Once upon a time, India was a country known and celebrated the world over for its rich traditions, vibrant culture and an enviable heritage. Over the course of time, the diversity and all the trappings that came along with it added to the uniqueness of this beautiful land. Of courses, there were differences of opinions on many issues that caused ripples in our lives but they were sporadic offshoots on issues that seriously mattered.
But, not any more. Now, we are living in an India where rampart poverty and corruption do not cause a stir. Where unemployment and crime against women are at an all time high.
Today, what matters most is whether women of our country should wear ripped jeans or not. Should they be allowed to wear jeans in the first place, that is what crosses the minds of our esteemed politicians and elected representatives in the government.
Allowed? Women of a free, secular and democratic country need to take permission and lessons on how to lead their lives? In 2021, when a large part of the world is headed for dynamic changes in human societies, we Indians are still entrenched in archaic thinking and bigotry.
Yet again, a remark has been made on what women should and should not wear. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that diktats have been passed on to women as to what they can and cannot wear and how they must conduct themselves in order to match up to the whims and fancies of the self-acclaimed custodians of society.
To wear or not to wear. The new dilemma for woman of today is not only discriminatory in essence but derogatory and unconstitutional to say the last. Notwithstanding the fact that such ignominious thinking is restricted in its approach and does not reflect the mindset of the society as a whole.
The latest to join the bandwagon of this moral brigade is the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Tirath Singh Rawat. He recently drew a lot of flak during a public event where he commented on the dressing style of youngsters. He lamented that they follow strange fashion trends because of lack of values. He also commented that women today have also started following such trends. Rawat further went on to describe the attire of a fellow lady passenger on a flight. In his opinion, her wearing boots and ripped jeans clashed with bangles in her hands and two children in tow with her.
Not the first time though and certainly not the first person to do so. In the past also, several politicians and members of this self-appointed group of protectors of Indian culture from different religions and walks of life have taken the responsibility of passing judgement and setting societal norms of dressing for women on their shoulders.
Another BJP minister from Madhya Pradesh Kamal Patel went many steps further in his charade against women wearing western clothes when he said that ripped jeans should be banned in its entirety across India. In his opinion, it is the duty of Indian women to “save our culture” and they should “maintain dignity”.
He further went to say that ever since India has adopted western culture, crimes against women have increased. He said, “It is our duty to save our culture. We should maintain our dignity. Our culture never promoted ripped and short clothes. In our culture, women used to wear a lot of clothes but people from western countries used to wear short clothes or no clothes. By following western culture, people are spoiling our own culture”.
He further added, “Women and girls are our pride and parents should stop their daughters from wearing ripped jeans for their safety.”
So, does our enlightened honourable minister imply that women of ancient India were not dignified? During different eras that encompassed Indus Valley Civilisation, Vedic and medieval periods to modern times, clothing changed and evolved to suit climates and cultures of their time. Loose garments like a sari were an attire much preferred by Indian women to which a stitched blouse was added much later in time.
They even wore a short pleated skirt with the chest left bare in many parts of the subcontinent. Does it mean they were tarnishing Indian culture and jeopardising their own safety as they walked bare chested among the men folk of that time? Certainly not. Crimes against women were negligible in those times as they were respected and celebrated by the society and not ogled at and repeatedly humiliated by men like in modern times. Back then, the attire did not govern women safety, the attitude and the mindset did.
Time immemorial, humans have displayed a rather keen sense of experimentation and imagination in selecting their attire. Whenever the clothes or so to say the attires have been selected to fulfil the need to protect the body from the vagaries of climate and terrain, there has rarely been a conflict of interest.
The same has been true whenever humans have wanted to look good and stylish in their own way. But the moment, factors like prestige and class divide start playing the pivotal role between members of human societies, things take a drastic turn towards mass suppression and discrimination. Unfortunately, women end up bearing the brunt of it much more than their male counterparts. The disheartening reality of this phenomenon is that it prevails across countries and continents with varying degree and intensity.
For instance, in earlier times, a Breast Tax was imposed on lower cast and Dalit Hindu women in Kerala if they wanted to cover their breasts in public. These women were expected to pay the government a tax on their breasts. The tax collectors visited every house to collect the tax from the lower caste women once they attained puberty. The amount of this tax was evaluated on the basis of the size of their breasts. The tax was supposedly forced on lower caste Hindu women who wanted to cover their breasts. Paying breast tax was perceived as a sign of respect towards the upper caste. To cover up or leave it bare. Why such hard choices and demands are thrusted on women only?
And why target only women? Why not men too who are as much responsible for protecting and propagating values and standards set up by the moral brigade of its time? Why is it that only the slightest glimpse of a woman’s skin is perceived to ignite sexual desires in a man? Why doesn’t a man dressed in a tiny loins cloth elicit the same response from a woman? After all, nudity should have the same effect on the mind, regardless of the gender.
It is the patriarchal mindset of some politicians and leaders that gives them the liberty to make such irresponsible and blatant comments. These are the people who call women the weaker sex and feel that they need to be controlled. It is this diseased mentality that makes them pass judgements on women. Don’t men ripped jeans? Why is the call to ban the jeans not extended to them as well?
It has taken centuries to bring reforms in this anti-women mindset. Banning evils like Sati, child marriage and triple Talaq, promoting widow remarriage and giving equal share in property have taken ages of toil and concerted efforts of many able men. But there are always some people somewhere who slacken the pace of this progress by presenting such obnoxious thinking for public debate. They even argue that the Hindu Gods and Goddesses did not wear ripped jeans? Now the question is whether such options of clothing were available back then. At the same time, it would rather be unfair to compare common people’s clothing to the deities attires.
Today, we are living in a fast-changing world. Human societies are evolving at a much faster rate than before. Presently, time is getting more and more precious and attention spans are getting more and more limited among the majority of us. Thus, it becomes imperative that politicians and leaders understand their responsibility and refrain from making unnecessary comments in public that may be construed as right by common people. They must exercise control in their behaviour and not incite wrongful thinking among masses. Restraint and refrain should be central to the code of conduct exercised by the public servants at all times and in all situations. Motor-mouthing has never taken anyone anywhere, history is testimony to that.