The Pink Chaddi Campaign
In late January 2009, a group of 40 activists from right-wing Hindu group Sri Ram Sena attacked women and men hanging out in a pub in the Indian city of Mangalore. They were upset with the women for engaging in behavior they found immoral, claiming that the girls were disrepecting traditional Indian values. Video of the event went viral across India, sparking outrage among many at the attack on innocent women.
Pramod Muthalik, the group’s founder, praised the attack, stating, “Whoever has done this has done a good job. Girls going to pubs is not acceptable. So, whatever the Sena members did was right. You are highlighting this small incident to malign the BJP government in the state.”
Following the attack, the Sri Ram Sena announced plans to target couples out celebrating Valentines Day, threatening to forcibly marry off unmarried couples seen in public places.
How could women and men react to this right-wing group attempts at “moral policing” and take a stand before future attacks?
Upon learning of the incident, a group of young women formed the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose, and Forward Women. One of the group’s organizers, Nisha Susan, said started the group as a faintly bitter joke.” The name of the group was tongue-in-cheek, but their cause wasn’t. They wanted to stand up for women’s rights. Nisha says, “Our fundamental rights are not to be taken away, like gifts with strings.”
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
The group used both traditional and online tactics to voice their discontent. First, a Facebook group was created and Indians quickly began joining. Within one week, the group had grown to over 40,000 members. The organizers then invited all members to take part offline by sending pink underwear (known as chaddis) to Pramod Muthalik, sharing the office’s address and setting up collection points. “Chaddi” became the focus of the campaign because “khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers).”
Why chaddis? As Nisha recalls, “Chaddi is a childish word for underwear and slang for right-wing hardliner....It amused us to embrace the worst slurs, to send pretty packages of intimate garments to men who say they hate us."
Check out the video below of a pile of pink chaddis ready to be sent to Muthalik:
Nisha described her reaction to the welcome response the group received from many supporters:
"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?"
They also called for groups of women to crowd pubs on Valentine’s Day to show support for the victims of the January attack. Members also shared their photos of pink chaddis to the group’s page.
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
The Pink Chaddi campaign provides some good lessons about the opportunities and risks taken when using Facebook as an organizing platform.
First, the organizers found that once the Facebook group reached 5,000 members, they could no longer send messages to all of the group members (this is a Facebook control in place to reduce spam). They were limited to communicating with the group via the page’s discussion board and wall, which they didn’t find as effective as direct messages.
Then, the Facebook group was hacked repeatedly in March and April. Hackers renamed the page “A good bong is a dead bong” and added racist slurs and death threats in its description. Rather than get to the bottom of who was hacking the page, Facebook suspended both Nisha Susan’s and the group’s pages/accounts. Several new groups then sprung up impersonating the original one. Facebook’s support staff wasn’t particularly helpful either and it took months to sort out the issues.
While the hacking came after the campaign had already launched and the bulk of their activities had already been completed, it still highlights the perils that can come with using a Facebook page to organize a campaign.
The Pink Chaddi campaign took a stab at bringing the issue of what Indian culture means to different individuals and generations to the forefront. Nisha reflected, “Many of us feel isolated in our unhappiness with right-wing groups of any religion disrupting our way of life. This campaign was aimed to protest the climate of fear being created by right wing groups in Mangalore. And to an extent we have succeeded in creating a dent — giving people a sense of hope.”
Over 2,000 pink chaddis were sent to Muthalik, leaving him embarassed by the ridicule. Days before Valentine’s Day, Muthalik called off his threat of Valentine's Day violence. He and his supporters were placed in preventive custody by the state government.
Indian bloggers and journalists had a wide range of reactions to the campaign, with some supportive of the aims of the group while others writing that while the attacks were not justified, many women have been undermining traditional values by going out to pubs.
In the video below, a number of women debate the merits of the campaign on Indian television.
Delhi-based social media guru Gaurav Mishra shared what he believes to be three important lessons from the campaign:
Lesson 1: Build your campaign around the zeitgeist, or the social, cultural and political ethos of your identified target group. Then, give it a humorous or irreverent tweak to help it stick.
Lesson 2: Build virality into your campaign. Choose a compelling message that users want to share. Then, use a platform that makes it easy for them to share the message.
Lesson 3: Design your campaign to translate online engagement into offline action. Use modularity and granularity to make it easy to take collective action by breaking it down into smaller individual actions that can be taken independently.
The campaign leadership also helped organize participants for a “Take back the night” rally and the blog was also used for women to share reports of attacks and what people can do if they are victims of violence.blog comments powered by Disqus