'Vulgar' cheerleaders draw catcalls
Dancers' revealing outfits lead protesters to burn effigies of IPL bosses
Cheerleaders at Indian Premier League (IPL) matches have attracted fierce opposition from a swathe of political and activist groups, with protests ranging from effigy burning to calls for more conservative costumes and demands for an outright ban.
The dancers are part of the glitz and razzmatazz that typifies the new big-bucks Twenty20 competition, which features many of the world's top players.
But several groups, particularly in Calcutta, have made strongly worded attacks on the sideline entertainers of the city's team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. All the hostility has led to some toning down in the cheerleaders' attire. Powerful ruling leftists have demanded a ban against what they call the 'vulgar and obscene' show which, they claim, is incompatible with a genteel game like cricket.
Reaction against the scantily clad pompom-waving dancers has made unlikely bedfellows of the ruling communists and their rivals in the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party.
'How can girls in such dresses be allowed to perform at cricket matches?' asked Subhash Chakravarty, sports minister of West Bengal state, of which Calcutta is capital. 'We should not allow anyone to inject such indecent culture into our conventional society. The whole show leaves me shocked.
'The concept of cheerleaders is a kind of perversion in a country where we have a strong cultural heritage. The way the cheerleaders dress and dance, it contradicts the moral values of our society.'
Nandagopal Bhattacharya, another state minister in Calcutta, said cricket itself was a good enough enticement, drawing huge crowds, and the additional 'attraction' of cheerleaders was never required by cricket-lovers.
Even some players have chimed in against the new phenomenon.
Pakistani star all-rounder Shahid Afridi of the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chargers said: 'The girls in skimpy dresses should be removed from the ground as this is distracting to batsmen. Cricket itself is an entertainment and does not require such cheerleaders to entertain.'
In Calcutta on Sunday, BJP leaders burned effigies of IPL bosses and demanded an immediate ban on cheerleaders in Eden Gardens, venue of the next six IPL matches in Calcutta. Rahul Sinha, general secretary of the BJP in the state, threatened to stage larger demonstrations by women activists of the party when the Knight Riders play against their Mumbai rivals today, if the 'vulgar' show by foreigner cheer-girls was not stopped.
Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who is owner of the Knight Riders, said he did not support any police action against such shows and he did not intend to exploit women.
'However, since a voice of protest has been heard [against the cheerleaders] and I am also a father of some children who love cricket, I shall pay attention to this issue,' Khan said.
Today the Knight Riders' cheerleaders will keep themselves 'well-covered' during the match against Mumbai in Eden Gardens, the team announced.
'We are playing to entertain people. Since people will feel happier [about the new outfits of the cheerleaders] we are pleased to correct ourselves,' said Khan.
Calcutta has been where the most extreme reactions have occurred compared to the other host cities of the league's eight teams.
In Mumbai, police have said they have no objection to the cheerleaders of any IPL team, provided they follow a 'decent' dress code during matches in the western city.
There has been compromise along the way in the early weeks of the league.
The Deccan Chargers, based in Hyderabad, has an Australian dance troupe who started out in short skirts and cleavage-revealing low-cut tops. But for Sunday's match against Mumbai Indians, the Chargers' group wore new, less revealing costumes - long pants, zero cleavage - which raised no objection from police or others.
The Mumbai Indians' dance group even included some male dancers. But not everyone is yielding to the pressure. Bangalore's Royal Challengers - who hired Washington Redskins cheerleaders - have yet to announce amending their outfits to make them more 'decent'.
They may yet have to change if they fall foul of the general public's wrath as typified by the reaction of Javed Khan, a Calcutta college teacher who said: 'Mostly we watch cricket on the TV enthusiastically in the company of our children.
'But we have been truly feeling uneasy watching this IPL, because of these all-exposing cheerleaders. Simply because of these cheerleaders my teenage daughter and son stopped watching IPL at home - they felt uncomfortable sitting next to me whenever the cheerleaders came romping wildly with their near-bare bodies.'
Another fan, a 65-year-old retired engineer in Calcutta said: 'It is a big relief that my favourite team the Knight Riders has decided to get the cheer girls clothed decently.
'Now with my grandchildren I can watch the matches in the field and even on the TV comfortably. I am sure other teams too will clothe their cheerleading girls properly.'
The dancers themselves claim they have been subject to extreme verbal abuse from the crowds.
'We do expect people to pass lewd, snide remarks but I am shocked by the nature and magnitude of the comments people pass here,' cheerleader Tabitha from Uzbekistan said to the Hindustan Times.
'Be it a 70-year-old or a 15-year-old kid they all letch at us and make amorous advances. We are living in constant fear of being molested.'
But another cheerleader said the fans have been appreciative of their work and she was a bit surprised at their clothes becoming headlines around the country.
'We didn't expect to be on front page of the papers here,' quipped one cheerleader.
'The fans seem to really enjoy our act but I am OK with any changes in our clothes. We will wear what our management tells us to wear.'
'If they want us to be covered up, we are more than happy to do that,' said another.
The number of teams competing in the IPL Twenty20 competition: 8