South Asian women raise a toast and awareness

Recently, a group calling itself the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women, urged fellow South Asians to raise a toast to Indian Women on Valentine’s Day. Ashwini Tambe, a professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Toronto, endorsed the idea.

“Young people don’t see themselves as doing something un-Indian,” she said.

Recent attacks on women in India, she said, are a result of a right-wing group trying to polarize the South Asian community.

The women formed the consortium after a conservative Hindu group, the Sri Ram Sena, attacked young women in a Mangalore, India, pub.

“I think what’s important is to recognize that the actions of the Ram Sena are part of a general strategy of the Hindu right wing,” Tambe said.  “(They) target women as a means … to polarize the public because this is a period leading up to elections in India right now.”

Tambe noted that in the last 15 years or so, India’s urban youth have grown up with much of the same culture as their western counterparts. To go to a pub or wear western fashions is simply a part of who they are.

“The move by the Hindu right to suddenly mark them out as doing something that is foreign or alien to the culture is actually misplaced,” she said.

Toronto lawyer Zahra Dhanani runs support groups for women, particularly in the South Asian community. She views the Ram Sena attacks as symptomatic of the times .

“I think that’s the story of a lot of women,” Dhanani said. “It’s not the story of the past.”

Dhanani’s clients include women who are caught between traditional cultural values. They want to live life according to their own rules.

Tambe says that even though the conservative Hindus have a huge presence in North America, Toronto wouldn’t experience copycat attacks.

“That sort of thing is much harder to do (in larger urban centres) where there is a stronger police presence,” Tambe said.

But Tambe and Dhanani agree that the schism between traditional and progressive South Asian cultural values exists both here and abroad.

“I’ve had clients whose parents tell them they’re going home (to India) for a family wedding and when they get there, surprise, surprise, it’s their own wedding,” Dhanani said.

The Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women, Tambe says, is trying to communicate a kind of fearlessness.

“What’s happening is this violence against women in public places is something that people are recoiling against,” she said. “People in sympathy with the consortium are really reacting against the violence.

Filed by Meghan Housley