Bajrand Dal Interviews

The Gilded Serpent presents...
Hindu Extremists Riot
at Belly Dance Show

by Michelle

At the time, I was beginning to understand that this was a potentially dangerous and explosive situation.  But I had no way of knowing how much danger I was really in.  

Day 1 - Dec 30, 2003
The first clue that my belly dance performance in Indore, India, was going to be a big deal was that the press was waiting for me when I got off the plane.  There were photos of me at the airport (after a 35 hour journey), photos of me in front of the hotel, photos of me in the lobby and photos of me having traditional red paint smeared on my forehead.  Also, there were TV cameras. interviews. more interviews. and more photos. 

All of this attention surprised me.  All I knew was that I was going to do a show at a 5-star hotel on New Year's Eve.  I had no idea that it was going to be so newsworthy!  I was about to be more newsworthy than I bargained for.

Day 2 - New Year's Eve
My husband sent me an email entitled "Hindu Nationalists Denounce Bellydance."  I thought it was a joke, but it contained a link to a story in the Hindustan Times Online; BAJRANG DAL ISSUES THREAT AGAINST NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS.   The threat was not only focused on the city of Indore, but it specifically mentioned my show. 

"Bajrang Dal activists have also decided to stage a torch rally in Indore to warn all hotel and restaurant owners against holding 'Western and vulgar' dances". 

They say they will stop any programs that are "against Indian traditions."

Needless to say, that was troubling! However, it explains why everyone kept assuring me how tight security would be.  I printed out the story and took it to the hotel management to ask if they knew anything about this.  They assured me that it was not a problem, and that I should not worry.  They said that no one would be allowed past the front gate without a ticket.  "Don't worry. Tight security. No problem."

Here is the situation: my picture is plastered all over the city and is on the front page of every newspaper.  When I left America, the threat level was Orange and airport security was over the top.  Militant, extremist activists have directly threatened me.  I am in rural, conservative India, a place with deep social tension. a place I do not understand. 

Somehow I am being made into a symbol of the demise of traditional Indian culture. There are people starving just outside the gates of this 5-star hotel, while others are paying $70 for a ticket to my show.  Suddenly I feel that I am in over my head.

Security ushered me to the stage through a labyrinth of back passageways.  As I was getting ready in the "green room"  (which was actually a tent), I heard a commotion coming from not too far away.  At first I just heard car horns beeping in long, repetitive tones.  I figured that that would be the extent of the protests, but it was not.  I started to feel jittery and anxious.  Not only was my show about to be televised (live) nationwide, but there was now an angry mob in the equation.

Then came the chanting. Before I heard the chanting, I could halfway convince myself that the horns were just a result of the locals partying hardy for the New Year, but the chanting was angry.

I found out later that they were doing an ancient war chant.

There were also the sounds of movement and chaos.  There were the sounds of protesters, armed with swords, smashing the hotel's windows with bricks and throwing balloons filled with paint and acid at people who were trying to enter the hotel.

Then I heard the MC start the show.  My heart was thumping even though I was not yet aware of the full extent of the danger.

My music starts.  I enter the stage. I see the audience of two thousand. My mind skips around:  "so many lights..  Wow, I am projected on a giant TV screen.. Try not to look at myself in the TV screen for too long.. Good, I am looking okay..


What was that? Oh, it was just a firecracker; they should have mentioned that there would be firecrackers!  Keep smiling.  Wait a second!  My music has stopped mid-song!  I decide to just bow and leave the stage.."

I thought that my music had stopped because of some technical screw-up, but the real reason was that a mob of protesters has gotten inside the hotel.  At that moment, the hotel staff had joined the security team in beating back the angry mob

Later, I heard that the cooks came out of the kitchen with their knives, fighting back the protesters!  Every able-bodied hotel employee joined the fight.  There were many injuries, and several people ended up in the hospital.

My music started up again after about 5 minutes.  I was still totally unaware of what was happening.  When I returned to the stage, I was a little more relaxed.  I started to play with the notion that I was in the middle of a media circus.  There were TV cameras everywhere and trucks with giant dishes for live broadcasts.  There were light bulbs flashing everywhere.  I smile and begin to enjoy myself.

I see a table of guests wildly waving their hands around, trying to get my attention.  They start waving and blowing kisses at me when I finally notice them.  When I smile at them, they jump out of their seats and start dancing wildly.  I think to myself, "That is a good sign."  Then the entire crowd comes running toward the stage!  Security forms a tight line in front of the stage, pushing back the excited, drunken crowd.  A man jumps up on stage and starts dancing with me.  He seems harmless, so I dance with him while the crowd cheers us on.  Security literally tackles him and drags him away!

I remember thinking that it will be difficult to return to dancing in California at half empty Persian restaurants after this.

I never saw the rioters.  Had I not heard them I would have never known that they were there.  The security team did an excellent job!

The next morning I could see that the entire front of the hotel had been smashed up.  Windows were broken and blue paint was splattered all over.

It turned out that the riots were national news.  Every newspaper in the country had a story about the riots and the show.  The politics of the extremists and their relationship with the government are too complicated to explain in this article, but in the following days, the highest officials would comment about the incident.

As for me, I had been booked for two other performances that week, and although they were in different cities, both venues canceled because of the controversy surrounding my previous show.

When I arrived home, I slept for three days straight!

Michelle will be doing a performance tour of China with 19 other Bay Area artists in September of 2004.  She promises to report back to the Gilded Serpent upon returning. 

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