IT’S BEEN AMUSING to see the uproar around the Pink Chaddi Campaign over the last few days, with some of the ‘finest journalistic minds in the country’ pitching in with their opinions. This piece, ironically called ‘What Lies Beneath’, by Sagarika Ghose in Hindustan Times was particularly baffling, shallow as a frying pan and about as full of noise. I wish one could ignore such vapidity, but the piece was also disturbing at many levels. Some of us sent a rejoinder to HT. Unsurprisingly, they neither acknowledged it, nor responded.
Ghose starts off targeting the Pink Chaddi Campaign because according to her, “sending pink underwear to perverts is pretty undignified” — and moves on to urge “India’s young” to “emulate Sarojini Naidu and Jawaharlal Nehru”, instead of “trying to be like characters from Sex In The City”.
While her patronizing tone does a disservice to many of us, it also tars the unfortunate women attacked in Mangalore with the same brush and trivializes their pain.
The women, who in her zeal to talk about class divides, Ghose seems to have forgotten. Apart from the odd mention, they barely figure in her post. She ignores the fact that this incident was symptomatic of a larger pattern of gender-based violence. As Aparna Singh, a freelance writer in Bangalore, points out: “If elite and westernised lifestyles is the only thing drawing out anger from an underclass, how come this anger was only directed at women? What about elite and westernised men? While class certainly plays a role, the fact is that women stepping into certain areas ‘designated’ for men is not taken well.”
Ghose completely sidesteps this to argue that “this is a class war expressed through culture.” A valid point, and one that deserves careful thought. Unfortunately, Ghose seems incapable of giving it that. Her solution to this problem is garbled and confusing. She says: “We must learn from the Nehruvians of the 40s and 50s who were incredibly westernised, but deeply rooted; many of whom were rich but lived modest, tasteful lives. They drank, smoked and romanced, yet were discreet and embodied a tradition of Indian elitism that was rooted in excellence.”
And what is her definition of “excellence”. What must India’s youth do to earn the right to “drink, smoke and romance”? Ghose is exacting on this count. She explains: “C. Rajagopalachari was considered a scholar in three language. Rukmini Devi Arundale may have been deeply influenced by the Theosophical Movement but dedicated her life to reviving Indian dance and music by founding the Kalakshetra academy. Sarojini Naidu’s favourite poet was Shelley but she took pride in the fact that she could speak Urdu, Telugu and Bengali.”
Firstly, Ghose has no proof that young people frequenting pubs do not know three or four languages. Here, in the south, many are proficient in their mother tongues and know two or three languages besides English. Many are also — whether she believes it or not — reasonably close to their families, go to temples, have learned Carnatic classical music. Does this qualify as ‘excellence’ enough or do they also need to run dance schools in their spare time?
Secondly, why should any adult have to prove anything to anyone to enjoy simple recreation? Is Ghose suggesting that hard-working, independent young people whip out scholarly credentials before entering a pub? Should they need to prove their moral discretion before kissing?
And to whom? A bunch of goons who rampage like beasts? Or self-styled social theorists at media houses (which, don’t forget, spend hours of airtime drooling over the latest sensation)?
Apart from these gemmy suggestions, she has no constructive ideas on how the debate on class and culture should be taken forward. Ammu Joseph, noted feminist writer and journalist, agrees that the class element cannot be denied but points out what Ghose misses. “Class divides are shifting. For example, there may not be much class difference between Sene activists and call centre workers, who often belong to very lower middle class families even though they have now been catapulted into a different socio-economic and maybe even cultural space via their jobs.”
Feminist researcher and author Sumi Krishna adds, “Ghose’s blithe conclusion that this is a ‘class war expressed through culture’ seems to be based on hearsay rather than grounded in the complexities of southern-coastal Karnataka. It is true that rapid socio-economic changes have heightened the gap between rich and poor, and that this has been exploited by the saffron fringe to incite violence, but this violence has been directed against religious and sexual minorities, and women of all classes. It is not class concerns that drive the Bajrang Dal, Ram Sene and other groups but communal mind-sets and regressive attitudes to Indian women and to Indian cultures. The range of protests in Bangalore and elsewhere by women’s rights activists, by organisations of dalits and slum-dwellers, by IT people and academics, reflects that this is not a fight about the ‘pub drinking’ elite lifestyles of privileged urban women but about fundamentalism and gendered violence.”
Joseph also questions the hypocrisy of Ghose’s statement about the IPL auction being a “stark exhibition of glamour and wealth, in an economy where 500,000 workers have just lost their jobs, was an unabashed spectacle of rootless elitism.”
“How much air time does CNN-IBN give to blue-collar workers or unorganised labourers who’ve lost their jobs thanks to the downturn in the economy? Or to any of the other life and death issues with which millions of Indians are grappling every day?” she asks.
As Senior Editor of CNN-IBN, perhaps Ghose should start with cleaning up her own house.
In criticizing the Pink Chaddi Campaign, she also forgets something fundamental – the need to have a voice. While larger changes have to be wrought through dialogue, and will take time, there is a threat that needs to be addressed right now. Goons are beating up people in broad daylight for engaging in perfectly legal activities. People are afraid of going out, going to a mall, holding hands in public. This is a threat to individual freedom and a mockery of the law. This must be protested. Loudly and strongly. The mode of protest is really incidental as long as it’s legal –- which sending pink panties certainly is.
Dilnavaz Bamboat, pediatric therapist and founder member of India Helps, points out that Ghose is “missing (or refusing to see) the point about protest activism: Often, it’s not the actual object used to resist but the symbolism behind it, and even more importantly, merely the spirit of objection that movements wish to invoke.”
Comparing it to the protests in New York against the war in Iraq, she says, “I knew that George Bush gave two hoots about a non-resident like me and my roughly-made arm band, but it wasn’t about marching or bands as much as it was about voices raised in protest and millions of people finding a way to say ‘this is just not on’….whether we’re throwing bricks, underwear or mini-skirted chicken legs at Muthalik, Ghose has failed to realize that the first step is cohesive protest.”
Or perhaps, from her vantage point in the ivory tower offices of CNN-IBN, she sees no need for it.
And here’s another response to the piece that sounds out its hollowness.
Filed under: Culture, Desipundit, Media, Morality, Our Bodies, Politics, Violence Against women | Tagged: hindustan times, Mangalore pub attacks, mangalore violence, pink chaddis, protest, sagarika ghose |