MUMBAI Plans to open India's first Playboy club in coastal Goa state have hit a stumbling block, with local politicians rejecting the idea of "bunnies" on its pristine beaches amid growing pressure for better treatment of women after a fatal gang rape last year.
India has strict censorship laws and there is no Indian version of Playboy magazine, but the promoters of the Playboy brand in India last year revealed plans to open clubs around the country, with dress adapted to fit Indian mores.
A lawmaker from the right-wing party that rules the state had threatened a hunger strike if the government allowed Playboy to set up shop in Goa, saying it would tarnish the image of the state.
"If the government had to give a license to Playboy, it amounts to giving a license for prostitution," Michael Lobo told Reuters, adding that Playboy promoted vulgarity.
"We respect our women," he said. "We don't want to promote Goa as a sex tourism destination like Thailand."
Tens of thousands of tourists visit Goa during the peak October-March season to enjoy its golden beaches, which are also famous for night-long parties.
Media reports suggest many other politicians and women's groups share Lobo's misgivings, but the Bharatiya Janata Party that rules Goa has not officially made its displeasure known.
On Monday, though, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told the state assembly that Playboy's license application had been rejected on "technical grounds", citing rules that allow such licenses for individuals but not companies.
Playboy clubs are part of the hedonistic lifestyle promoted by octogenarian Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy magazine which features pictures of naked women. Playboy clubs around the world feature waitresses dressed in black satin bodices, bow ties, cuffs and bunny ears.
The clash highlights the growing pressure for a more restrictive climate in India after the brutal gang rape of a young woman in the capital of New Delhi in December provoked widespread outrage about attitudes towards women.
Undaunted, the promoters of the Playboy brand in India - PB Lifestyle, which has a licensing agreement with U.S.-based Playboy Enterprises Inc - said they would try again.
"There are certain technical glitches that we need to correct and then we'll take it from there," said Sanjay Gupta, CEO of PB Lifestyle. "I cannot predict what the government's decision will be."
Gupta said they have tried to ensure the Playboy club dresses did not offend Indian sensibilities, even toning down its characteristic bunny costumes to suit local tastes - a first for Playboy clubs worldwide.
He added that the Goa property was planned not as a night club but as a beach café where women would be given special privileges. He did not specify what those privileges were.
"The environment and atmosphere we are creating are women friendly," Gupta said. "It's not a male bastion, spouses are more than welcome."
The company still plans to open Playboy clubs in other Indian cities.
(Writing by Tony Tharakan, Editing by Elaine Lies and Michael Perry)