July 2003: I was 16 and for the most part, ungainly and awkward. I had volunteered to assist the school librarian during the summer vacation to re-organize stacks of books in the library. My trade-off was getting books to read. One day, I took a shortcut on my walk home which meant passing through a sports club. That day a huge group of young boys, kicking their footballs around, was in the area. As I soldiered through, a few of them deliberately walked in my path, heckled, laughed and started blurting out obscenities aimed at me. I kept my eyes down and continued to walk steadily, completely flushed. What did I do when I got home? Tell my mother how I felt? Talk to her about what I should have done instead? Wrong. I did absolutely nothing and told no one. Instead I felt dirty and ashamed. Currently however, what can women do if this – or worse forms of eve-teasing – happens to them? Apart from legal action of any kind, they can just go online. Confused? Keep reading.
Hand-in-hand with the reality of the Internet exists the concept of globalization. According to Sparks (2007: 126), there is no single theory of globalization that commands common assent. As Held and his collaborators put it … : “no single coherent theory of globalization exsits’ (Held et al., 1999:436). Apart from a consensus that globalization implies being more connected with people and areas at a distance, various theories differ in ‘fundamental ways’. The Internet has played a huge role in increasing that sense of inter-connectedness, lending further credence to the concept of ‘global village‘ as put forward by Marshall McLuhan.
When the internet was invented, could the founders have envisaged that it would become, not just a way to share information, but a tool for social change? Sparks mentions (2007: 198) that the Internet provides ‘an important tool which is usable by radical movements as part of their drive towards self-organization.’ But even as a way of bringing about change, how effective is it? When I try to think of movements in India that were propelled further because of the power of the internet, only two come to mind: Blank Noise and the Pink Chaddi Campaign (to those readers who have no idea what ‘chaddi’ means, it means ‘pants’ if you’re in the UK and ‘underwear’ if elsewhere!).
Pink Chaddi Campaign
Members of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sena stormed into a pub in Mangalore on 24 January 2009 and attacked a group of people, mostly women, justifying it with their warped belief that the women were destroying all traditional Hindu values by sitting in a pub and therefore deserved to be humiliated. They dragged the women out into the street, hit them, kicked them and revelled in it.
The attack, which was widely publicized on news channels andclippings of which could be found on YouTube, was denounced by many. A group of women, led by Nisha Susan, decided to use the internet to call for shaming the leader of the Sri Ram Sena, Pramod Muthalik. Using a blog and Facebook (they formed a Facebook group called “Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women”) they rallied to send pink chaddis (pants/underwear/whatever you call them) to Pramod Muthalik and send messages of love and peace to him on February 14, Valentine’s Day (Note: right-wing Hindu groups in India, like the SRS believe that celebrating Valentine’s Day is a defacement of Hindu values and often resort of hooliganism to stop any sign of celebrations of the same).
The movement was a success in that people (men included) sent thousands of pink chaddis to Muthalik on Valentine’s Day and in so doing, garnered a lot of attention in the media, further highlighting their cause.
However, after Valentine’s Day, their Facebook group was hacked into and insulting messages posted all over it. Facebook had to take the group down and the founders have decided to not use that social networking site again.
In addition, after the furore the pink chaddi campaign caused, as with most well-meaning campaigns, it slowly ebbed out of the news and hasn’t been repeated again.
- View the current blog of Pink Chaddi founder, Nisha Susan
- Read the article ‘Why we said pants to India’s bigots‘ in The Observer
- View the official blog of the Pink Chaddi Campaign
- View the TV news coverage of the Pink Chaddi Campaign
Being eve-teased is a form of sexual harrassment. Tired of women being told ‘they asked for it’ because of the clothes they were wearing, Blank Noise was launched in 2003 by Jasmeen Patheja to strike back. In 2009, they joined with other organizations and individuals to form the Fearless Karnataka/Nirbhaya Karnataka coalition in order to respond to instances of street violence against women. The movement holds public events and interventions in different parts of the country to raise awareness on the issue.
This campaign, unlike the previous example, is still operational and regularly posts updates on its blog.
- View the official blog for the movement Blank Noise
- View the official Facebook profile for Blank Noise and official fan page.
- Read an article in the Telegraph about the beginnings of Blank Noise
- Read an article in The Christian Science Monitor about Blank Noise
How effective are these two campaigns, both of which used the internet and social media resources to get their messages across? The Pink Chaddi campaign was, in my opinion, a flash-in-the-pan – it came, it dominated for a week or two, it went. If the campaign had held steady and kept updating its blog, interacting with its followers (of which it had amassed many), perhaps the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women would have still been around today. As for Blank Noise, its growth may have been less flashy but more effective.
However it might be said that even with increased accessiblity to the Internet and the World Wide Web in recent times, there is a ‘digital divide’, or the ‘haves and have-nots’ when it comes to technology. Would these movements garner support in areas that have limited connectivity to the WWW? Probably not. The internet is a tool to push ideas further, but until the digital divide is breached, social change has a chance only in the case of the ‘haves’.
Nevertheless, this is a start – if there are more avenues where women can get help, a lesser number will remain quiet the way I did.