At the end of January in Mangalore, India, a group of right-wing extremists, the Sri Rama Sena, entered a bar and assaulted the women there. This pro-Hindu group is known for its moral policing and told the authorities that they attacked the women "because of the attitude of the young women." They accused the women of "involving themselves in immoral activities, including consuming alcohol, dressing indecently, and mixing with youths of other faith.'' These men used their religion and personal conception of Indian culture as excuses to violently lash out against those whose lifestyles they disagreed with. The attack, which involved the men beating, chasing, and kicking the women who fell down, was caught on tape and aired on Indian television to a shocked public.
The response from women was swift. Since the Sena also threatened to attack any couple they found celebrating on Valentine's Day, a campaign was created asking women to stand up against extremism and bullying on February 14. Supporters were asked to send the Sena pink chaddis (Indian slang for underwear) and to deliberately go to pubs on Valentine's Day. A group called the "Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women" formed on Facebook and in about a week's time grew to over 50,000 members (one of the fastest growing groups ever). The Sena has yet to comment on the protest and consortium members are moving forward in a new campaign to help assert the diversity of Indian culture.
I applaud these women for taking a stand against those who would use violence to control them, but it was a sobering reminder of the ways religion is used to bully women. Perhaps women aren't always being brutally attacked in the streets, but they still have violence perpetrated against them. Violence also consists of emotional insults used to belittle and demean, as well as manipulative strategies employed to exert control over others.
I've been a part of Christian culture long enough to hear my fair share of violent talk from men attempting to bully me into their vision for the world. I've been condemned for the same "immoral activities" the Sena attacked the Indian women for. As a student at a Christian college, I constantly read fliers or letters in the student newspaper about how indecently the girls on campus dressed. We were told that it was our fault for causing the men to stumble and that if we were good Christians we would dress differently. Looking back, I know that in that conservative Midwestern environment we actually were extremely modest in our dress, but had been manipulated into feeling sinful and guilty by those wishing to control us and abdicate their personal issues onto us.
This same violent manipulation is used by those who blame women for getting raped because of their appearance or who tell women that they deserve to be hit by their husbands. Choosing to emotionally terrorize women and force blame onto women for the sins of men is simply just another form of violent control. And using religion and cultural ideology as rationales for the violence makes its impact all the more damaging.
So I find campaigns like the pink chaddis to be inspiring. These are rallying cries that bring together women in order to overturn the manipulation and control. The violence and bullying can easily continue controlling women unless an effort is made to take a stand. These women are telling the world that they have a right to not be humiliated, guilt-tripped, or terrorized by ideologies. They will not let fear permit the strong arm of violence to destroy their lives.
And unlike in ages past where women were bullied into silence, thankfully these days it is difficult for women's voices not to be heard. We just have to speak up.