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Foreign Cheerleaders Spark Controversy in India

  • Anjana Pasricha

In India, controversy has erupted around foreign cheerleaders brought in to provide entertainment for a newly-launched cricket tournament. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, many of the cheerleaders have donned more modest dresses following objections from conservative Indians.

When organizers of the Indian Premier League inaugurated their tournament two weeks ago, they were hoping to give Indians what they love most - a thrilling mix of cricket along with some lively song and dance.

Both came with a variation.

The game being played is a fast-paced, shortened version of traditional cricket. The contest is between newly-created cricket teams owned by top Bollywood stars or big businessmen.

The team owners brought in foreign cheerleaders to turn the matches into a glitzy event. One team owner flew in the cheerleaders for the American-style football team the Washington Redskins. Others brought in cheerleaders from Eastern Europe.

Dressed in American-style in shorts and bikini tops or mini skirts, the cheerleaders danced in packed stadiums as cricketers hit the big shots.

The dancers were meant to appeal to a section of urban India that is young, earns large salaries, thanks to an economic boom, and is ready to enjoy whatever the world has to offer.

But much of India remains conservative. And as television beamed images of the scantily-clad, dancing cheerleaders into Indian homes, strident objections began being voiced.

They came from politicians like Nitin Gadkari, president of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra state.

"The cheer girls dance with half dress which is not good for Indian culture…The way they dress, definitely it is vulgar, because the way in which they showing their body, it is really a vulgar-ness," said Gadkari.

As the murmurs became louder, team owners decided to tone down the dresses of their cheerleaders. One team made them exchange their short dresses for more modest ankle-length pants, another made them don black stockings with their short skirts. One team sent back the cheerleaders, saying it might switch to a band of drummers.

But many spectators are wondering what the fuss is all about. They said the mix of sport and cheerleaders was just good fun.

"I think it is a good idea, I mean why not? It is just a bit silly that everyone is chasing after them, it is not such a big deal," says this spectator.

"I think its fine, everything in limit is fine, I am all for cheerleaders, it is all done in a very good humor and good spirit," says another spectator.

The controversy has not ended. Some say India, where women generally dress modestly, is not ready for the cheerleaders. Others point out that no one objects to Bollywood heroines - often dressed in skimpy clothes - dancing to sensual numbers in Hindi films.

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