If the revolting images of women being slapped, pushed and molested in Mangalore in the name of protecting Hindu culture seemed like the work of India’s loony political fringe, think again.
Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the communists used the alibi of Indian culture on Wednesday to reflect those same biases. Even Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said it was not the policy of his government to have girls and boys holding hands in public.
The BJP tried to step back from the views of the Sri Ram Sene that carried out the assault at a Mangalore pub on Saturday, but many senior party members and other Hindu nationalist groups stuck to the attackers’ belief that women should not drink or smoke.
Both smoking and drinking can be injurious to health, but the opposition is not on those grounds, and those addictions among men are never opposed.
“Women should not try to imitate men. Progress does not mean becoming males,” said Mridula Sinha, member of the BJP’s national executive. Bijoya Chakravarty, BJP’s national vice president, said in Assam that “it is not good for a young woman to go to a pub”.
Most Hindu nationalist leaders HT spoke across states, however, said they were opposed to the violent means used by the attackers.
In Jaipur, Gehlot told reporters: “It was being propagated that young boys and girls looked very good while going around the pubs and malls by holding their hands. I want to end that culture.”
He later told the Hindustan Times he was opposed to the previous government’s excise policy that he alleged encouraged improper behaviour, and that “I respect individual choices—boys and girls, men and women. I talked only about government policy, which is not to promote pubs or bars or liquor”.
In Kolkata, communist leaders wanted pubs shut down, though they opposed the Mangalore violence.
“We have to go into the roots of the problem … (but) drastic action cannot be the solution in any democratic and civilised society,” said Rabin Deb, member the West Bengal state committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
“India is not Europe. Mushrooming of pubs is not part of the Indian culture,” said Communist Party of India state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar.