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February 10, 2009
Friends, Indians, countrywomen... lend me your thongs.'

The clarion call has gone out, and every woman I know with half an online presence is championing the cause of the awesomely named Consortium Of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women, an organisation that essentially wants to give the Shri Ram Sene some love -- and what better way to do that then send them something pink and lacy?

It's a goofily great idea, and I can't think of a rosier show of solidarity than a massive ball of thongs and suchlike. Plus, even though the Facebook group might be growing simply because the consortium is currently the trendiest thing to have displayed on your profile, the sheer spread of it has been quite amazing.

And while the consortium can surely do without my boxers, the least I can do is donate them this usually narcissistic column-space in the hope that their blessed numbers grow ever greater.

I cornered Nisha Susan, the 29-year-old Delhi-based journalist woman behind this zeitgeist-capturing online phenomenon, and decided to let her do the talking. After all, she's managed to de-knicker a magnificently large number of women in just about a week's time, and that deserves major applause.

Alright, so we start with the absolute basic: What is the Pink Chaddi campaign?

It is nothing very radical to begin with. It is a two-pronged campaign that stars with sending the pink chaddis to Bangalore where they will be collected -- and on Friday there will be a press conference -- and they will be sent to the Shri Ram Sene.

And on Saturday, (Valentine's Day) we are telling people to go to pubs. We are asking them to go toast the Sri Ram Sena and have a drink, but many people have written in saying they want to toast Indian women instead. (Laughs) It's really their decision, and it's just good that they're willing to go out there.

How fast has the response been snowballing? There's immense buzz online. My Twitter stream is constantly packed with exhortations to go join you guys.

I started this sometime around midnight (last) Thursday. The first people signed up within ten minutes. By mid-morning, there were 500 people. Now there are 3,800 people, at last count. It's moving really fast, and will grow even faster because there's been some press. Six newspaper interviews, one TV channel, and more lined up.

And all the people signing up are women?

Actually, the great thing is that there are lots of men. A group in Delhi [Images], that started out at about the same time or just before us, wanted to send Valentine's Day cards to the Shri Ram Sene -- essentially the exact same idea. So they contacted us and we decided to make the collection points the same, at least in Delhi. And that group is mostly men.

Was it easy to use Facebook to mobilise your innerwear-donating troops, as it were?

The book Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky, has been my best resource for online organising. You understand that working online takes away the micromanaging completely. The Internet has totally changed the way organisations work.

There's a classic example of churches being restricted to their own parish, but one fairly right-wing church in the US decided they didn't like their diocese, and shifted allegiance to a Nigerian diocese! It's unthinkable before the Internet.

And what would you call the point of the overall exercise?

I started it as an impulse. I would never started a group on Facebook before; I am not even particularly active there. But when the news broke, I started getting madder and madder, and the news coverage that night appealed to my sense of how insane this is. The next morning I spoke to some friends and colleagues, and we decided we had to have an action point.

You say action, but isn't there a danger of these groups just sticking to a fashionable protest and ending up similar to a candlelight vigil that doesn't really go anywhere?

Well, the next step really is to develop more structure. We're suggesting a post-Saturday response, to demonstrate political commitment. We're asking women going to their nearest local political representative. But I agree that will be a long process, and the momentum is difficult to sustain.

A friend said 'we have to go beyond reaction', and that really does make sense. And while it's true that a lot of these people may not want to continue beyond V-day, but some of them will.

Do you feel the idea of the group, and what it's doing, is also catching on simply because the process centres around one sexy idea?

See, this is the dilemma. On the one hand, you don't want to ignore what happened. The problem is that the Shri Ram Sene are a franchise. They're not loony, not stupid, none of those things. They have sat down and coldly thought about what they can do to get ahead. It is a cold political decision. So if we react, aren't we fuelling what they do? And yes, we are.

So we decided that we will respond with contempt and not with indignation. You are not a cultural guardian, you are not a moral authority. We just think you're worthy of our contempt. You haven't stricken terror in people's hearts or anything.

And why exactly, um, pink? Because it's a 'girl colour'?

Yeah, A, it's a girl colour. And also, it's the opposite of khaki (laughs) -- the exact opposite, on a colour spectrum. And B, because pink is somehow ridiculously fluffy. So some people are offended by the pinkness, and the word chaddi offends the others.

Aren't you at all worried that the Sene might imagine themselves as rockstars, what with a nation of women tossing knickers at them?

(Laughs) Then they're much better men than I am, Gunga Din! Honestly, a thousand-load of underwear from dubious sources would not get me thrilled.

Has there been any negative reaction online? Threats, obscene Facebook messages, the like?

It has been such a surprise, really. I have always considered online forums a 'deep, dark, dangerous place'. Some forums are just 'terrifying'. People who comment on some of them are the online equivalent of the streets I want to stay away from. Massive numbers, no moderation. But we haven't had much negativity. Possibly the notional silliness of the venture has kept things quite quiet.

There are people who have called it frivolous, saying that 'women are walking 15 km to fetch water,' but the way I see it those women aren't exactly helped by the Shri Ram Sene either. Then there are some arguing about the nuances, saying 'Why don't you get angry with the Shri Ram Sene and leave the RSS out of it?' Well, it's simply because we consider the Ram Sene a franchise.

Who is the 'we'?

There are 2-3 of us in Delhi, actively doing stuff. And a lot of other people in the background, organising things, making calls etc. In Bangalore, there's a much bigger group. A lot of people have jumped in from Blank Noise and are helping out.

I spent five years in the NGO world and that has helped, and most of the people involved are friends from there. I'd say in total it's about 50 people working on the campaign now.

And how hard has it been to juggle the campaign alongside work?

Hellish! But I've told people at work, and they understand the need for one to have to do something like this, take a stand, every now and then. And it's also about risk.

I mean I cover Bollywood, what is the highest risk that I could ever have? Abhay Deol [Images] won't pick up the phone and that isn't much of a risk. A lot of my colleagues are women who go into really dangerous positions for investigating and put their lives on the line. And that helps put things into perspective.

People, go spread the pink love. Nisha's promised me a drink if they hit 10,000 pairs. Meanwhile, write to me at senterfold@rediffmail.com, about innerwear, pinkness or maybe something about movies. Cheers, and see y'all at the pubs on Valentine's Day.


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