Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 8, Dated Feb 28, 2009
The Pink Chaddi Campaign: why it began and how
ON A THURSDAY, way past midnight, the
Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and
Forward Women sprang up on Facebook.
We had started the group as a faintly bitter
joke. In five minutes two women had signed
up laughing. Twenty-four hours later the campaign to send
pink chaddis to Pramod Muthalik and to crowd pubs with
unlikely occupants was in full swing. The joke was now
While the Mangalore pub
attack had created a numbing
sense of déjà vu, it was actually
the Sri Ram Sene’s promise of
violence on Valentine’s Day
that stirred my friends and
me. It should not have. After
all, the social calendar of
right-wing groups requires a
media circus in February.
Asiya Andrabi in Kashmir, for
instance, has a widely-followed
annual Valentine’s Day
scourge. We were caught between
fuelling the media-hungry
Sene or condoning their violence.
Five years of hard work
from the Sangh Parivar and its Muslim counterparts has ensured
that coastal Karnataka has neighbours turning against
each other, young people in colleges and on the streets afraid
to even make eye-contact with the opposite sex, parents supporting
and defending goons who beat up their children. All
spectators understood that the Sene, a new and unwelcome
franchise of India’s favourite corporation, the moral police,
was announcing a play for greater power. While Karnataka’s
BJP Government watched to see whether Muthalik could pull
off his boast, we decided to give the Sene some attention.
Did we anticipate the response we got? No. Within a day of
starting the campaign we had 500 odd members. In a week we
hit 40,000. From Puerto Rico to Singapore, from Chennai to Ahmedabad, from Guwahati to Amritsar, people wrote to us,
how do I send my chaddis? But by then the campaign had gone
offline. Elderly men and women, schoolchildren, middle-aged
housewives, gravelly-voiced big men from Bihar who did not
quite want to say the word chaddi aloud called us. The Sene
called us on the numbers we had helpfully left online
demanding, “Who is your leader?” How satisfying it was to say
that we had none. How satisfying that young people offered
their homes as collection points, bravely allowing their
addresses to be published online.
How satisfying that the
crazies and conspiracy theorists
were outnumbered ten to
one by hilarious stories. Were
you the one who told us that a
famous Bollywood lyricist had
written a song for the gulabi
chaddi? Or were you the one
who sent us the Amul ads featuring
the pink chaddi? Or
were you one of the Mumbai
housewives gravely posing with
underwear? Or the biker who
created a miniature pink chaddi
to tie on your handlebars?
Our embryonic campaign
has been compared to Myanmar’s Panties for Peace campaign,
with the 1970s mythical bra-burning, with Gandhigiri. The
truth is that we were only thinking of a way to render absurd
the ever-bigger chaddiwala. The truth is that after a lifetime of
worrying about whether this next innocuous action is the one
that will allow the country to take away your rights, it was
wonderful to own up to who you are. I have witnessed the
coming out of many gay friends but never thought I would witness
my own. How wonderful it is to accept that you are an
urban woman, the privileges you have will shame you everyday,
but there are few you will give up. Most importantly, you
are that loose and forward woman, the slur you have tried to
avoid your entire life. And now you were sending your underwear to an avowed fundamentalist. “Be grateful you are not
walking 15 kilometres for water,” used to come as the response
from friends anywhere on the political spectrum, each time
you complained about something. This week, many of us
found ourselves done with gratitude. Our fundamental rights
are not to be taken away, like gifts with strings.
Conversations on Facebook reveal that many members are
not fans of conspicuous consumption or pubs. What we have
in common is that we dislike the ease with which right-wing
groups have been infringing on fundamental rights. Isn’t our
culture infused with ideas of
tolerance and respect for difference?
Living in India has now
begun to feel like being the only
adult in a room full of violent,
overweight children. You never
know what will offend someone
and constantly live in fear.
Don’t ask whose blood the
morcha yells for. It yells for
you. We believe that the Pink
Chaddi Campaign broke
through this climate of fear for
a few moments and reached
adults. Reasonable adults who
don’t take themselves too seriously,
who respect different
ways of life, who were looking
for company in their miserable
The government, confused
by missives of roses, hugs and
protests (apart from our pink
underwear) ensured some protection
on Valentine’s Day. But
when the brother and sister in
Ujjain were beaten up because
the vigilantes mistook them for
a couple, did you laugh or cry?
It was not enough for us, the
laughing hordes who found each other this week, when
Muthalik was taken into preventive custody. It is not the dusty
obscurity we want for him. Ashwini Mulya was 15 years
old when she committed suicide a week ago. Saleem, her
lover/friend stands accused of her rape while the men who
assaulted her in public go blameless.
This week, I also met a very well-spoken older gentleman.
A diplomat, he and his friend, a general, commiserated with
me about the ‘lumpen elements’ taking over Karnataka.
“Young lady, they are lunatics”. I wish I could make them listen
to the calls we have received in the last few days. Men as wellspoken
as the diplomat, with laughter lacing their voice, have
called us to say they are not fanatics, do not like Valentine’s Day or pubs. For the hundredth time, when we explained that
we did not particularly care for either, then the well-spoken
callers asked us, “Then why are you all getting worked up about
a few girls who got beaten?” The media who loved the ‘crazy
girls’ sending underwear to a petty tyrant was hugely supportive.
But we also have uneasy memories of deeper, older
campaigns which never received any attention.
At the beginning of this hectic sprint we had vowed to be
well-mannered. We applauded Muthalik’s sari-for-chaddi
riposte because for 15 minutes in his life he was not thinking
about beating up someone.
Our dignity is not so fragile that
when the saris come we won’t
wear them. But it is when the
reasonable and the pragmatic
call us that silence takes over
the chaddi shop. Where do you
begin these conversations?
We do not think of the
right-wing Hindu, Muslim and
Christian groups as evil. They
are our reptilian hind brains.
We may be uncomfortable saying
aloud: “X group is taking its
rights for granted. They are getting
too cocky and we should
teach them to behave.” Rightwing
groups do that job for us.
They coldly draw up five-year
plans to destroy the people our
subconscious feels threatened
by. Do not hate right-wing
groups. They are our friends.
With the ossifying of many
of those vital, widely inspiring
movements that my generation
grew up around, we now draw
our energy from the everincreasing
generosity of the
Queer Rights movement. Take
this week, for instance. A few hours after we had heard the
disorienting news that a morcha had been taken out against
us in Belgaum, a few hours after Muthalik had been arrested,
some of us found ourselves at the Queer Cafe, a cultural event
hosted by Nigah Media in Delhi. I laughed at funny, breakneck
prose. A woman gave us goosebumps when she sang ‘Yeh
Hai Reshmi Zulfon Ka Andhera’. A beautiful girl recited in the
oddest cadences a poem full of everything I have ever worried
about. She talked about being brave in hopefulness and I cried.
It seemed like the last ever celebration of love.
A week later the Pink Chaddi Campaign has had a good
run. We defenders of Indian culture look forward to more
bravery and hopefulness.