Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't drink in a pub - drink cow's urine instead!

In a region beset by Muslim fundamentalism, India’s radical Hindus are apparently eager to show that they can be just as nutty in their quest to keep India in the dark ages and rid it of allegedly corrupting foreign influences.

Cowpiss soda
One hardline conservative group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have been in trouble before for attacking mosques. Now they have turned their sights to another force they see as destructive to Indian culture – Western soft drinks. But since their previous campaigns to ban Coke and Pepsi have not been successful, the RSS are planning to out-compete the Western soda giants by launching their own soft drink – made of cow urine.

Yes, apparently some Hindus believe cow’s urine has medicinal properties and drink it at religious festivals. And I’m sure it tastes fantastic.

But most aspects of Hindu extremism are less amusing, particularly as they have tacit backing from the ruling conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In recent times there have been pogroms against Christians in the eastern state of Orissa and against Muslims in the western state of Gujarat, both states controlled by the BJP.

Harassment of women and couples
The obsessions du jour of Hindu crazies are the recent trends of women attending pubs, and the celebration of Valentines Day. In particular, these self-style moral police see young unmarried couples walking around together as some kind of threat to Indian traditions. One Hindu nationalist group in Chennai has threatened lovers found in public that they will be handed over to the police. Elsewhere, radicals have been forcing young couples to either get married, or tie on string bracelets which signify that they are brother and sister.

Many conservatives consider it un-Indian for women to frequent pubs (it’s okay for men, obviously), and there have been recent attacks on female students in pubs in the Southern college town of Mangalore, in another BJP-controlled state. The group responsible, the Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram’s Army) did it ostensibly to protect Indian culture and prevent the women from going astray. “Our action was aimed at protecting women,” said group founder Pramod Mutalik. “In our culture, we respect and salute women and give them the status of mother.” How thoughtful of them.

Just as thoughtful as the mob of militants in the town of Ujjain who attacked an actual brother and sister walking together, since they mistook them for a romantic couple.

But in their own way, young and progressive Indians are fighting back. Secular vigilante squads have been formed and deployed to potential troublespots, to ensure that radicals do not harass women. It is a small but strong act of defiance against the Hindu nationalist juggernaut, and seemingly a much-needed one, particularly as many in the police force seem to collude with the radicals.

Gathering publicity around the world has been the group originating on Facebook called “Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women” (love the name), which has mocked the Sri Rim Sena by having its members send the SRS pairs of pink chaddis (underpants) in celebration of Valentines Day.

Reports suggest that the day came and went without major incident, largely due to police rounding up known nationalist troublemakers, Mutalik included, and jailing them as a preventative measure.

Its interesting to observe that despite the the deep enmity the Hindu radicals have for Muslims, there are so many similarities between them and Muslim hardliner moral police such as Afghanistan’s Taliban and Indonesia’s vigilante squad known as the Islamic Defenders Front. Not that they’d admit it, of course.

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