The 'mangalsutra' — an auspicious neckpiece worn by millions of married Hindu women around the world — is well-ingrained in Indian culture. Surely this innocuous piece of jewellery, a symbol of monogamous fidelity, is incapable of raising the hackles of India's ban-happy moral brigade?
Not so, according to this report in The News Minute. Published on Monday morning, the piece says that a Tamil news channel, Puthiya Thalaimurai, had upset certain groups over an episode of talk show Urakka Sollungal that would debate the relevance of the mangalsutra or the 'thaali' (as it is called in Tamil). The report stated that the telecast of this episode, scheduled for last Sunday, was cancelled and the channel was undecided on whether to air an edited version of the show or not.
Now, however, it seems that the channel has backed away from the issue for good. "The show has been cancelled because of pressure from the public," said an employee at Puthiya Thalaimurai, who wished to remain anonymous, in a phone conversation with HuffPost India.
On Thursday, the channel had telecast a promo featuring an all-women panel discussing whether the thaali has now become a redundant symbol, especially in cases where husbands have abandoned or tortured their wives. However, the direction of this debate did not go down well with many. Speaking to The News Minute, a senior editor from the channel said, "From Thursday to Sunday, we have received more than 3,600 threatening calls. If women in the newsroom picked up some of these calls, they were asked, 'Do you wear a Thaali, first take it off and then speak (sic).'"
On Saturday, members of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu People's Party), protested outside the channel's office in Guindy, Chennai. A day later, despite the telecast having been cancelled, another protest was held by religious and cultural organisation Hindu Munnani. This one turned violent, with some protesters reportedly attacking a cameraperson, E Senthilkumaran, capturing the incident and damaging his equipment in the process. Senthilkumaran was hospitalised for his injuries and discharged the next day.
BJP National Secretary H Raja was amongst those who objected to the show. "Why should this channel be allowed to air the show? What is the need to discuss the relevance of the Thaali? Will the same channel discuss the Purdah for Muslim women or if Christian nuns should wear the cross?" he said.
As evidenced from these reactions on Twitter, this seemingly innocuous debate has touched a raw nerve.
#boycottPuthiyaThalamurai TV channel for questioning sacredness of Mangalsutra! Will they debate Burka ever? & if they do condemn it too!
— MRV (@MRVChennai) March 8, 2015
The talk show on mangalsutra is a planned attack on Hindu culture.Change of mind on long cherished belief shud evolve not induced by oratory
— Swamy (@bharativamsi) March 9, 2015
@rukmini_shrini a thaali or a mangalsutra must be worn by every woman .. Why should all of a sudden women start debating otherwise ??
— Ganeshan (@ganeshan_iyer) March 9, 2015
This incident comes closely on the heels of the ban on BBC documentary India's Daughter, which examines the infamous Delhi gangrape of December 2012, as well as a growing national conversation about tolerance and free speech — or the lack thereof.