14 February 2009

Indian canoodling couples face the wrath of the Sri Ram Sene.

By Meera Subramanian

On January 24th, a group of self-proclaimed morality police stormed Amnesia, a swank and dimly lit bar in the city of Mangalore, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. As television cameras rolled for the staged event (apparently the media had been informed), the jean-clad vigilantes of the Sri Ram Sene physically attacked the jean-clad women and men who were sipping drinks, groping and pulling the hair of some and chasing others out into the streets where they tripped them as they ran away, and then kicked them while they were sprawled on the sidewalk, scrambling to get up.

“The Hindu face of the Taliban,” read headlines. It’s true that the world’s largest democracy is changing, rapidly. More women than ever before are wearing jeans in India. And working. And buying, rather than making, their chapatis. If they are even eating chapatis at all, as opposed to going out for Italian or ordering Dominoes pizza. It’s too much transformation for the Sri Ram Sene, the Army of Lord Ram, a Hindu extremist group with ties to the right-wing BJP Party. Now they’ve set their sights on those who worship Lord Cupid.

It’s Valentine’s Day in India. Five years ago, there was no such holiday here. They hardly celebrated birthdays. For decades after becoming an independent nation in 1947, India strove to take that independence to its extreme. Indians made only their own cars, operated only their own airlines, and wallowed in inefficiency. Fifteen years ago, they opened their economic walls, just as the Internet allowed all literate beings with access to electricity to connect with one another, transforming the possibilities of what was and what could be for the exponentially growing (read: young) Indian population. Yet still, they had just barely stepped out of prohibition. Condom ads were censored from television. There wasn’t a single on-screen kiss within the world’s largest film industry, although wet sari dance scenes were common.

For the Hindu men who lament the loss of young women eagerly awaiting their arranged marriage so they can make their husbands home-made chapatis forevermore, the cultural change has been unacceptable. And now this, the promotion of a western construct celebrating lovers — even unmarried lovers! —Valentine’s Day. The commercial event provided an opportunity for the Hindu extremists of the pub attack to further express their moral outrage at a society that can willingly allow women to put on pants. And then just walk, unbidden, into a bar for a drink.

At a recent press conference, Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik said Sene activists across Karnataka would not only hold protests outside colleges, hostels and hotels where Valentine’s Day celebrations are held, but — to take a creative approach — forcibly marry off, as one Indian publication put it, “canoodling couples.”

“Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14,” Muthalik proclaimed, referring to the Hindu marriage necklace. “If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage.”

Find out more about Sri Ram Sene and the “Pink Underwear Campaign” being waged to protest them at our sister site, KillingTheBuddha.com.