Like elsewhere in the world, women’s bodies have been enlisted in the conservative backlash against modernity, all in the name of preserving Indian tradition. In the process, they are trod upon and violated, literally, as in the case of the gang molesting a young woman in Guwahati and the humiliation and violence inflicted upon the birthday party guests in a Mangalore homestay.
Violation of women and their bodies also takes on a more subtle form, like the mandate issued by the Dakshina Kannada educational institution, Vivekananda Vidyavardhaka Sangha, that all female students and staff must wear bindis and bangles.
What do Bangalore students feel about this? To find out, I went to Christ University, whose students themselves face a strict dress code.
When a group of first-year students was asked what they thought about the mandate, the reaction was immediate. Lakshitha N.M., a BBM student, described it as extreme. She said such diktats will only “make women rebellious”.
Yash Singh Dabi, a BBA student riposted: “We might as well make guys wear dhotis.”
Another BBA student, Namrata Kumar, pointed out there are other religions in the country.
Another student highlighted the twisted link that exists between what a woman wears and her safety. When asked if what a woman wears makes her more or less safe, Michelle Chang, a third year BCA student, said: “In India specifically, it does [impact] safety. You’re wearing this open dress, so I can come touch you; men in India take it that way.” To Ms. Chang, the bindi-bangle mandate is a statement about how Indian society views women: “It shows that they [society at large] believe that you can manipulate them.” The best thing that women can do in response to such mandates is, according to her, “talk back. [Tell them] If you don’t agree [and] keep your views to yourselves, don’t impose it on us.” Christ University itself has a strict dress code, reveals Ms. Kumar: “Women have to wear dupattas and loose pants, which ‘can’t reveal the shape of the leg’, in their exact words,” she laughs.