Sarees are sanskari. Crop tops na pehno, aisa hai jan hith mein jari. Unless you look like an abala naari, uspe hogi charcha bhaari.
If you want the job, dress the part, my high school Principal would say. And as an Indian woman, if you want a crash course in dressing for the job, watch one of the saas bhi type shows of the 90s. The pattern becomes pretty clear. If you were the adarsh bahu, sanskar-loving pativrata nari, you wore nothing but a saree, with your sindoor and mangalsutra intact, matching bangles, bindi and jewellery, even as you did your everyday chores around the house. If you were the vamp, you were allowed to reveal some skin, wear a backless blouse, line your eyes with coloured kohl, and the signature OTT bindi. This was the straight formula. If you wore a sleeveless blouse, or your back was a little deeper than normal, you just weren’t sanskaari enough.
At a client meeting during my advertising days, I was asked to wear a business suit with pointed heels instead of the kurta– denim combination I usually wore. “You have to look sharp Akshita”, my ex-boss would wink at me. And of course, the neighbourhood Sharma aunty, who wouldn’t stop staring at me, when I got home after a dinner with my girlfriends and was wearing a little black dress and heeled sandals to match.
Women’s attire has been a topic of national discussion and debate. Apparently, important enough to be discussed in parliament. On every social media platform. And on male-dominated national primetime television where middle-aged men scream their lungs out, passing their opinions on what they think their female counterparts must wear. Every now and then, some politician will pass comment on how a rape victim met that fate that she did because her attire was asking for it—irrespective of whether she was dressed in shorts or a burkha. And if that’s not enough, a female will share her opinion on how women should dress conservatively, after all, good girls shouldn’t provoke men.
And when the debate is over there’s a stereotype.
And this is one of the richest women in the country we’re talking about. Whatever be your choice of dress, you’re bound to get labelled. Wear a salwar-kameez – a behenji. A skirt whose length goes inches above the knee, and a top whose hemline plunges – they call you words I’m not sure I should even be mentioning here. And if recent court orders are anything to go by, wear the hijab, or sindoor and a mangalsutra, they call you out for being overtly religious.
Perhaps what we could all use is not a change of costume, but a change of mindset. If something as fundamental as what women wear disrupts the Parliament and disturbs the law and order of the country, maybe it’s time we introspect how fragile our intellect and society is—a society that can’t grant the safety of a woman, but doesn’t hold back on making what she wears a junta discussion.