Dr. Bijoyini Mukherjee dedicates all her creative endeavours to Shakthi and her mother through her pen-name Bijoyini Maya. She specialises in New Zealand Maori literature, ecoliterature, Bronte poems, and absurd theatre. Her professional expertise includes public relations, teaching, research, content writing, editing, and spiritual counselling. One can find her research articles, poems, and short stories in various online platforms.
Dress Codes of Indian Women
How a woman dresses, the parts of her body she chooses not to cover, and her character judged by clothing is a source of constant debate all over the world. The stereotypes thrust on Indian women have bothered me since childhood and this first-hand experience needs to be expressed for women’s sake. Gendering begins at a tender age with uncomfortable, clumsy, decorative clothes for the girl to shield her modesty and careless shirtless son with unzipped pants displaying machoness. Our films and media join hands with society to weigh heavy on a girl, forcing her to think about ‘what to wear’ and ‘what not to wear’ in everyday life instead of which article to publish, what is left to discover in the outer space, how to invest in the stock market, whether to save mother earth through science or occult and so on and so forth. Most of the time the dressing advise comes from quarters away from materialistic world and supposed to be lost in the search of God. Religious businessmen are infamous for moral policing on women’s attire. According to archaeologists, the old world Harappan civilisation is the ancient root of present Indian civilisation and by this logic is the most traditional. Taking this argument into consideration, “woman's clothing seems to have been a knee-length skirt” (Harappa.com). What is it that the moral police in India refer to as traditional attire then? Sari has been favourite choice of clothing branded as Indian traditional women wear. The earliest art forms to represent this attire are Greco-Indian Gandhara sculptures. “I think the use of unstitched cloth as body covering is gender fluid. The draping style determined the name, thus sari for women and dhoti, veshti and lungi for men” (Anita Lal, Border&Fall.com). Draping a sari differs according to geographical divisions and further according to caste system. Which draping style became the standard version of draping a sari and when? Who decided a woman should wear jacket, petticoat, and her sari must have pleats while attending any formal function or going to workplace? This is a draping standard laid down by men, for the most part, who do not drape it. Evolving fashion in India has tried to broaden the perspective on sari by remodelling ancient draping styles. Some of these are worth mentioning: pre-stitched gown style (often called the perfect indo-western wear), mermaid style (inspired from the south Indian half sari), Mumtaz style (improvised on what the kappulu caste wore in Karnataka), dhoti style (a modern version of Nauvari style worn by women in Maharashtra). The standard version of draping a sari derived from Nivi drape, which originated in Andhra Pradesh (Lifestyle 2018). Some trendsetters did not even realise they were improvising on an already existing style because draping a sari is part of the cultural sub-conscious of an Indian woman, although the tyranny of one draping style is not acceptable. Women are forced to adhere to this style as accepted formal dress code at present. There are wide varieties of accusations against choosing this drape as the standard formal style; among which the choice made by aristocratic women, who did not have to go to a workplace is constantly argued. What is even more hilarious is the authentic traditional ways of draping sari by different communities are now subject to social shame if caught in the public eye. The second most widely accepted Indian dress code is salwar kameez. Mughal Empire introduced this attire in India and it has stayed ever since after going through several changes (G3+Fashion.com). In Punjab, women wore a similar set of clothing popularly known as patiala. For working women who complained about draping a sari, this covered attire consisting of salwar (the pants), kameez (top) and dupatta (a stole) was granted ‘acceptable’ seal by patriarchy. The basic variations are as follows: a.) kunda salwar (loose fitted trouser), b.) patiala salwar (loose and stitched with pleats), c.) churidar (bangle like), d.) slim pants (ankle length cut on a straight grain), e.) palazzo (no cuff at the ankle and elasticised at the waist), f.) dhoti salwar (fusion of the men wear called dhoti); there are a few varieties in kurta as well depending on the cut of the fabric (Monisha Kumar and Amita Walia, IJASOS:75 –756). Out of these, kunda salwar and full sleeve kurtis are accepted dress codes for women in most educational institutions. Women in all institutions face derogatory looks if they wear sleeveless jackets to a sari or kurti without sleeves. In some regions, dress code is not even a debatable issue but exalted to a religious moral code where human lives are insignificant compared to flimsy attire. “A 55-year-old woman was beaten to death by a mob in Aligarh on Tuesday because she allowed her college-going daughter to wear jeans. Shockingly, the mob was led by a woman” (Piyush Srivastava, “Woman killed by mob in Aligarh for allowing daughter to wear jeans.” India Today, 2013). Increasingly, we are forced to think in India whether men alone can be blamed for women dress codes, atrocities on women for such codes, and severe violence arousing from ideologies on how a woman chooses to express her sexuality through garments. That woman who led the mob and those women who stand by patriarchal oppressive ideologies are covetous of girls availing the privilege they could never gain and instigate violence; they do not want any woman in the coming generations to be happier than they were; they cannot tolerate the freedom of another girl wherein they were humiliated by their husband probably for a similar act; their mother never supported them and they cannot digest the courage of the above mentioned 55-year-old woman who stood by her daughter’s freedom of expression (India is a democracy with this freedom stated in the constitution). There are many such women who support honour killing, justify acid attacks on girls, and blame a raped woman for indecent dress, or indecent behaviour, or inappropriate places visited by the victim instead of taking actions against the criminal. Every girl has aunts who tell her not to revolt against criminal men or cousin sisters who criticise that girl’s courage to do what they could never dream of doing. Even in interviews well-established sportspeople and actresses are asked, “When will you settle down?” (meaning, marriage with a man the real criteria for settling down). Is it time we become gender unbiased and start counselling the one who breeds criminals and anti-social men? It is the hardest thing to do and the easiest is to blame women for their choice of apparel. Next time you come across a violent man in India, it is not just him who needs psychological help or his paternal influence that needs therapy, but his maternal roots contributed to the unreasonable right he assumes he has in questioning a woman’s outfit instead of his own identity as a human, not a beast.