Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the pink

the Underwear Underground
News from India

It's time for what has become the annual update on the Great Indian Valentine's Day Controversy.

In case you have only recently joined us, self-styled "defenders of Indian culture" have protested, often violently, against the de facto adoption of Valentine's Day into the calendar of many and varied Indian festivals.

And it's not just "Hindu nationalists" - reports indicate Muslim hardliners as equally incensed. Looks like a great opportunity for interfaith bonding against a mutually recognized "threat."

Mind you, no one in the pro-VD camp is suggesting that VD be an official, government holiday...the cultural curmudgeons just don't want private citizens strolling hand-in-hand or sending valentine cards.

The recent Mangalore pub incident has the Moral Police back in the headlines, major. (As Richard Gere, Shilpa Shetty and Khushboo can tell you, they are not to be trifled with.)

This year, there's a very creative response - the Pink Chaddi Campaign from the Consortium of Loose, Forward & Pub-Going Women. PCC asks participants to send a pair of pink women's undies (any size, style or fabric) to the head office of the Moral Police - mailing address found here.

No, Valentine's Day is not a part of traditional India. Neither are televisions, cell phones, DVD players or cars. Or speaking English, for that matter. Or cricket. What a great idea - let's get rid of all those, too!

Even in America, I personally always found "V D" to be an obnoxious holiday, regardless of one's relationship status. If you are not attached, VD sucks for obvious reasons. Even if you are, it puts insane pressure on the relationship to prove itself visually and materially. Yuck! But if someone chooses to celebrate it in whatever fashion, that is their choice. My anti-Valentine's friends and I used to have an annual "Love Stinks" party, the apex of which was playing the J. Geils anthem at full volume.

One of the Ram Sene's threats is "tie or die" - that any couple found holding hands or "canoodling" on the 14th will be forced (by them) to marry then and there on the spot. OR ELSE.

Now, despite the death threat, let's try to look at this in a positive way. What a great opportunity for all the gay and lesbian Indian couples who otherwise could never marry! Now's their chance!

Subhamoy Das of Hinduism has thoughtfully provided an overview of (shock!) romantic love stories found in the annals of traditional Hinduism. The image at right is one of the more G-rated depictions found in "traditional" art.

Perhaps no other faith glorifies the idea of love between the sexes as Hinduism. This is evident from the amazing variety of mythical love stories that abounds Sanskrit literature, which is undoubtedly one of the richest treasure hoards of exciting love tales.

Let's face it, the western Cupid is just a cheap, cherubic ripoff of the god Kamadeva.


Raghubeer said...


For one thing, Kamadeva (lord of lust) was burned by Shivji. That should tell you what ancient Indians though of lust.

Sirensongs said...

@Raghubeer: I never said they revered lust. Cupid has pretty annoying roles in western mythology as well. My point is that Kamadeva is recognized and has a role. I don't think we can extrapolate what all ancient Indians thought of lust by one story, when the temples are covered in artwork that appears to celebrate the sex act.

Calling Mahadeva "Shivji?" i thought Shivaji was the name of a war hero. I've never ever heard the god addressed that way. Let's not turn "chhatrapati" Shivaji into a deity (too late for that evidently).

Sirensongs said...

---and furthermore, Kamadeva was resurrected for the sake of his would-be widow.

Raghubeer said...

Shivji, not Shivaji is a common term for Lord Siva in north India.

"when the temples are covered in artwork that appears to celebrate the sex act"

: what temples, Khajuraho?, Konark?

Khajuraho was made by a raja who loved sex. It is not a recognized "tirtha". Sorry but we Hindus don't consider that our "mecca".

It just shows everyone in ancient India has freedom of expression. Expect for the eastern area where Shakta cult is active, do majority of temples have erotic sculptures. But even here there are different strains of Vedic religion ("hinduism"). For example Assam also has a Vaishnava tradition that is downright puritanical compared to the local Shakti cults.

Raghubeer said...

*Expect in the eastern area where Shakta cult is active, majority of temples elsewhere do not have this erotic carvings.

Sorry I mistyped that sentence

John said...

Happy Kamadeva's day!

Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan said...

