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Why are female teachers being forced to wear sarees? One should be given a choice to wear what is comfortable at the workplace.
When it comes to choosing what to wear, shouldn’t the choice be ours? But some educational institutions persistently compel women teachers to wear a saree, no matter how uncomfortable it is for them to do so!
Many educational institutions still infringe upon your freedom to dress the way you want. We have heard of news where students are banned from wearing jeans to college. Not just this, some colleges go to the extent where they dictate what kind of clothes, colours and even footwear could be worn! Is this okay or is it a plain violation of our fundamental rights?
In Kochi, a teacher was supposed to meet the dress code of the educational institute. If she wanted the job at the institute she had to wear a saree every day, or she was free to say no to the job.
Incidentally, this teacher had resigned from the Thiruvambadi branch of the CAS to join the Kodungallur branch.
“The Kodungallur institute was closer to the place I stay, which was why I immediately accepted the offer when they called. Otherwise, I was comfortable teaching at Thiruvambadi because they had no issue with what I wore,” she said.
The teacher went to the Kodungallur institute on October 1, as was instructed by the staff worker who called her up with the job offer.
“I could immediately see that they were unimpressed with my attire. I was wearing a kurta and leggings. One of the first things they told me was that ‘all this isn’t allowed here.’ I apparently had to follow a strict dress code and wear a saree every day. I politely told them that neither did I own a saree nor did I know how to drape one. But the staff repeated that the principal was very particular about this ‘dress code’.”
And that’s when the teacher decided to walk out.
“I didn’t want the job if such restrictions were going to be imposed upon me. When I informed the staff there of my decision, they asked me to leave after writing a letter stating that I was not joining the institute due to personal reasons.”
These events are unfolding more than 13 years after the state government issued a circular – dated February 4, 2008 – allowing woman teachers to wear churidars or other clothes while on duty. On non-implementation of this order, the government had issued a fresh circular on May 9, 2014, based on a complaint filed by a professional college faculty member.
Later in June in the same year, the state education department had to issue one more clarification in this regard, in the wake of yet another complaint filed by a BEd student. The order directed deputy directors of education, district education officers, and heads of district institutions for education and training to see to it that no institution or school enforces a mandatory dress code on teachers.
According to a guest lecturer at St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, this imposition arises from a misplaced understanding of an ‘ideal Indian way of dressing’.
“It comes from a very traditionalistic way of looking at things. Western formals, work casuals, sleeveless blouses, open pallus, and unconventional hairstyles are all frowned upon because those aren’t befitting of the image we have built of an ideal teacher,” she commented.
“I was wearing a formal pair of pants and shirt on the day of my interview. That day, the first thing I was told was that I had two options as a dress code – a saree or a nun’s habit. Suppose I had an injury and was unable to drape a saree, or if it was raining heavily and it was inconvenient to wear one, the only way out was to wear something else, come to college, change into a saree, and then go about my work. Basically, no matter how uncomfortable we are, we had to always be draped in one,” she recalls.
“Suddenly, all that mattered was what I chose to wear. The years of effort I had put in to reach here were overlooked.”
She subsequently sent a follow-up letter to the institute and Higher Education Minister- R. Bindhu, pointing out the injustice of such an imposition on women.
“I noticed that the male teachers were not asked to follow any such dress code,” she underscores in the letter.
“I understand that my privilege and my support system allowed me to say no to the job. But this is not the case for many others, who have to face this policy in silence. What one chooses to wear is their personal decision. Being denied an employment opportunity based on this is simply unfair,” she adds.
The minister issued a new circular that would soon be issued from the higher education department, reinforcing the order that no institute should impose such dress codes on their teachers.
“The government has already made its stand clear multiple times that teachers can wear what they are comfortable with. When I was teaching at Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur, I used to wear churidars very often. There should be no sartorial policing in our educational institutes,” says the Minister.
The minister further advises young women not to succumb to such pressures. “Our women should have the courage to take a strong stand against those who try to impose skewed ideas of morality on them,” she adds. This news was published in The New Indian Express.
Paridhi Bhanot, pursuing Journalism from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, accepts that there is a preference towards western clothes, but that necessarily does not mean one hesitates to wear traditional clothes. She says, “The generation I belong to are super excited when it comes to wearing a saree. Be it teacher’s day or farewell during school, every single person is excited to wear a saree. Even during college days, students look forward to wearing sarees during events and various occasions. While many might not know how to tie a saree, it does not mean they are not excited about it.”
Saree is our traditional attire and should be respected regardless of which state a woman comes from. Sarees are deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of India as a traditional garment for women of all ages.
In my opinion, a saree should be worn during occasions. Different regions have their own cultural representation of saree, in material, in draping and also in patterns. These sarees are obviously important and represent our culture but they are subject to change and have evolved significantly.
Change is inevitable and as the generation is changing so are their tastes. Saree, we can see today is the combination of our traditional culture and other cultures and should be given importance. Wearing a saree doesn’t mean that you are wearing a decent dress. One should be given a choice to wear what is comfortable at the workplace.
Image source: Still from the movie Pati Patni Aur Woh
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