What a dupatta does for a woman can range from acting as a cape to helping your kid tag along, but no, it doesn’t protect your ‘honour’ or that of your family’s.
I am a South Indian and from a moderately liberal family. Till a certain age what I wore and wanted to wear didn’t matter to anyone. But later, almost everyone tried to wrap me ‘under cover’; under the cover of a dupatta. Salwar sets obviously come with a dupatta. But “Kurta pehna toh dupatta pehno, jeans pehna toh stole pehno” (“Use a dupatta if you wear a kurta; use a stole if you wear jeans”) was something I would constantly hear. Anyway, I chucked the rules.
I recently joined a new organization and people were offended when I turned up without a dupatta on the first day of office – an especially important time as I was introduced to everyone around. Please note that this is a government office with most people almost double my age. Later, a lady called me aside and explained to me how my dupatta would protect my respect and me. I neither argued nor agreed with her.
A few months later, I succumbed to self-deprivation, treating myself as the odd one out in the group of my colleagues. I fell in line with them, wearing or carrying a dupatta every single day. But I was the odd one, ain’t I? I am half their age and I am from a different generation altogether.
The next time I shunned my dupatta, I felt a little uncomfortable. A few months ago, I was totally fine with not teaming my dress with a scarf. It didn’t sound like a good sign to the progressiveness in me. The moment I realized this, I made a little effort every day, not to say no to the dupatta, but to stand up for myself. There is no such rule or dress code to be followed in the office, it was merely a cultural taboo camouflaged as a suggestion. And I decided to drop it.
I neither sought attention nor criticism; I was just being myself. I am stared at, some people didn’t talk to me initially, some still don’t. I look and sound outrageous to them. They protestingly look at my cut sleeves, my open hair, my face without a bindi. I understand that there are very few characteristics that they can dare to associate a woman with. Those traits can be either ‘too good’ or ‘too bad’, but nothing in between them. And I belong to that moderate stream, into which the majority of today’s women fall.
A woman’s bosom is just another body part. She need not show or hide it. The same crowd that ogles an onscreen heroine’s waistline in a traditional sari expects the woman next door to wear a dupatta. It is because a heroine is free for everyone to see, while the latter is someone’s daughter, sister, or wife. And looking at them in a similar way is just not right and so she has to dress appropriately to avoid their letching eyes. It is a condition laid down for the women and gives the liberty of ogling to the men. That’s how the concept of ‘respect women according to their dress’ came into the picture.
A young boy would be quite happy to see his female classmate in jeans and tee, but when his own sister wears it, he knows what’s in store for her on the road. So, extreme pressure is put on young girls to dress ‘respectfully.’ That means her respect is clad within the folds of her dress. The more layers, the more respect, the lesser the least.
While all this is happening in the outside world, my mind has its own thoughts. I, therefore, decided to make a list of what a dupatta does and doesn’t do for the woman using it.
A dupatta just with its presence:
When I was a kid I always wore my dad’s shirts and mom’s dupattas and would catwalk to the whistles and hoots of the family. I was eager to find out what it would be like to wear one. Now that I am grown up I have tried all kinds of clothes and settled for the ones that I am comfortable with. And I am going to stand by my decision rather than others’ suggestion.
Top image is a Youtube screengrapb; Priyanka Chopra demonstrates the many uses of a dupatta in this song!