India: Girls Gone Wild!

Illicit hand-holding in shopping malls, canoodling in public parks, and women drinking in pubs. Holy cow! India seems to be veering down the highway to moral hell.

It can be annoying but often amusing when crusty old Indian fuddy-duddies sit around over cups of tea decrying the falling morals of wayward youngsters. Finger wagging is an Olympic sport in India.

But now there are more sinister developments: right wing Hindu nationalists have started making threatening declarations about what is appropriate behavior of Indian women. On 24 January the Sri Ram Sena (the Army of Ram - Ram is a Hindu god) physically attacked and verbally abused several young women at the Amnesia Lounge in Mangalore, a southern Indian college town. The attackers accused the women of being disgraceful and un-Indian for drinking and dancing with men.

Pramod Muttalik, leader of the SRS justified the attacks, saying, "We are the custodians of Indian culture." Muttalik is an old warhorse of the right wing movement. Indian magazine Frontline reported this week that Muttalik has had 41 cases filed against him in the past ten years, mostly for "promoting enmity between different groups." He is well known for inciting violence against Muslims.

The SRS are part of a rather loose coalition of right wing loonies in India affiliated with the BJP, the ruling Congress Party's main rival. The BJP (Pramod Muttalik was once a member) often overlooks the activities of vigilante groups when they target Muslims or go on rants and rampages. But this time, they condemned the violence while at the same time expressing grave concern about the declining morals of Indian youth. Congress politicians are also fretting about India's downwards spiral into the flames of moral hell, with the health minister promising that a new law will be introduced to place restrictions on drinking, or "India will not progress."

"The attack(s have) nothing to do with culture, Indian or Martian. These incidents are just an indicator of how much distance India has to travel to evolve into a modern, sophisticated society," Asma Na, a South Indian social activist told the Huffington Post. "Indian society is far behind Victorian England. The frightening thing is not that this can happen anywhere in India today."

Ten members of the SRS were arrested for the Amnesia Lounge attacks, but their campaign to protect the virtue of Indian women is now launched, and they have received the publicity they so desperately crave. On Valentine's Day - a veritable orgy of chocolates, flowers, cringe-worthy prose and over the top Bollywood style kitsch here in India - they are planning further "protests" against this western conspiracy to dilute Indian culture and destroy women's purity.

"Valentine's Day is definitely not Indian culture," Mutallik said last week. "We will not allow celebration of that day in any form."

Women are hitting back. A facebook group, The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, has attracted over 25,000 members in a week and has launched a campaign to send pink underpants to SRS headquarters by February 14.

The SRS is suspicious of women who would take part on such unseemly activity. "We would like to know the background of these people since nobody from good families would resort to such cheap steps," a spokesperson told the Times of India.

Curiously, India's right wing politicians do not seem overly concerned about the wide spread abuse, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, domestic subjugation and lack of basic human rights for women in their country. Instead, they make a hullaballoo around girls' purity, wasting everyone's time and energy. Did anyone say small-minded fools?