By Dushyant Shekhawat Oct. 07, 2019
The outrage at the man who confronted a woman because she was wearing shorts shows that even though people who still believe in archaic notions like “proper Indian dress code” exist, their views are finding fewer and fewer takers.
Irony died a slow death over the weekend, when a man in Bangalore confronted a woman for wearing shorts that didn’t follow the “Indian dress code”, while dressed in a very Western white shirt and trousers himself. Apart from his own damning choice of attire, the would-be moral policeman also made the classic blunder of assuming that India – a sprawling, diverse country of over a billion people – had a single, uniform dress code that applied to the whole nation. Nobody told him, you can enforce a dress code on an area as big as the St Xaviers college campus, but you can’t do the same across 29 states and seven (oh sorry, nine) Union Territories.
Don’t worry though, because there is a silver lining to this story. After the man attempted to shame the woman for what she was wearing, her boyfriend filmed a video recording the wardrobe watchman’s regressive views to share on social media, and just like a Nipah or Zika microbe, the video went viral. The best part was that most people reacting to the video were outraged by what they were seeing. Even though older men telling younger women what they can and cannot do, or wear, or eat is dishearteningly commonplace in this country, people weren’t in a mood to put up with any of the Bangalore man’s nonsense. He was quickly and roundly condemned on social media, as citizens applauded the woman and her boyfriend for standing up to his uninvited fashion advice.
So yes, while it is upsetting that some Indian men still feel entitled to decide what a woman can wear, the angry response to his point of view is a positive sign. It shows that even though people who still believe in archaic notions like “proper Indian dress code” still exist, their ideas are finding fewer and fewer takers. In India’s bigger cities at least, people are less willing to put up with what is obviously an outdated, medieval mind-set, and good for them! If we all had to dress only according to our ethnicity, we wouldn’t be able to see a movie at the theatre for all the fancy, varied, Indian headdresses on display.
But I can take joy in the fact that people out to shame women for their clothes and lifestyle will get outed on the internet, and handed a karmic dose of shaming themselves from the online crowd.
By accident of birth, I’ve never had to face the judging stares that follow women when they step out of the house. But I can take joy in the fact that people out to shame women for their clothes and lifestyle will get outed on the internet, and handed a karmic dose of shaming themselves from the online crowd. The reason I say this is because the Bangalore man is not the first guardian of the “Indian dress code” to end up with egg on his face.
Earlier this year, another cultural custodian, a woman this time, approached a group of girls in Gurgaon mall and told them that they “deserved to be raped” for wearing revealing dresses. Her attitude was distressingly similar to that one neighbourhood aunty who sits in her balcony and harshly judges everyone in her sight, and for once, I’m glad familiarity bred contempt. The girls, ostensibly tired of this aunty and others like her, filmed their interaction; even a bystander joined in to let the judgemental woman know exactly how wrong she was. These girls, like the one in Bangalore, didn’t meekly turn the other cheek when faced with backwardness, they faced it head-on and dragged it screaming into the 21st century, with a little help from social media.
Too often, online mobs can be accused of using their voice and platform to harass and bully. However, in Bangalore and Gurgaon cases, they’ve actually confronted those committing the real harassment and bullying, and taken a stand for what’s right. As more of the country gains internet access, we can only hope that this strain of progressivism makes it way beyond the big cities and into smaller towns and villages. And when the day comes where khap panchayats no longer pass absurd diktats outlawing denim jeans, we’ll know that “beti badhao” has worked.