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11 Feb, 2009 06:52

'Dangerous’ western lifestyles of Indian women

A recent assault on women in an Indian bar by a right-wing group has sparked nationwide debate, not only on the protection of females, but also on whether western lifestyles should be accepted by Indian culture.

The ‘Mangalore pub incident’, as it is now called, may have been a rare instance of a few extreme conservatives trying to impose their view of ‘no western lifestyle in India’ on others by beating them out of a pub, but Indians were horrified by the attacks and legal action followed. Many claimed that violence against women, apart from being illegal, is in itself against Indian culture.

As MP Bharatendu Prakash Singhal commented, in Indian culture “even touching of the body of a women who’s not your wife is wrong, let alone puling them out or dragging them out – that is outrageous”.

The incident has sparked a debate among Indians about how much westernisation should be accepted. Some say women should not go to bars, others argue that restricting women from going to certain public places is no way of guaranteeing their safety.

“Girls are studying, are they safe there? This is a negative way to claim that you are saving them. Does this mean the girls should go nowhere? Where else will you restrict them?” says Girija Vyas, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women.

A similar debate is taking place on clothing. Some argue that women wearing Western clothes could send out a wrong message.

India’s strength lies in its diversity and tolerance. People in the country are likely to ponder on the pace of cultural change and the new borders of acceptability for quite some time. While debate is healthy for a democracy, some are concerned that such opinions being publicised may embolden the radicals.