Friday, September 30, 2005

Skirts, skin and tarnished images

A few days ago, I read a column by Pamela Philipose where she says "we confront one of the most assiduously cultivated fears in traditional societies: the fear of female sexuality as a potential destabiliser of ways of life and social hierarchies — not least those governing men and women. The fear is an old and familiar one and is especially associated with unattached women...."

It got me thinking. What, really, is it about short skirts and culture?

Have we forgotten our own culture so completely? Are we really so out of tune the reality of what comprises India? I'm thinking of the adivasi women in Bastar, right now. They wear one short piece of cloth round the waist and another thrown round the shoulder. When they work in the fields, the upper cloth is thrown off entirely. When they carry babies, another bit of cloth is added, as a sort of sling.

Not that I didn't look at them. In all honesty, I did notice their bodies - the deep-brown skin, the bare breast, the stringy calves. But I found myself looking at them in a more whole, a more integral, sort of way. I looked at withered wrinkled skin. I looked at young, supply skin. I saw grey hair. I saw toothy smile. I saw a breast. I saw swollen stomach. And I found I could not look at them as objects - I could not longer look at parts of the body without looking at the whole woman.

Or man. Because the men also wore only a single short piece of cloth round the waist. And after a while, you stopped looking at the fact that so much skin was visible. You only saw the worry in the eyes, the lines on the forehead.

Of course, it is also true that they more they are exposed to life outside the forests, the more ashamed they seem to be of their bodies. The women have begun to wear blouses under their two bits of cloth. Some even wear full-length sarees. Nylon, invariably - cheap and entirely unsuitable for the weather. As you drive closer to urban centres, you find the women covering up more and more, some of them even covering their heads and hinding their faces when they talk to you.

The sight always leaves me incredibly sad.

How is it that we can undo, or try to, everything that represents colonial slavishness, except when it comes to our minds and our ideas of morality?
We change street names, city names, institution names. Why can we not go back to dressing the way we did in pre-british times? Why is it that we never, ever, hear a politician stand up and demand that women stop wearing petticoats under their sarees, since that is what 'Indian' culture dictated? How is it that school uniforms are never cotton kurtas, especially for boys? Why are we so afraid of being, and appearing, 'native'?

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And just when I'd fimished fuming about Sania Mirza and her silly talk of forgiveness for short skirts (I could tell her that 'Allah' doesn't care. He/She made her pretty much nude, and didn't blindfold Himself, while doing so... like the song goes, "Pardah nahin jab koi khudaa se, bando.n se pardah karna kya?"), I come across this Khushboo controversy.

Poor Woman.
All she did was say (according to reports) that pre-marital sex was okay 'provided safety measures are followed to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases' and that 'No educated man today would expect his wife to be a virgin.'

And for this, they burn effigies, and file lawsuits?

According to the report, "The women's wing of PMK, an ally of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, filed a civil suit in a metropolitan magistrate's court seeking action against the actress under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.... 'Khushboo has tarnished the image of Tamil women, making them hang their heads in shame,' the wing's central Chennai district leader Deepam Jaikumar said."

Right now, it is I who am hanging my head in shame on behalf of all the women of this country who are watching this happen and not daring to say "But of course! We agree with Khushboo".
On the other hand, I'm not feeling too sympathetic towards Khushboo either. Who asked the silly woman to go crying and apologizing on television? If she has the guts to feel something, she should have the guts to stand by it. If she - with her money, her police protection and her ability to get people to listen - gets cowed down this once, so will all those other Tamil women who agree with her. And I can bet there are a whole lot of them out there.

Speak up, you!

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Speaking of tarnished images, here's some more furrowed brows on that account.

Stupid, stupid people. Did they think the dance-bar-ban would really settle down quietly, like so much dust?

4 comments:

Suhail said...

Why is it that we never, ever, hear a politician stand up and demand that women stop wearing petticoats under their sarees, since that is what 'Indian' culture dictated?

A counter-example of social reformer from Kashmir wanting people to move away frm traditional clothing for a different set of reasons.

history_lover said...

Allah has asked mankind to obey Him by following his guidance ...

Aditya Bidikar said...

This (the first part of the post) was a very interesting perspective on this ridiculous attempt to regulate women's clothing. And the kurta bit reminds me of how I, who have never been noticed by people on the street, get looked at whenever I wear a kurta. Makes me feel special. :P People actually think it's odd that I use a kurta as part of my regular attire. How is it that something that is so much a part of our culture, and an active part at that, makes people think you're weird?

As for the rest of the post, the less said about this senseless moral policing the better. As I said in one of my posts, do they honestly want us to believe that sexual abuse did not exist before 'western influence' came along?

Sakshi said...

Really good post.

What's really depressing is that certain women NGOs waste so much time and effort in useless causes...that they give 'women power'...a completely different meaning...and our friend's at the SIFs more excuses to spread anti-women sentiments.

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