Op­pres­sion of women alive and thriv­ing in mod­ern In­dia

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY SHOMA CHAT­TERJI

On March 14, women soc­cer play­ers from all over In­dia as­sem­bled for a seven-a-side ex­hi­bi­tion soc­cer match at Har­ishchan­dra­pur in West Ben­gal.

How­ever, they were not al­lowed to play and the match had to be can­celed.

The Pro­gres­sive Youth Club of Chandipur vil­lage in Har­ishchan­dra­pur po­lice sta­tion re­ported that the match was can­celed be­cause of a fatwa is­sued by the Mus­lim cler­ics against the match.

The Mus­lim schol­ars had re­port­edly said that the match would be against Is­lam, and threat­ened an ag­i­ta­tion if it went ahead.

The lo­cal imam, Maq­sud Alam, sub­se­quently claimed that no fatwa had been is­sued against the match, but that he had sim­ply stated his opin­ion that Is­lam does not per­mit men to watch women play­ing the field wear­ing short dresses.

It’s per­ti­nent to note here that a ma­jor­ity of women soc­cer play­ers around the globe wear a tra­di­tional kit com­prised of a jer­sey, shorts, cleats and knee-length socks worn over shin guards.

The block ad­min­is­tra­tion, which had ear­lier given per­mis­sion for the soc­cer match, cited law and or­der is­sues to cancel the event.

Block Devel­op­ment Of­fi­cer Biplab Roy con­ceded, “We had to cancel the soc­cer match be­cause of a pos­si­ble de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the law and or­der sit­u­a­tion.”

Telling Women What Not to

Wear

Ar­ti­cle 19 (1) (a) of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion gives cit­i­zens of In­dia the right to free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion.

In a coun­try that fetes a mul­ti­tude of cul­tures, dress is a rec­og­nized form of ex­press­ing iden­tity.

Ar­ti­cle 51 A (e), which talks of fun­da­men­tal du­ties, states that it shall be the duty of ev­ery cit­i­zen of In­dia “to pro­mote har­mony and the spirit of com­mon brotherhood amongst all the peo­ple of In­dia tran­scend­ing re­li­gious, lin­guis­tic and re­gional or sec­tional di­ver­si­ties; to re­nounce prac­tices deroga­tory to the dig­nity of women.”

How­ever, notwith­stand­ing such Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions, sar­to­rial dik­tats meant to be im­posed on women have a long his­tory in In­dia.

They have not been con­fined to any one com­mu­nity. The un­fail­ing reg­u­lar­ity with which th­ese have sur­faced over the course of his­tory paints quite an alarm­ing pic­ture as the fol­low­ing re­ca­pit­u­la­tion shows.

In Septem­ber 1997, the co­ed­u­ca­tional Christ Col­lege in Ban­ga­lore banned girls from wear­ing jeans and short skirts, call­ing the at­tire “in­de­cent.”

This re­sulted in a furor be­cause boys could wear jeans no mat­ter how tight they were. The ban was re­moved af­ter much de­bate.

In March 1999, the Ber­ham­pore Girls Col­lege in West Ben­gal placed a plac­ard at the gate ban­ning en­try to all girls not wear­ing saris.

The an­nounce­ment en­dorsed a 1947 de­ci­sion by the col­lege au­thor­i­ties to ban any form of dress other than saris for girls on cam­pus.

A few stu­dents made a move to break out of this mould that spurred the non-teach­ing staff of the col­lege into de­fend­ing old tra­di­tions.

In 2000, al­most all girls’ col­leges in Kan­pur im­ple­mented the dress code laid down by the Akhil Bharatiya Vid­yarthi Par­ishad, the stu­dent wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which laid down that women could not wear jeans or skirts to col­lege.

The is­sue flared up when two girls — Heena Kaisar and Chetna Bharatiya — from SN Sen Girls Col­lege, Kan­pur, as­saulted their prin­ci­pal Mad­hulekha Vid­yarthi for deny­ing them en­try into a farewell party on cam­pus be­cause they were wear­ing jeans.

