Delhi The fabrication of the Commonwealth Games continued. The headlines trumpeted six more gold medals and the 2nd place standing of India, while the stories continued to be nothing but mishap and misfortune due to poor organizing and faulty equipment, and literally no crowds at all. An automatic set of tire puncturing teeth didn’t read the electronic sticker and came up hurting 3 Ugandan dignitaries seriously. The courtesy driver fiasco continued for Tata Motors with the new spin being the fact they only got the contract signed in July, so it’s someone else’s fault of course. Wild speculation on why so few people are attending the games including the Times of India wondering if Delhi elites were so used to getting free passes that they were unwilling to pay to go to the game. Solution: the Delhi Municipal Corporation asked the Organizing Committee for free passes for school children and others to be able to fill the stands. What isn’t mirage continues to feel like farce here.
As a break from the Commonwealth Games Campaign (go to www.commonwealthgamescampaign.org to support the work), I spent a delightful couple of hours visiting with Mridula Koshy, a former SEIU and IAF organizer largely in the Portland, Oregon area who is now a well read author of short fiction and a coming novel living with her family in Delhi. I’ve told the story before in several places of stumbling onto her book of short stories while killing time in the domestic airport in Delhi before flying to Mumbai on my last visit. We’re publishing two of her stories in the coming two issues of Social Policy, which I’m quite excited about doing.
Mridula gave me the opportunity of not just talking about blanks in my understanding of India and organizing here, but also allowing me to test some of my suppositions and theories with someone with whom I shared a common language of organizing. Coming from her IAF experience with the redoubtable Dick Harmon, she made many suggestions about whether or not ACORN India could find “mediating institutions” that might help. Colleges and universities were one of our brainstorms and it resonated with our work in Mumbai and our organizers’ own histories of activism in Delhi, so that suggestion is high on the list of things to discuss with the staff in our next meetings. She also hit home with me by filling in a couple of Bollywood blanks particularly the social change focus on one of the more well know directors who has appeared in our YouTube blurbs to support the “Waste” documentary on our organizing in Dharavi and the ACORN India Trust and noting the way he was focusing on the college and university market for change as well.
She also brought into more vivid detail for me a campaign last year that I had been only to glad to join, but only dimly understood, and absolutely had missed gauged its power and focus. Prachee Sinha, who had worked with ACORN International, had sent me one of those Facebook, I think you should like things about the Gulabi Gang, the women of the Pink Sari’s protecting women. I had sped read through it, was glad to join, and saw something about a Pink Chaddi or Pink Underwear Campaign, assumed it was the same thing and went merrily along my journey through life and around the globe. Mridula helped me understand how much more there was to this Pink Chaddi movement as she told the story passionately and vividly.
She had had a fleeting early connection when one of the young organizers had called her out of the blue on the
phone the night before going public with the campaign to ask for advice having heard she had once been a union organizer in the States. The campaign was organized in direct reaction to a right wing outfit (Sri Ram Sena) that had decided it was a serious cultural crime to date on Valentine’s Day, hold hands with boys in public, and so forth and had gone into a pub in Mangalore and beaten three women they suspected of such wild cavorting behavior. Our heroes upon hearing about this reacted viscerally and put out a call for supporters to mail and courier their pink underwear to the headquarters of Sri Ram Sena demanding they stop this nonsense. As shrewd organizers everywhere realize, if you can ever link sex and politics, something combustible can happen, and sure enough their movement went viral with huge response from people joining their Facebook site and women throughout India sending their many shades of pink uw’s to SRS headquarters. In other cities women did mass collections of underwear to courier over. More than 200 media outlets around the world picked up on the story, and the net result was that the SRS had to back off of its calls for a Valentine’s Day “massacre” of abuse to women. They also organized a site called the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women with their tongues firmly in their cheeks which took off well and raised the flag for modernity and more importantly women’s rights.
The darker side of the story that Mridula shared as well included some women in Bangalore and elsewhere that were followed, driven off the road, and beaten, like old civil rights organizers in the South. These stories didn’t get the press because violence and politics is less entertaining than sex and politics.
Mridula’s tutorial made me thankful at finding a kindred spirit in Delhi. Another outsider from the foreign and outlaw sub-culture of organizers, writers, and aliens in all countries who I can now find on my semi-annual tour through India for a quiet moment of common language and reality checking which is always welcome on the road far from home.
The harder questions she asked focused on class, caste, and in fact “happiness” and her wonder and speculation that the working class might be actually happier in India than in the USA, even though as we talked about White Tiger, she wondered why more drivers and house servants didn’t rise up and kill their masters. We will both no doubt give that question much thought before I next return in the spring.