The right to wear mini-skirts

Titles can be misleading. To some extent, I agree, this title could be misleading too: it could lead some to think that women do not have the right to wear miniskirts in India. That, of course, would be a ridiculous and false supposition. My intention, as should be obvious, is to contend that women in India should have the right to wear miniskirts without facing criticism, harassment and in some cases—as the past suggests—even rape.

At the risk of being painfully elaborative, let me clarify that when I say miniskirts I refer, in general, to Western attire that is frequently condemned in India for being too “short” or “revealing” for good sense, morality and culture. That these last three words are unnecessarily and illogically drawn out of context will be discussed further on.

My arguments against restricting the freedom of women to buy and wear the clothes they like rest, firstly, on the supposedly sturdy pillars of democracy in India. Choosing and wearing the clothes we want is a right “enshrined” in our Constitution. It is called the “Right to Freedom”. Yes, this might be a boring repetition but it is for the benefit of those who seem to have forgotten that this right exists for women as well. The problem in India is not just that women are criticised and sometimes denied the opportunity to wear the clothes they want. Often, women are harassed, ridiculed and maligned. Some are even raped because they commit the “folly” of wearing clothes they like.

In India, in many post-mortem discussions regarding rape victims, one often comes across a nauseatingly familiar refrain: “She was wearing ‘hot’ clothes so was obviously asking for it.” Even in cases of eve-teasing, the burden of responsibility is shoved across onto female shoulders. With revolting insouciance, many molesters and rapists plead not guilty stating that women who are dressed revealingly are just asking to be ‘played around with’. Puzzlingly, many people endorse this and some even go the extent of lambasting the victims and sympathizing with the offenders, claiming that the offender could not have known otherwise. Even more revoltingly perhaps, whispers in male circles (frankly, fairly loudly) mention “that particular slut who wears hot clothes” while referring to any female, in general, who wears short or revealing clothes.

Supposedly, wearing miniskirts is harmful to culture, morality and good taste. Let’s address these claims one at a time. Extremist groups such as the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, helped by a generous portion of our population contend that wearing miniskirts corrupts our culture. How this happens is unclear. Apparently, culture is a dish that was cooked up in some 200 or 500 years and is now served in the form of women wearing saris. Of course, some exceptions can be made for other forms of attire that cover women from head to toe. Quite understandably, these people are now aggrieved to see the culture dish decay and sour.

However, before I sympathise, I have a few questions: What culture do we call our own? Do we really have a culture that we can call our own? Haven’t we been slaves for one thousand years? So shall we choose the most recent rule as defining our culture? (Which would be British, by the way, and that would make the case for wearing miniskirts stronger, I reckon.) Perhaps we should just return to Ashoka’s time and seek our culture there. But you see, the problem is, in Ashoka’s time women wore saris that barely covered the essentials. And interestingly, and perhaps shockingly (yes, you need to start rewriting history books again, Mr Joshi) women in those times were savoured and not raped. Essentially, the problem with defining culture as a menu whose dishes don’t change is as problematic as saying that change doesn’t occur in the world. The problem is that it occurs all too often. Witness the counter-culture revolution that shook America in the late 60s. Culture, as it is often believed, isn’t history. It reflects the beliefs of the people at a particular time and not the other way round. Hence, I believe it is only reasonable to be more tolerant and change with the times as well instead of trying to fit culture into time slots that have disappeared.

Let’s now talk about good taste and morality. Taste, essentially, isn’t objective. And that literally finishes the case for the opposition. However, for the sake of clarity, I wish to contend here that tastes differ from people to people. Just because some people have particular tastes does not mean that they are good or bad. Taste, essentially is a morally neutral quality, until, of course, it begins to cause harm such as a taste for shooting your neighbour. But of course, we are addressing the mundane, not the macabre so let’s return to the real world. Essentially, calling a person good or bad because of his (or her) tastes amounts to prejudice until a sufficiently strong proof of harm is provided. Hence, a person cannot be good or bad because he abstains or smokes. Unless, again, he smokes into your face. Moreover, morality is a term that does not apply here. This is because the decision to wear clothes do not involve any major ethical choice (unless you talk of animal skins) and is hence morally neutral. As a result, calling a woman immoral or a slut because she chooses Western attire over Indian attire not is only logically inconsistent but also smacks of prejudice, callousness and male chauvinism.

As we have seen, women should be able to buy and wear the clothes they want without any fear because it is not only a basic freedom that our country provides but also because it does not, as contended by many people, conflict with morality, culture or good taste. Men who look for chances to grope at bare flesh need to rethink their strategies of getting their share of flesh in a more amicable way. Otherwise, they will end up not only maligning the reputation of the rest of the males in the country, but also add to the problem of India being unsafe for women. Lastly, if we consider the principle of harm, it is clear that there is no harm being caused when women wear miniskirts. It is a choice that they deserve and one that they should have without contest. The only harm, if at all, might be the pricking sensations some Shiv Sainiks (and the like) feel when their egos are pricked!

Ladies, stand up and demand the right to wear mini-skirts! And gentlemen – although this term doesn’t quite suit many Indian males – for once, stand with the women of your country, not against them. And without humping them!

Shubhodeep Pal

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