Will they achieve their purpose of a uniform environment or result in churning out rebels who believe in freedom of expression?

In India, education has been at the good end of a lot of encouragement, a prerogative that has been an advantage of class and has benefited the many who have been blessed to receive it. However, there is and has always been a national dearth in education and quality education is a standard to reach. The Right of Children to free and compulsory education was described as a “landmark” bill to be passed by the Parliament last year. Finally!

Where is the democracy?

Now the very idea of education in a democracy can be abused by inventing rather flimsy excuses; there are certain codes that have been laid down in city colleges, in recent times which has drawn the attention of University norm setters. It is not related to education, its improvement, an analysis of quality or any such that could have a productive outcome on the future. It has got to do with dress codes. Here we are fighting for the upliftment of a democratic country at one level and at another forced to raise voice against rather “preposterous” (as one student put it) rules and unnecessary “child-like” treatment of adults. It is sad that amongst all the better madness that is going on around us, we have to draw attention to this kind of rule.

Questioning ideologies

Explicit descriptions of what attire should be worn by girls and boys in many of the city colleges have left students cursing and in deep criticism of the rules. It is after all college where most are above 18, adults, and yet they have to follow absurd rules. Why? Is it because they receive sacred education from the place and therefore have to bend to every rule laid down? Or is it the fear of being pointed out at, bullied and subsequently harassed? That is an everyday consequence of slight violation in the clearly described dress code.

Yes, there can be certain restrictions at centres of education — vulgarity or obscenity is unacceptable. But those lines of restriction are elusive and sometimes every piece of clothing can have a feature of vulgarity as per subjectivity. We often come across typical regressive attitudes that hail Indian attire as ‘decent' and western as otherwise (read wide stares and ‘O' shaped mouths!) In fact those who wear anything distantly resembling a Tee and Jeans are labelled ‘spoilt' and ‘characterless'! So do we define dress codes with these attitudes or with the more liberal ones that have distinct notions about “education” and “expression” and not mingle the two?

Defining professionalism

One teacher with the right outlook from a city college says, “If the University truly believes that restricting freedom of expression to the point of oppression will turn out young people of ‘character', then it is sadly mistaken. Dressing is an expression of one's personality, and a ‘democracy' ought to respect that. Forcing this dress code on students is unconstitutional, dictatorial and most importantly, without purpose. It would be far more heartening to see these sincere efforts and scrutiny were directed towards curricula building and the quality of teaching which, in my view, might possibly be more effective in the exercise of character building.” Medical colleges seem to be at the worst end of this fascism — all in the name of making campuses sex-less! If it weren't causing trauma to a vast majority of students, then we could have laughed it off. Are dress codes moral ideas to stop basic biological desires? In such an environment and with such restrictions we are building medical professions. Quite ironical, I must say.

However one medical student has a different story to tell: “these are professional courses. Here you are taught to be professional and the dress code is an important part of it.”

Firstly isn't professionalism an attitude? Well if colleges are going to be treated as pseudo workplaces where professionals are going to be treated with the “mechanics” of already being one, then we are definitely going to be producing over-burdened, depressed professionals! Not that our students are less burdened in any case.

A certain group of colleges are well into understanding the “dangers” of boy-girl interaction and have imposed “decent” dress codes to check the possibilities of interpersonal attraction. It is defined as a way of “disciplining” students and avoiding distractions. And they actually think this works. They do get their answers, I believe, in suicides and absconding incidents.

Place specific?

Those intellectual and democratic reasons apart, practical difficulties are the major concern. Amrutash adopts a sarcastic tone as he says, “Bake them. I recommend it with blazers and ties. When college girls in Delhi can brave the winter in mini skirts, then why shouldn't Chennai girls brave the Madrasi summer with three layers of clothing?” The codes are for avoiding distractions; what about distractions caused by extreme humidity and further added by clothing, considering the fact that most colleges have their finals in May?

Also what is interesting is that national colleges have no such ridiculous rules! Get into an IIT campus and you will see people walking in the most comfortable of clothes. The diversity in dressing is liberating and envy-instigating. Why then the double standards? Obviously, the city, state and its history have a bearing on it. Tamil Nadu and Chennai in particular have always carried the reputation of being conservative as compared with their western and northern counterparts.

“When the entire country is looking to move forward with liberal thoughts, a rule on dress code especially in a state like Tamil Nadu (which has been in the limelight for many a good reason) only shows how narrow minded our leaders are and how this dress code will make the youth in the city more conservative,” says Shuba. Whether or not it makes them conservative, a sense of inhibition will definitely take over perspective or may make them rebellious victims of oppression.

The code

Dress codes in various universities:

Anna University: No t-shirt of jeans for men and no jeans for women.

Sathyabama University: Only formals with black or brown formal shoes for men. Salwar kameez and sarees.

SRM University: No crew-cut t-shirts, bright colours, faded or torn jeans for men. No low-waist jeans for women.

MOP Vaishnav College for Women: No short tops, t-shirts and sleeveless.

It is high time the University takes charge of other rules and regulations or even courses offered. Showing support and control over other issues will be appreciated. MADHAVI

This is unnecessary and not justified. People should be given the choice to wear what they want, what they are comfortable in. Plus with the Chennai weather, it's a bad idea. POORVAJA

That's just tyranny! It's curbing our fundamental right to dress however we want. DEVATHI

Some colleges just exaggerate these basic rules. DIVYA

They should first look at their pathetic standard of education before jumping into these trivial issues. VARUN

Imposing dress codes for protection against eve-teasing? TANYA

It's a good move because, when we start wearing formals in college, we get tuned to the work ethics. That makes the move from college to a corporate easier. ADITYA

Niharika is a II year BA Literature student of Stella Maris College.