Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Indecent Proposal

The Vice-Chancellor of Mumbai University has called in a meeting of all city college principals and is going to propose the enforcement of a dress code in colleges.

Why shouldn't students be allowed to wear clothes of their choice? Mumbai Mirror reports:
Skimpily clad students can provoke incidents like the Marine Drive rape, the Mumbai University feels (never mind if the victim in this case was actually not wearing a skimpy outfit, only a black tee-shirt and blue jeans), so Vice-Chancellor Vijay Khole has called a meeting of all city college principals in the first week of July to discuss "campus attire” for students.“Students are crossing the limits of decency,” Khole told Mumbai Mirror. “After the Marine Drive rape case, we think scantily clothed students could be one of the reasons that such incidents happen,” he said.Khole wants students to dress modestly, though he agrees the meaning of modesty differs from person to person. High on the university's recommendation of a 'modest' dress is the salwar-kameez. Western outfits, especially short skirts, sleeveless outfits, tee-shirts that rise above the navel and trousers that sag below the waistline are a no-no.Khole expects that after the meeting, the prinicipals will convey the university's concern on improper dressing in campuses to students.
Wouldn't a meeting that discusses proposals to sensitize the society towards women be more appropriate? But of course, it is always the woman's fault that she is raped.

Isn't it amazing that a Vice-Chancellor holds such regressive views? And we wonder about the state of education in our colleges.


Sherri said...

I've always wondered why it is that a victim is the culprit (in this case, women in "skanty" clothing). Is there no responsibility on men to control themselves, to know what is right from what is wrong, and to, in a phase, "keep it in their pants"? Considering that rape happens to women who are modestly clothed, who are elderly, who are pregnant, who are not in any way acting or appearing to be sexually provocative, I don't think the amount of clothing really matters.

I am not sure about perceptions in your culture, if for it a women wearing clothes not considered modest by some authority is automatically sending out signals of sexual availability. My thoughts are that women are really signalling their freedom, that they feel allowed to make choices and decisions on their own, and some men find this threatening. Many people react with violence when they feel threatened (in any way).

How do you think that idea plays out?

mandar talvekar said...

Hi Sherri,
Totally agree with the first part of your comment. Unfortunately societies don't seem to place any responsibilty on men to control themselves. It is always assumed that a woman was raped because she sent out out signals of being sexually available. Such a mindset doesn't account for the fact that minors as young as three years old or elderly women above sixty too have been raped. I find it difficult to understand that very few people accept that the onus lies purely on the pervert who inflicts it on his victim.

About the second part of your comment -- I don't know if wearing a jeans and a T-shirt, or a short skirt is a result of women signalling their freedom. It might be something as simple as it is in fashion to wear such clothes, or it is convenient -- i don't know if clothes are worn to assert "freedom." Unfortunately people in authority might find that it goes against their accepted perceptions of dress and norms of the society. More often than not people like these (like the university Vice-chancellor) come up with rules and suggestions not because they feel "threathened" but because they genuinely believe in that idea -- regressive though it may be -- and they are trying to help in the best way they can.
What galls me is that the head of an university can hold such regressive views and has the unfortunate authority to impose these views on others. It galls me that the head of such an institution doesn't realise that the problem lies elsewhere and cannot be solved by imposing a dress code on students.
At the same time I am sure that not much will come out of this. . .the minute rules are imposed-- there'll be a hue and cry not only from the student community but also from the press.

Sherri said...

Thanks for dropping by, and for the reply. I'm enjoying this conversation.

Yes, women, especially young women, are subject to the whims of fashion, sometimes to ridiculous levels (I have no tolerance for high heeled shoes or low-rise jeans myself) I still think there is a level of freedom involved in selecting one's own clothes, even a level of defiance (especially, again, in young women). Clothes are very symbolic.

I read somewhere recently -- wish I could find the article -- that a country in Indoniesia that has had a long tradition of minimal dress for men and women (no doubt due to heat and humidity) is now, under the influence of a growing Islamic population, trying to mandate a more concealing dress code, particularly for women. (I'm not picking on Islam, as the same thing happens with a variety of Christian and Jewish sects). Women who were once just fine in how they dressed are suddenly dressing immodestly.

Personally, I think a world in which people could wander naked (aside from practical considerations) without fear of attack or harm, would be a peaceful world (with a huge market for bug repellant and sunscreen!)

mandar talvekar said...

hi again,
and yes, i find this converstion too interesting.
I accept that there is a level of freedom involved in the choice of one's own clothes -- that is true for both women and men -- however the point that I was trying to make earlier was that though there's a choice, I doubt if this choice of clothes is an assertion and proclamation of Identity by the person to the society. I feel it is at a more personal and individual level. Rarely does it become "I'll wear low-waist jeans to show the society that I am free." Instead it usually is "I'll wear low-waist jeans because I want to. Pity mom and dad don't like it. But these jeans are 'in' at the moment and it would be cool to wear them." Society, I feel, is not so much a part of the picture (Parents though might consider how a society would react to a low-waist jeans. In "conservative areas" in India "revealing" western outfits are frowned upon -- as are "revealing" indian ones).

