South Asia has a long history of producing formidable women. But few are as inventive as Nisha Susan.
Susan has embarked on a war against what some Indians call their country's self-appointed "moral police." On Valentine's Day, she and thousands of her allies will unleash their chief weapon: women's pink knickers.
Susan launched her campaign after a posse of hard-line Hindu activists barged into a pub in the south Indian city of Mangalore last month and roughed up young women clients who were enjoying a quiet drink.
This assault — by members of a little-known organization called the Sri Ram Sena, or Lord Ram's Army — caused outrage among many Indians. It also triggered a national debate about the rights of women in a fast-changing society where traditions still run deep.
Some of the Indian media carried indignant headlines condemning the "Talibanization" of India.
The hard-liners justified their pub attack — which they deliberately publicized — as an effort to stop "un-Indian" and "loose" behavior and to prevent India from falling prey to "Western deviations" such as allowing women into watering holes clearly meant for men.
Susan, a 29-year-old journalist, decided to counterattack.
With several associates, she launched a group on the social networking Web site, Facebook. They called it the "Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women." And they unveiled a plan to dispatch piles of pink knickers to the leader of Sri Ram Sena in a nonviolent gesture of defiance.
The women chose Valentine's Day. This day particularly rankles right-wing Hindu extremists, who consider it an immoral commercialized Western import.
They have a record of marking the occasion by burning piles of valentine cards seized from shops and by harassing courting couples. This year, the Sri Ram Sena has been threatening to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine's Day to get married; it also has warned shops not to mark the day.
Susan's plan has produced a huge response. Within a week, the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women accumulated 25,000 members. It has set up collection centers in several Indian cities to handle the bundles of pink bloomers — or "chaddis," as they're widely known in India — that have poured in. (The choice of "chaddis" is a poke at the radical Hindu paramilitary group, the RSS, whose members stride about in baggy khaki shorts. In some areas,"Chaddi-walla" means right-winger.)
The consortium coupled the "chaddi" campaign with a separate appeal to its members to walk to the nearest pub, buy a drink and raise a toast on Valentine's Day — a battle cry that, according to its Web site, has won support from Toronto to Bangkok.
Asked about the campaign's success, Susan said: "I think it's because it appeals to the irreverent side of many people, even people who take themselves fairly seriously. I think a lot of people found it funny enough to participate in this."
"It is a nonviolent protest," she added, "and that inherently has an appeal for people who are not readily excited about political participation. ... A lot of people's feelings of what is appropriate have been offended by right-wing groups beating up women, or beating up minorities, or just generally being super bully boys."
The Sri Ram Sena's leader — who is on bail after his arrest for the pub attack — has a plan to answer the onslaught of pink underwear. He says his organization will reply with gifts of pink saris, the traditional garb of Indian women.