While the as­sault on the princi- pal can­not be con­doned un­der any cir­cum­stances, the in­ci­dent stands as yet an­other tes­ti­mony to the re­peated his­tory of so­cially sanc­tioned cen­sor­ship on dress codes.

Though ac­cus­ing fin­gers were pointed di­rectly at the ABVP, Anand Ma­puskar, Ma­ha­rash­tra State Sec­re­tary of ABVP said at the time, “The ABVP has never en­forced a dress code in col­lege cam­puses all over the coun­try. We had noth­ing to do with the dress code in­ci­dent in Kan­pur ei­ther. The man­age­ment of sev­eral col­leges have de­cided to en­force a dress code for women.”

This wasn’t the only vi­o­lent in­ci­dent. In 2003, four women in the Kash­mir Val­ley, in­clud­ing two young stu­dents, a teacher and a 43-year-old woman lost their lives, be­cause they did not fol­low the dik­tat of a mil­i­tant group that all women must wear veils.

Three of the women were shot dead while the fourth, Shehnaz, a sec­ond-year stu­dent at the Girls Higher Sec­ondary School in Pa­land­har, was be­headed.

The dik­tats have not al­ways con­fined them­selves to at­tire.

On Dec. 18, 2004, Ta­p­ati Dutta, head­mistress of Bon­hooghly Girls School sent a no­tice to her teach­ers.

The no­tice asked the lady teach­ers of the school not to wear lip­stick, or line their eyes with kohl, or wear dan­gling ear­rings within or even out­side the school premises when­ever they rep­re­sented the school.

Seven of the teach­ers re­fused to sign the no­tice. Three days later, the head­mistress is said to have stopped the dis­si­dent teach­ers from en­ter­ing the class­rooms.

When three of the seven dis­si­dents soft­ened their po­si­tions, the em­bargo was made ap­pli­ca­ble to the re­main­ing four.

The very next year, The Tele­graph, dated July 25, 2005, re­ported that Mus­lim women of Chee­tah Camp in Mumbai, a lo­cal­ity dom­i­nated by maulanas of the con­ser­va­tive Tab­lighi Ja­maat, were for­bid­den from hav­ing tea in restau­rants.

Women were also banned from watch­ing tele­vi­sion and wear­ing cer­tain types of clothes.

But the Fo­rum against Op­pres­sion of Women, a women’s group or­ga­nized a protest march against this fatwa.

“We took one group of women out to tea in a restau­rant,” said Sand­hya Gokhale a mem­ber of the group. “Their ex­cite­ment was amaz­ing.”

About a hun­dred women, many of them wear­ing burkhas, came march­ing down the crowded streets of Bhendi Bazaar, an­other Mus­lim neigh­bor­hood in Mumbai, car­ry­ing roughly made cut-outs of maulanas (Mus­lim re­li­gious lead­ers) with their faces crossed out.

This was per­haps the first time that the com­mu­nity’s re­li­gious heads in the city were be­ing asked scathing ques­tions by women in the open.

Of the many ques­tions thrown at the self-pro­claimed moral guardians was one that said: Sha­reer ha­mara, kapde hamare aap ke baap ka kya jaata hai? (It’s our body, our clothes, who are you to de­cide what we do with it?)

The Roots of Op­pres­sion

Ad­vo­cates of strict dress codes for women of­ten cite a “bet­ter-safethan-sorry” ap­proach.

But how of­ten we have heard of an In­dian woman be­ing mo­lested, raped, eve-teased or ha­rassed be­cause she was dressed provoca­tively in shorts, bikini or lin­gerie?

The gang-rape vic­tim in Delhi in 2012 was dressed con­ven­tion­ally by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.

Suzanne Jor­dan, the so-called Park Street rape vic­tim was not wear­ing shorts when she was sex­u­ally as­saulted in Kolkata in 2012.

Re­ports of rapes (es­pe­cially of mi­nors) com­ing in from the heart­land, where women have cul­tur­ally al­ways stuck to tra­di­tional forms of at­tire, have seen an un­prece­dented rise.

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