Krishna's Raas-Krida celebrated over 9 days as Nav-ratri with Dandiya and Raas should perhaps be the Hindu Velentine's day. They chose to celebrate the cosmic love over 9 days - let us not trivialize that to just one day in Feb! Ram Sene's may also not interfere with the celebration of these 9 days!

Wikipedia states the following about V-day:
"The day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines". Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards. The popularity of Valentine cards in 19th century America was a harbinger of the future commercialization of holidays in the United States.

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas. "

So, clearly, V-Day is not so much about love, as much as it is about the "greeting cards" - and billions of dollars in revenues for multinational companies that can then use that money for the "cultural invasion" un-cultured countries! In my child-hood I was not even aware of a day called V-Day! I think it was in the 80's that the chain "Archies" made its entry into India. It was they who popularized V-Day to the extent it is being celebrated today in India.

All protests against V-day are truly protests against this invasion of so-called "Indian culture" by these multinationals -who have now started, for making revenues< pitching all kinds of days - from father day to mothers day to sisters day to brothers day to rose day - to Indians who did not know about these days (and therefore uncultured!). Thanks a billion dollars to Greeting card companies - especially Archies and Hallmark - India is now cultured enough to "express itself freely!"

Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan said...

I must clarify the following points:

1. I do not endorse Ram Sene's violence against women at the pub, nor their method of protesting cultural invasion being spread by Globalization.

2. I am not against globalization and therefore accept that the "cultural invasion" aspect of globalization cannot be eliminated without eliminating globalization itself.

3. What really frustrates me is the that India has not been able to export its culture as much to the west, as west has exported its culture to India! If globalization is a level playing field, such joyous expression of love as Raas would have found its way to the West as much as the V-Day frenzy has taken roots in India.

4. The colonial past of India, and the great extent the Muslims and English went to wipe out India's Hindu roots, and its Hindu culture keep playing in mind as "inappropriate" - some of them were worse than war crimes. Not many in the present generation are even aware of those atrocities that were worse than how Iraqis were treated by a handful of rogue legal occupiers.

Yet, what frustrates me is - why should India be coerced at WTO and elsewhere to play ball to MNC ambitions? Clearly, Globalization is not a level playing field - some are favored more than the other. That is inequality is what should be protested against - not women wearing western outfits and women going to pubs.

Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan said...

Ragubeer:"Expect in the eastern area where Shakta cult is active, majority of temples elsewhere do not have this erotic carvings."

One of India's most revered temples of the south is the temple of Thiruvarangan at Srirangam. Even that temple has erotic scupltures!

Sirensongs said...

I have a question. What about HOLI? There is an Indian holiday that has far lustier, more rude manifestations than anything traditionally associated with V Day. Perhaps it was not intended as a day women are attacked but it has become so. Who's objecting to that?

Everyone has good points here that I would like to address. But in the interests of time:
@Raghubeer: -Name one way in which your POView differs from that of the Taliban. "Women should not move abour freely; anything that is not traditional should be destroyed." What separates such views from those of the Taliban?

-Calling the women who go to pubs "whores" is what is known as an ad hominem attack (in this case, ad feminem). In other words, a personal character slur that does nothing to further your argument and could be construed as libel (just ask Barkha Dutt!). In fact, since I occasionally go to pubs, I take it as a personal attack.

And, re: Ms Susan's faith: the last time I checked, it was not a crime to be a Christian. Not even in India. Nor does it detract from her qualifications to lead such a protest movement.

@Sudarshan: Thanks for your well-thought-out comments.

-We here in the west have long realize VDay is a silly, contrived holiday that is more about making corporate bucks than promoting "lust," love, romance or anything of the sort. But all holidays, including Indian ones, have become commercialized and distorted into gift-giving frenzies. An objection to the preponderance of "market values" in modern life should extend to those as well. I was surprised and disappointed to find that most major Indian holidays (Diwali, Dussehra etc) have just become shopping sprees more than religious festivals.

-and thanks for your comment re. the temples. True, not all temples have erotic imagery, though many do; many do not. One important reason we do not see more of the erotica is that it was eradicated by various waves of Muslim invaders. It is indeed ironic to hear supposed Indian patriots and Hindus objecting to erotic depictions. They would seem more at home in the Taliban.

Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan said...


