Nighties have gradually risen to be the clothing of choice for women, especially among middle-class women from small towns, where pyjamas and shorts are still a big no-no. For these women, a nightie or gown or maxi is a symbol of personal freedom, within their constrained existence in the society or their own house. A nighty therefore stands as a garment which is acceptable because it covers their bodies from head to toe, yet liberates them.
But elders in an Andhra Pradesh village feel that women are misusing this liberty. How dare they step out of their houses to buy vegetables or visit temples in clothes that shouldn’t be worn outside of the bedroom? Which is why Thokalapalle village elders arranged for announcements to be made over loudspeakers that a fine of Rs 2,000 would be slapped on women seen wearing nighties on the streets between 7 am and 7 pm. According to an article in The News Minute, they also announced a reward of Rs 1,000 for those who report any violations of the ban. Thankfully, some mercy has been shown to those suffering from ill-health, as they are allowed to wear nighties round the clock.
There is a line between disapproving of someone’s choices and policing them
Not just villages, but women wearing nighties during daytime are criticized even in the cities.
From middle-aged men to young women, no gender or age group holds back in passing remarks against this form of clothing or those who chose to wear it outside of homes. The act of buying vegetables, picking or dropping school going kids to the bus stop, or going for a walk dressed in a nightie will earn women disapproving head shakes, no matter where you go. But has this got everything to do with just the inappropriateness of the garment in certain places and for certain chores? Or is it the society’s tendency to implement moral policing on every aspect of a woman’s life?
- Thokalapalle village elders have announced a fine on women wearing nighties in the streets during daytime.
- Not just villages, but women wearing nighties during daytime earn a lot of criticism even in cities.
- But has this got everything to do with just the inappropriateness of the garment in certain places and for certain chores?
- There is a line between disapproving of someone’s personal choices and forcing them to embrace what you think is appropriate.
For some of us, stepping out of the house even if it is for something as mundane as dropping your kid to school, calls for a change in clothes. Others, however, have a more lenient approach.
Don’t we spot men venturing out of homes in shorts all the time? Certain men show no qualms in stepping out of their homes on a hot day clad only in a vest or a lungi. Some men find it appropriate, while some like my father, would rather lock themselves inside their homes and throw the keys in a pond infested with alligators, than step out dressed in “inappropriate” clothes. Similarly, some women don’t like to leave home to buy vegetables or grocery in shorts, pyjamas or a nightgown, even if it is right under their apartment building. But does this give them the right to impose fines on those who choose to do so? No, this is where disapproval morphs into transgression, of an individual’s personal freedom.
Thokalapalle residents’ action can only be described as fashion policing because it forces a choice.
It even offers a “reward” to others, to practically name and shame women. Their only fault is their choice to wear clothes the village elders find inappropriate. How is it fair to target clothing choices of a gender, and burden it with cultural dictates, against their wishes? There is a line between disapproving of someone’s personal choices and forcing them to embrace what you think is appropriate. Crossing it puts personal freedom and individuality at risk. But then who has ever cared about them when it comes to women?
Remember, it may just be women in a rural village in India who face it today. But who can confidently say it wouldn’t be any of us tomorrow?
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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.