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India: Controlling how women dress is, of course, one more way in which patriarchy tries to control women

26 April 2016

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The Times of India - April 21, 2016

Disco deewane: Why Chandigarh’s gone nutty over mini skirts by Shuma Raha

Yesterday social media erupted in a flurry of indignation after reports that the Chandigarh government had banned short skirts and scantily clad women from the city’s discotheques. Apparently, the Controlling of Places of Public Amusement Policy, 2016, that came into effect on April 1 had issued this astounding diktat.

Well, it turns out that the reports were not quite accurate. As the city administration hastened to clarify, women, whether they were in itsy bitsy dresses or not, had not been barred from entry to Chandigarh’s many discotheques, pubs, and other places of “public amusement”. What the policy says instead is that a nodal body consisting of bureaucrats would have the right not to renew the licence of discs and nightclubs if they displayed or advertised pictures of “scantily dressed” women.

The policy, brought in at the behest of the Punjab and Haryana high court to stem the tide of violent incidents outside discotheques, mentions several other grounds for revocation of licence. For example, if an establishment is considered to be of indecent or scurrilous character, or is found to be seditious and likely to excite political discontent, or promotes hostile feelings between classes, it may be forced to shut shop. These, together with the fact that nightclubs now must close at 12am instead of the earlier curfew hour of 2am, will, the city fathers hope, bring down crime and rowdy behaviour drastically.

Fine. The question is, why have publicity material containing pictures of “scantily dressed” women been put on a par with grave offences like sedition or indecent or scurrilous acts? Is the image of women in mini skirts and plunging necklines as dangerous to public order? Do the city fathers consider them to be an incitement to indecency and all manner of moral depravity?

Clearly, they do. And that is why the reference to “scantily dressed” women is as offensive as any effort to ban them from public spaces would have been. The Chandigarh administration may have baulked at laying down a dress code at discotheques where young people go to make merry. But it’s pretty obvious how it views women who don’t go around swaddled in voluminous salwar kameezes or demure saree blouses — as libidinous temptresses who’re simply asking for it.

But why blame the Chandigarh government alone for demonizing women who dare to bare? Last week in Kolkata a 22-year-old student of Presidency University was molested and abused near her house because she was having a smoke and was dressed in shorts. Reportedly, the father-son duo who assaulted her said that such “indecent” acts would not be tolerated in a respectable locality such as theirs.

Indeed, the moral police tend to get very active when it comes to the subject of the “proper” attire for girls and women. Last year, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, asked its female students not to wear shorts at a college fest. Scottish Church College in Kolkata has also issued similar strictures in the past, specifying that skirts must be below knee length and free of such manifest lewdness as slits. Others have outlawed jeans, which strikes some people as an alarmingly immoral dress for girls. Earlier this month, a panchayat in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, decided to boycott families that allow their girls to wear “jeans and tight clothes”.

Controlling how women dress is, of course, one more way in which patriarchy tries to control women. But this whole idea that women must conform to certain rules of dress and conduct — rules laid down by men — is so out of date that it is almost laughable. Yet it is relentlessly propagated — by families, by academic institutions, and often, by our astonishingly regressive politicians. Any deviation from the norm and the woman is vilified as morally suspect, or as the President’s son, Abhishek Mukherjee, once put it so memorably — “dented and painted”.

So the good people of the government of Chandigarh are probably quite surprised by the furore over their evident distaste for “scantily dressed” women. For they are part of the howling majority that wants to see women cover up and slink away. Problem is, the times have changed. One man’s skimpy may well be another women’s frumpy. It’s a clash of ideals, bound up with women’s ideas about herself, about her choice of work and play.

The bottomline is, we decide what we wear — each according to her own sensibility.

Surely, that’s not too hard to understand?

P.S.

The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use