To make bigoted prudery sound like economic pragmatism requires a particular kind of mindless cunning. A senior minister in the Goa’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had declared about a month ago that women going to pubs in short skirts, or to the beach in bikinis, were an insult to that fantastical one-horned creature called Indian Culture that the Hindu Right exists to cherish and protect. A colleague of the minister in the state assembly has now endorsed the latter’s earlier statement, and also suggested that there ought to be a private “bikini beach” in Goa, charging an entry fee of Rs 2,000. This would ensure the protection of Indian culture as well as female modesty, apart from earning the tourism department some added revenue. Although the state’s tourism minister, in an apposite turn of phrase, distanced himself from what he called his colleague’s “private view”, the legislator himself has added a generalizing flourish to his idea by predicting that “India will become a superpower only on the basis of its culture” — hence, this eagerness to protect and preserve.
The wearisome regularity with which men in a certain kind of power express their concern for “Indian culture” through a wish to regulate women’s behaviour, attire and access to public spaces might deflect attention away from the primal aggressiveness on which such attitudes and articulations are founded. But this aggressiveness, which speaks the language of protection, is different not in kind but only in degree from the violence that compels more extreme forms of male aggression. What Lavoo Mamledar’s “bikini beach” idea also shows is the ease with which the language of protection can bolster itself with an economic rationale. Goa — with its eclectic history and offbeat ways of life — is a specially appropriate place for exercising this peculiar mix of xenophobia and sexism that goes in the name of protection in India. The country has so far proved to be too indomitably multifarious for such forms of control to work officially. But it could do the country’s political life no good to have to discuss at great length in a state assembly the rightness or wrongness of what women wear in pubs or beaches — especially when the parliament has to spend a lot of its collective energy discussing other, more overt, forms of violence against women.