And yes, there are religious authorities (in India we have had both Hindu and Muslim religious groups) mandating a dress code . But they are by large considered "opinions" with no state backing to impose them. The state in fact would intervene if ever a religious group imposed a dress code on a community for it would violate the freedom of the people. The state would have to for political groups will riase a hue and cry if ever a religious or a ethnic group imposes punishments for inappropriate dress.

What I don't like about an authority such as a vice-chancellor deciding the appropriate dress for a student is that though the decision is taken in good faith, it violates the freedom of the people it is imposed upon -- and I have the feeling that the state wouldn't intervene in this case (I can't precisely explain why, but possibly because in India we traditionally hold teachers in great esteem and grant them much moral authority). Colleges with the backing of the university will have the authority to impose fines and other punishments on students who will not toe the line. The state will not intervene unless the press and the students make a ruckus.

What the vice-chancellor and the college principals have to realize is that the imposition of a dress code will not solve the problem -- because it lies elsewhere and has to be tackled differently.

Sherri said...

Perhaps it's a cultural thing. Students here, especially as they enter adolescence, will often adopt styles of clothing that are extremely different from what their parents would like, usually adapted from their favorite music, tv, and movie personalities (the oversized jeans so baggy they almost fall off, revealing brightly patterned boxer shorts, is one fashion still prevalent around this area for young men.) It's part of, I think, the general adolescent move toward independence.

Clothing as symbol is also an issue. At many public schools, dress codes and even school uniforms have been instituted because students would wear clothing with "gang" connotations -- particular colors or symbols that proclaimed alliegence to some group that was always in violent opposition to another group. BY not allowing such symbolic clothing in schools, authorities hope to reduce the violence that often accompanies it. There are also moves toward making sure people dress "appropriately". Especially among young girls, there is a strong push to dress like the pop starlets they idolize, and clothing acceptable on a 20-something pop singer on stage is not so acceptable on a 13 year old student at school. CLothing becomes a distraction from the purpose of school.

The dress codes and uniforms are intituted for a third reason, too -- to limit rampant consumerism, Peer pressure to wear certain clothes from particular manufacturers can be tough on kids, and they either make their parents nuts to own the "trendy" items or suffer socially at school. Having all kids buy a particular set of uniform clothes, all available at only certain stores and all the same price, takes away the stratification and social pressure to show how good one is by what one owns. Kids, of course, can always find something to use as they try to find their place in the world to put someone else down or up. Clothing is just an interesting way of trying to bring "equality" to all, and to turn attention back toward education.

HOw do you see that?

mandar talvekar said...

It's definitley a cultural thing -- I have worked on a few projects for American clients where we were asked to stay away from depicting images (and situataions) that would have gang connotations. I remember a client asking us to preferably show no baseball caps -- and never to show the characters waering the cap wrong way around - the peak pointing to the back of the head.
In India almost all schools -- from the most elite to the government run municipal schools have uniforms prescribed for their students and that's the accepted norm -- nobody questions that (off hand I can't think of a single school that doesn't have uniforms for their students). School is upto around age 16. It is only when students move to junior colleges that they are allowed a freedom in their dress. Some junior colleges that are attached to schools have a prescribed uniform. Degree colleges (after 2 years in junior college) have no uniforms.
Students are of course influenced by the way pop starlets/pop stars dress but the chances of wearing such clothes to college are very minimal -- there is not much acceptance of this kind of dressing in colleges. The same person might adopt a popstar kind of a dress style outside college and it would be acceptable. Students in India, I feel, know that certain styles of dressing will not be "right" in an educational institution and i have rarely seen anyone attempting to push the limits in this. In most colleges if a student tries to wear something outrageous a teacher is bound to have a friendly word with the student and that usually helps -- but a teacher will speak to a student about his/her dress only if it's really outrageous. Jeans, low-waist jeans, tight tops will not elicit a comment. Gangsta style dressing would (in India it would be considered disrespectful if a student wears a baseball cap in class and peers themselves would make the person take it off in a classroom - or a teacher would and the concerned person will not think of questioning him/her).
Generally I feel that students are quite responsible in making a decision themselves about appropriate dressing in colleges. If they cannot, peers and teachers point it out with a freindly word.
There's no need for a rule to be imposed by the university. The minute it's done students will try to break it in defiance -- the imposition of the rule might see a spurt in inappropriate dressing.