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Dress codes for Indian women in college often feel antiquated, designed as they are to enforce ‘modesty’ rather than allow for expression.
Dress codes in the form of uniforms are mandatory in almost every school in India. Usually, there are distinct dress codes for boys and girls. Once we graduate to college and become adults, we expect these these dress codes to be dropped. This allows us to express ourselves and dress as we want to.
However, this is not the case with all the universities and colleges. Even today, some colleges in India have strict dress codes, especially for women. This may include wearing salwar kurta and dupatta and that too of a specific length, and other specifications.
The concept of uniforms arose with a sense of providing uniformity and equality to students who may be from different backgrounds and to ensure that they don’t face discrimination because of the clothes they are wearing. They also provide the individual a common identity and sense of belonging to an organisation. Some also believe that it is less time consuming as one does not need to figure out what to wear everyday or for that matter, spend a lot of money on clothes.
While all of these reasons to have uniforms are valid till school, when a child reaches college level, she wants to express herself. College is meant to be a new life with the new found independence of adulthood. Adding a uniform to this new feeling is like putting shackles on this life. In a way, uniforms re-establish the organisation’s control over an individual.
A college in Patna denied admission to girls, because they were wearing jeans. In yet another incident that made the news, students of St. Francis College were not allowed to enter the college because they did not adhere to the knee-length kurta rule.
A common thread here is that dress codes for female college students in India are often discriminatory when compared to those for men. They are often highly conservative and meant to prevent women from ‘exposing’ their bodies. Frankly, this is very misogynistic in nature and quite suffocating. Women aren’t objects to be hidden from the big bad world.
Unfortunately, women wearing any clothing that doesn’t completely cover their body is equated to ‘bad character’. Women aren’t allowed to express themselves freely and are given labels of ‘too modern’, ‘slutty’ and ‘shameless’ if they wear something unconventional (which they aren’t truly because those clothes are freely worn in other parts of the world without any objectification.)
This behaviour starts from school life itself. Though skirts and pants for girls are part of the dress codes in many schools, there are others where salwar, kurtas, dupattas and fixed hairstyles are mandatory for girls whereas boys are allowed to wear half or full pants, depending on their age. Even within families, as the girl grows up, she is asked to ‘dress decently’ that is, cover her whole body with clothes.
Why shouldn’t women be free to wear what they want and why don’t we question the men to change their views and not look at a woman as only an object of desire and disrespect her? Why can’t the men be more sensitive and accommodating and not make a women feel uncomfortable and scared when she wears something different?
Women are not harassed because of the clothes they wear; rather, harassment occurs because of sick attitude of male perpetrators. When it comes to freedom of expression for women, a sea change in attitudes is much needed!
Image via Canva
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