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06 February, 2009

Saffron fascism: the issue is women’s freedom, not pub culture

Pramod Mutalik, chief of the fascist outfit Sri Rama Sene, which attacked young women at a pub in Mangalore last month, has threatened to attack couples found dating on February 14, Valentine’s Day.

“If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” he said at a press conference in Bangalore.

Details in The Hindu: “We’ll not spare dating couples on Valentine’s Day: Muthalik”

Also, see CNN-IBN story on Mutalik, which includes videoclips of Mangalore pub attack.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Karnataka, the State has witnessed a series of violence by pro-Hindutva groups. It all began with organized attacks on Christian institutions. More recently, hooligans have targeted women in the name of opposing western influences. In this context, the statement by the All India Progressive Women’s Association that their real target is not pub culture, as they claim, but women’s freedom, deserves serious attention.

The following is the text of AIPWA statement, distributed by Rati Rao and Gandhimathi, President and General Secretary respectively, of its Karnataka unit:

Women's freedom, not 'pub culture,' is their target

Around 40 goons of the 'Sri Ram Sene' entered a pub, assaulted people there, dragged women by the hair, molesting them and lifting up their blouses and skirts. They claimed to be righteous defenders of 'Indian morality,' incensed by 'women boozing,' and 'pub culture.' Since these scenes came to people's notice through national TV, there was widespread outrage, and after a delay of many days, finally, some of the perpetrators were arrested. The Chief of the Sri Ram Sene PV Muthalik, is yet to be booked for masterminding this assault though he has been taken into custody on some other charges. The ruling BJP and even the Sangh Parivar (RSS) has tried to distance itself from the Sri Ram Sene.

Today, there are many attempts to turn the story upside down. The perpetrators are being painted as 'rescuers.' The targets of the assault - the women - are being projected as the villains. Their crime? They were spreading 'pub culture,' says CM Yeddyurappa, and 'pub culture,' 'boozing,' etc are 'against Indian culture.' The Chief Minister is echoing the words of Muthalik, the leader of the outfit that attacked women. The 'seer,' of the Udupi Pejawar Math has also tacitly encouraged the attack, saying that if women provoke religious sensitivities by visiting pubs, it is natural for 'everybody to protest.' The State Women's Commission, instead of being concerned over women's rights, has recommended that the pub be closed! Even more shockingly, Nirmala Venkatesh, a representative of the National Women's Commission, has not only recommended closure of the pub; she has said that the Sri Ram Sene member she met in jail said they were 'provoked' by women 'dancing semi nude,' and women, in order to 'protect themselves,' ought not to wear such clothes! Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, from the United Progressive Alliance, AP CM YSR Reddy and the Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, both from the Congress, have all spoken against 'pub culture.'

Is pub culture the real issue?

Is the pub incident a sudden one that happened because innocent men were 'provoked' by 'semi nude dancing' and 'boozing'? Have Sangh Parivar outfits never attacked women before? Let us recollect some facts about events in Karnataka:

On December 12, 2008, a college bus, on an official trip from Mangalore to Mysore, was stoned by the Bajrang Dal, an outfit of the Sangh Parivar, a sister organization of the BJP that rules the state. Several students were injured. The Bajrang Dal defended the attack, saying that allowing Hindu girls to travel with fellow students, especially boys, who were Muslim or Christian, was 'against Indian culture.'

Between July and September 2008, there were at least ten incidents recorded with the district police of attacks on young people in Dakshina Kannada district. The Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility for seven of these incidents, which included assaults on a young woman who visited a friend (another young woman) from another community; on a group of friends including a Hindu girl with her Hindu and Muslim male friends at a hotel in Mangalore; a similar group of young friends who were laughing and talking loudly in a public place; a young woman with her Muslim fiance travelling in a bus; a young Hindu man who brought medicines for his Muslim friend who had been suffering from malaria; Muslim school boys carrying school bags of their classmates who were Hindu girls etc. According to the Bajrang Dal, socializing between communities was an 'immoral act.' The Bajrang Dal head of Dakshina Kannada district, Sudarshan Moodabidri, said 'Sometimes it becomes necessary to use force. Fear of such action should deter such misadventures. Girls reform themselves once they are thrashed and humiliated in public, but boys are tougher to control.' (See The Hindu, Sep 07, 2008)

So, months before the pub attack, a prominent Sangh Parivar leader of Karnataka was openly defending his outfit's actions of 'thrashing and humiliating (women) in public.' Mr. Yeddyurappa, Why were Moodabidri and his goons not arrested? When women are 'thrashed and humiliated,' in pubs, you say you will close down pubs. When girls are thrashed in schools and colleges, it seems you will ban education for women?!

The same Sangh Parivar in BJP-ruled Gujarat raped and massacred thousands of Muslims in 2002. Babu Bajrangi, a Bajrang Dal leader of Gujarat, boasts that he has 'rescued,' (abducted) 1000 Hindu women who had married Muslim men, persuading them no doubt through 'thrashing and humiliation,' to disown their inter-community marriages. Now, the same forces, with help from an obliging BJP government, are trying to turn Karnataka into Gujarat. Can we afford to allow them?

It is a real shame that, instead of sharply challenging the communal fascist and anti-woman agenda of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP-ruled states, Congress leaders, as well as the UPA Government, and its institutions like the NCW, are busy blaming 'pub culture,' and women's choice of dress and lifestyle. Shame on NCW member Nirmala Venkatesh for echoing the patriarchal commandment that women are 'responsible for their own safety,' i.e, they are guilty even when they themselves are the victims of assaults!

Sanghi Terrorism

The Sene chief Muthalik has been giving speeches openly boasting of the Malegaon blasts and promising more of the same. There are also audio recordings, recovered by the Maharashtra ATS, of a retired Major boasting that the Mecca Masjid blasts too (for which innocent Muslim young men suffered brutal torture) were conducted by 'one of us.' By now, it is clear that the Malegaon blasts were the tip of the iceberg. The Sanghi terrorists had a game plan of subverting the Indian constitution and democracy and establishing a 'Hindu Rashtra.' In such a Hindu Rashtra, needless to say, Muslims, Christians and other minorities will face the fate they did in Gujarat and Kandhamal (Orissa). And women can visualize life in such 'Hindu Rashtra,' by seeing the events in Karnataka for the past several months.

Indian women have won their rights and freedoms to education, to choose partners of their choice; against child marriage; against being burnt for sati; to equality in the workplace through hard struggle: a struggle they have to fight daily. We will not surrender these rights to the diktats of the Sanghi terrorists, the saffron Taliban! Let us raise our voice loud and clear against the BJP regime in Karnataka and all other self-appointed custodians of 'morality.' Let us say 'the only morality we uphold is one which respects women's unfettered freedom, and rights to decide their own education, jobs, sexual preferences and partners, and lifestyle; on which abhors any attempts
to poison the relationships between communities.

PS: Mutalik's men appear to have started translating their leader's threat into action. See NDTV report about the attack on the daughter of a Kerala MLA and her friend.

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