

Samhita at Feministing asks us to “resist the urge to suggest that given the cultural climate of India these women shouldn’t have been in a bar.”

Poonam points out that this is not the first time panties have been used as a symbolic protest. In late 2007, Lanna Action for Burma group had launched a Panties for Peace campaign and urged women around the world to “post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy” to protest against the repressive junta leader General Than Shwe (The Register).

Anindita Sengupta at Ultraviolet thinks that the Pink Chaddi campaign is about shaming the right-wing conservatives.

Amit Varma at the India Uncut argues that the issue is not whether a lifestyle is right or wrong, but “the right to choose our own lifestyle, any lifestyle”.

The right-leaning blogger Offstumped is apparently offended by the references to “Hindu Taliban” and exhorts the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign to send pink burqas to Al-Qaeda’s Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid instead.

Sakshi argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign doesn’t address any real issue about why Shri Ram Sena’s ultra-conservative stand resonates with most Indians.

The “GreatBong” Arnab writes a twisted Valentine’s Day morality tale, which seems to rubbish both parties.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has also resulted in several videos for and against it. Ruchika Muchhala at Global Voices points to some of these.

Here is a video showing the pile of pink underwear before they were sent to Pramod Mutalik —

Here is a video of Nisha Susan talking to Mid Day about the campaign —

Here’s a series of animated videos (1, 2) on the Pink Chaddi campaign —

Here’s a ridiculous right-wing video that tries to counter the Pink Chaddie campaign —

The campaign has also attracted the attention of mainstream news organizations, including international majors like NYT, BBC, Fox News, The Guardian, ABC, Times Online, LA Times, MSNBC and NPR.

The opinion in Indian mainstream media, however, is equally divided.

Dan Collins at LAist says that the Pink Chaddi movement is both inspiring and oddly exhilarating (also see the cute picture of the Pink Chaddi Payphone).

Kate Allen at The New Statesman is pleasantly surprised that the campaign is supported by both men and women, unlike “Britain and Europe (where) violence against women is generally seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.

Pradeep Nair at TOI compares the campaign to the feminist bra burning of the late 1960s and sees it as “a turning point for blogs and social networking sites” in India.

Anoothi Vishal at Business Standard sees the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a larger trend where a handful of Indians are acting as catalysts, often with the help of new media, to bring about political and social change.

Neha Tara Mehta at India Today locates the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a growing trend of online citizen activism in India.

Udaalak Mukerjee at The Telegraph says that he admires the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign, because “at a time when we are busy building barriers to screen ourselves from disturbing actualities, they have managed to break a few in order to meet the enemy in the eye.”

Tavleen Singh at Indian Express says that the campaign should have sent pink chaddis to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani who has endorsed the Shri Ram Sena’s excesses by his silence.

Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times calls the campaign undignified and warns against the elitism amongst the Westernized urban Indian youth who are choosing “lifestyles that are desi imitations of Sex And The City”.

Zubin Driver at IBN Live has a great post on how Pramod Mutalik has benefited from the media attention on the Pink Chaddi campaign. D P Satish at IBNLive also has an interesting post on how the media attention has made Mutalik’s political career.

Swapan Dasgupta at TOI argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign “is likely to reinforce Middle India’s existing prejudices and bolster the stereotype of un-Indian fast and loose women.”

Devangshu Datta in Business Standard, Jai Arjun Singh in Business Standard and Jug Suraiya in TOI choose to write about the campaign in a humorous (read: flippant) vein.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, there are questions about what will happen to the Facebook group (TOI).

Nisha Susan doesn’t talk about the future in her reflective post at The Guardian looking back at the campaign, but on the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog, she suggests that their achievement lies in “staking a claim for our shared culture” —

So here is the idea. We each make a little video of ourselves. We make a video of ourselves doing something we love, something we think is definitely a part of Indian culture (and let no one dare disagree!). Speak into the camera. Say “This is Indian culture.” Imagine the possibilities, you, your best friend, your grandmother, your 7-year-old nephew, your grumpy boss… each doing what you think is part of you, part of Indian culture.

This promises to be fun!

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oct 22 2008

Social Network World Map: Why Do Indians & Brazilians Love Orkut?

by at 2:18 pm

Here’s the latest world map of social networks based on Alexa data (via Oxyweb) —

World Map of Social Networks 2008

— and Indian and Brazil are the only two countries in the world where Orkut is the most popular social network.

I have often wondered what joins Brazilians and Indians in their love for Orkut. The answer is a combination of serendipity, first mover advantage, faster loading time, simplicity of the name, similarity of the name to Hindi/ Portuguese sounds, simplicity of the user interface, and association with the Google brand name, but the most powerful reason is the lax attitude towards privacy common to Indians and Brazilians. Continue Reading »

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Oct 05 2008

Danah Boyd on Social Networking and Values

by at 10:43 pm

Danah Boyd, a digital ethnographer who was recently hired by Microsoft Research New England to study online social networks, posted a much-publicized essay last year about how she perceived there to be class divisions between the userbases of Facebook and Myspace.  This essay was entitled “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace”.

Since part of my research is about whether different cultures and countries will use the internet differently, based on their values, rituals, and customs, it would be important for me to make sure that there indeed is a potential for people to express those key differences by selecting a different social networking site online versus others.  Some would argue that behavior online is converging on universal behavior (generally:  feedback loops, transparency, collaboration), but I think cultures will retain their identities even after buying into the online revolution. Continue Reading »

6 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Privacy | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sep 10 2008

Americans’ Attitudes on Digital Footprints (Pew Internet & American Life Project)

by at 2:07 pm

I wanted to get more information about “online culture” within the US, since it is still, at least for now, the standard for what an online society looks like in terms of debating privacy versus openness, online presence, and reputation.

In December 2007, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released the findings from its surveys on “digital footprints” and “online identity management and search in the age of transparency”.  You can read the full report (PDF) online, and the questionnaire they used, as well.

It is interesting to study the attitudes versus the actions of social networking users when it comes to privacy versus openness.  The study found that “[m]ost internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information.” Continue Reading »

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sep 06 2008

Why Are Brazilians More Concerned About Online Privacy and Security Than Indians?

by at 9:41 pm

Here are some highlights from a survey conducted by research firm Synovate amongst 13,000 respondents aged 18-65 in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US (via eMarketer) —

– Only 42% of the respondents knew about social networking, even though a higher percentage of younger respondents were aware of social networking.

– Only 26% of the respondents were members of any social network. Some markets (like India) seemed to favor multiple memberships and some seemed to stick to one or two major ones.

– 51% of the respondents expressed concerns about privacy and security issues online. Brazilians (79%) and Americans (69%) were most concerned about such issues while Indians (19%) were the least concerned. Amongst members of social networking sites, only 26% were comfortable giving out personal details. Indians (57%) were amongst those most comfortable sharing personal details while Brazilians (23%) and Americans (30%) were amongst those least comfortable. Continue Reading »

2 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,