"objections raised by supposed Indian patriots and Hindus to erotic depictions" --

The root of all objections lie in RSS' theory of "economic imperialism." Fresh after independence, when India was still recovering from the 200+ years of colonial rule, RSS had identified Globalization as a form of "economic imperialism" the west was practicing. True, Globalization lived up to its reputation of exporting not only goods and services, but also culture. Over the years the protests against globalization metamorphosed into protests against what the society could easily perceive as "adoption of western culture" - namely the celebration of v-day itself. Most political leaders in India lack quality education to understand what they are actually doing and do not understand how this metamorphosis happened. The same politicians that organize Dandiya Raas spending and earning millions of dollars during the 9 days of Navraatri, resort to protests against v-day celebrations - during which millions of dollars are earned by MNCs. During Navraatri it is a known fact that most Hindu girls get official permission from parents to stay out till late. Love and sex comes out of the closet during those 9 days as well! they wear far more revealing cholis than what western outfits reveal. Why do these so called Hindutva parties not protest against those? because during those 9 days, they make all the money. they are the beneficiaries of the commerce that takes place during the 9 days. ON v-day, they are not the beneficiaries - the MNCs make the money. This is what they are really protesting. Their inate desire is to spoil the opportunity for MNCs to make that money. They say they will marry off couples if seen together during v-day. Instead why not marry them off during Navraatri? Navraatri, though a Hindu festival, even attracts members of other religions.

Do Hindutva parties protest erotic sculptures? they dont? because it is part of the temple. What they are really protesting during V-Day is MNCs making money - therefore they attacks everything that externally manifests as western culture on that day.

Now, let us not forget, the same Archies, and Hallmarks, also produce gifts and cards that are exchanged during Navraatri. They also make their fair share during that festival. That is not protested by them.

Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan said...

btw, I cannot agree with the usage of the word "Talibanization" in this context. Talibanization is an form of "extreme coercion and complete restriction of freedom at all times, round the year." What is happening in Mangalore, and other places is selective protest against multinational interests by affecting customers of such multinational products and services, coinciding with an occassion that represents adoption of western culture. Adoption of western culture is not protested at all times. Couples enjoying each others' company on Marine Drive or Bandstand or going to pubs are not attacked every day. Cards with love messages are exchanged practically day. That is not attacked. Also, if the same love is expressed during Hindu occasions it is not attacked. Freedom is not restricted at all times - only on occasion. The attack on freedom is condemnable. However, truly speaking, the attack is on consumption of western culture - following Indian culture does not mean, not expressing love at all. Just don't do it on an occassion that represents "economic imperialism" imposed by the West - namely v-day!

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

@Sudarshan: I understand that "Talibanization" is more accurately applied to restrictions on everyday life. But weren't the Mangalore women just participating in daily life? They were not in a pub for V Day, the attack took place in january.

I think V Day provides a convenient excuse for the "national" thugs to do what they would like to do on a daily basis - Back To the Old School or else. That is fundamentalism, as also practiced by Taliban.

At the same time, such 'patriots' are the first to want India to "progress." You can't have it both ways. (Some of) India has greatly benefited from the open economy of some 15 yrs ago and some degree of globalization. They don't seem to mind so much all the money and technology and growing middle class. These objections seems to be selective.

I remember accounts of similar groups attacking the KFC outlets in Bangalore Brigade Rd a while back, in the name of anti-multinationalism. Are they still attacking Microsoft, Oracle, Dell etc?

Another question: let's get out a dictionary and look up a definition of "imposed." Imposed by the West? Where is the firearm aimed at Indian heads forcing them to buy stupid cards? Where is there any force involved? there is advertising, sure. To say that indians are helpless in the face of crass western commercial appeals is to say that they are so stupid, they are incapable of restraining themselves from following trends.
Bit of a disservice....

They have a choice of whether to buy, or not. No one is imposing anything any more than they are imposing the new Madonna Cd on India.

If there were a hegemony or monopoly truly being imposed, I would also resist such a practice. I don't see that here. The Indians who want V Day are buying V Day, because they want it....or have been suckered into being taught to want it. One can't fault the purveyors of schlock for finding willing customers.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

More thoughts:
if Diwali catches on as a new holiday imported to America - with kids demanding fireworks, new clothes, sweets and so on- will India then be imposing globalized practices on America?

Doesn't culture evolve and change to accomodate new influences from all over? At one time (albeit long ago) Christmas was new to both India and the US.

The fact that V Day, however silly, was not part of traditional India does not mean it can't be part of Modern India, like so many other components from elsewhere.

--As it is an excuse to exchange flowery sentiments, frilly cards and lots and lots of sweets, V Day would seem to be a quintessentially Indian holiday. Also it has never been so 'sexual' in nature as many indians seem to interpret it. As children we give valentines to our best friends; families also exchange them. My father gives his daughters VDay candy every year! Nothing to do with romance, just affection.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

--"frustrated that India has not been able to export..."

But Indian holidays ARE catching on in the west. Garbha dancing is so much fun, wait till the US kids start attending their NRI schoolmate's functions. it will be all the rage!! :-)

Delta RX said...

I just enjoy the way people debate on mundane issues :) It's actually more interesting than newspapers (which I never read) or fiction novels (which I always read)... (Boy, am I gonna receive some serious flak for this! *Starts barricading doors, changing email ids, SIM cards* :P)

My opinion (which hopefully I'm still "allowed" on) - SRS people need to get a life and/or job. They didn't have anything better to do, so they went about harassing innocent women and "propagandizing" "religious" "sentiments" and such hilarious kwap.. Don't most out-of-work and/or out-of-mind, self-righteous, brain damaged, seriously deluded/brainwashed/braindead/(refer above, I'm bored) people do that? Don't the news always cover such wonderful stories beyond our expectations? (again, refer out-of-work) Don't people with job/work etc. to whom any incident never happened (including me, of course) talk about it, argue, rebel for a few (time variations depending on intensity, atrocity and nature of incident), then get on with life? It's a simple truth, face it... Life moves on, in the long run, no one gives a damn :)

Besides, haven't the SRS got more than what they wanted? They got a temporary job of beating women up, appearing on news, making obscene phone calls to women, and sniffing pink lingerie (bite me) They got immense TV coverage, which nearly all Indians love. They've got me and you arguing about what they've done (I'm not arguing though) Some got free food in jail for a night (I think?) But most importantly, they got PINK WOMEN UNDERWEAR!!! All kinds too!! They must be W00t-ing on that for sure! Man, those things are expensive, they've probably made money enough till the next VDay!

@Raghu(beer) (sorry dude, couldn't resist :D) - I don't have a clue about Hinduism and kwap, mostly because I don't give a damn, but I'm pretty sure most straight Indian men do consider Khajurao our "mecca" :P (bite me)

@Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan - Love your name dude! (honestly) Reminds me of my childhood friend's name Venkatakrishnan Srinivasan Ranganathan. Oh, and I'm a south Indian too, but unfortunately my name's a measly Rahul :(

I'm surprised that a guy with intelligence such as yours failed to see the indiscreet wrath and con of the west! You should have warned us dude, via email, mobile phones and television, all of which I'm sure Indians invented and the west stole :O

PS, I know at least 5 foreigners who love India and follow our ways (which is a good enough ratio for me, considering there are 1.2 billion of us, and just 2/3 billion of them) and I would suggest you peek in at ISKON and Art of Living for starters. I dunno what they do there, so not supporting, just wondering (eat me)

@John - Is that a real day? If so, the anti-SRS have a new job! Roflolz!

@Sirensongs - Forgive me if I've been too sarcastic and/or unemotional, I'm just plain bored :) I simply love the way you parry back with your words :) That doesn't mean I agree with everything you say, though... Again, my opinions vary. Also kindly also forgive those hominids who can't block your counter attack :) Like I said in the Slumdog comment (Marathi politicians actually didn't understand "Slumdog" meant "gulli/jhopad ka kutta" which often they use in everyday speech), India is way too diverse for understanding... Do keep writing, it's a pleasure to read your posts and comments :D

Oh and before some of the offended intend to write back, I must warn them - I don't care :) Yes, I am what you think I am, and I'll just love it if you put it in words :D Good luck to you in life and all. If you do reply, I'll know you've read my comment, so thank you for that, and may the force be with you... (kill me)

Peace out..