It's something that has happened everywhere that I have ever lived or visited. It's something conducted with stealth and co-ordination akin to a secret service operation. It's something everyone does, and everyone knows that everyone does this, and yet we all do it in secret. If we see someone doing this openly, we try to persuade them to do it under some sort of cover so that it is not seen by others. And I have never understood why.
I'm referring to the act of putting underwear/innerwear out to dry. People who have otherwise had a very evolved outlook on life have advised me on how I should cover underwear with a towel so that people from outside can't see it hanging with the other drying clothes. It is most puzzling and it throws up certain questions:
1. Why are people embarrassed about underwear?
2. Is it shameful to wear underwear or to go without it?
3. If it is assumed that wearing underwear is a desirable quality in people, isn't washing underwear necessary for reasons of hygiene?
4. Since washed underwear cannot be worn while it is wet, should it not be dried?
5. If wearing and washing underwear are respectable pursuits, why is drying it a covert activity?
6. Why does it reflect on the respectability of a household if drying underwear is as visible as other clothes?
7. Wouldn't the sight of drying underwear reassure you that the nice family you were visiting believed in both wearing and washing their underclothes?
Tangentially, let's look at the concept of underwear itself. It is being used, rather brilliantly I believe, by the Pink Chaddi campaign to make a point about loose, forward, pub going women like myself to the Sri Ram Sena, the self appointed guardians of my womanly modesty and yours. It's bright, it's fun, and it has had quite an impact because of the very nature of the campaign. It has also evoked some inexplicable reactions among some other well-wishers of Indian women.
I read a post by Sagarika Ghose of CNN IBN arguing that this campaign would somehow render the whole argument against this kind of corrosive moral policing frivolous. Some others have called it vulgar, a brash idea brought to life by a few westernized apostates, something a 'truly Indian' girl would never do. I have difficulty understanding these arguments. Why should this campaign prevent other less 'frivolous' engagements with the issue from coming to the fore? If anyone genuinely wishes to make a point, chaddis are not going to drown out his/her voice. Let's face it, most of us did absolutely nothing to address the issue before the inventive chaddi brigade. And it is equally restrictive and dangerous for us to undermine someone else's debate because it does not go along with what we construe as serious.
The reason I believe that this campaign was necessary was that I didn't see anyone else doing anything remotely meaningful about it. Apart from a few newsroom discussions and indignant editorials, nothing happened. A few men were arrested and let out on bail, so that they could begin making threats again. There was a gaping chasm, a complete absence of the meaningful debate that is supposedly being threatened by our frivolous underthings.
As for the argument that most of the 'real Indian' women cannot relate to this sort of action and that it is not representative of that constituency, the loose and forward pub going woman is as much of an Indian as the exemplary woman of Pramod Muthalik's fevered imagination. This may be a campaign by a miniscule elite educated and westernized section of Indian womanhood. But since it is this very demographic and its way of life that is under such vicious attack, isn't it only fair to expect a response out of it?
So yes, the next time you come to tell us that we belong at home, that you get to decide how we should live our lives, the next time that you froth with indignation at our way of life conveniently before major elections, we will treat you with the contempt that you so richly deserve. We will throw at you the humble chaddi which, for all its disrepute, has more reason to be proud of itself than you do.