Women’s clothes are never just seen as garments. They have always possessed, and continue to possess a baggage that doesn’t apply to the sartorial choices men make. Patriarchy has successfully managed to tie words and concepts such as sanskaar and honour to what women wear. The length of a woman’s skirt, for instance, is a timeless example of how clothes end up defining a woman’s character in our society. A few inches above the knee and you’re a slut. A few inches below the knee and you’re a behenji. Whatever we do is never enough, right women?
Needless to say, these regressive mindsets extend into domains that are ideally supposed to be largely objective, such as law. Recently, actor Rhea Chakraborty against whom an FIR has been lodged for allegedly abetting Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, released a video on July 31 expressing faith in the judiciary to deliver justice in the case, which has since gone viral. In the video, she can be seen in an all-white salwar-kameez. Immediately, she was trolled for her choice of outfit, which was seen as a PR exercise for “faking grief” to gain sympathy.
Rajput’s family lawyer, Vikas Singh, told ANI, “Rhea coming in the video is not much of what she is saying but how she is looking. I don’t think she would have worn that kind of a salwar suit ever in her life. This was to show herself as a simple woman.”
Netizens were not far behind. One Twitter user wrote, “Trying to present herself to be a naive and good cultured woman with white suit ~ salwar with white dupatta” while another wrote, “White suit, dull makeup, low ponytail and fake tears @Tweet2Rhea bohot hi gandi acting kari .”
Women Are Implicated By The Clothes They Wear
But Chakraborty’s case is not an isolated one. Women across India are actively targeted for whatever they choose to wear, whether traditional Indian or Western clothes. In 2017, cricketer Mithali Raj was trolled for posting a picture of herself in a spaghetti top. If an outfit doesn’t conform to society’s norms of “decency” or standards of morality, then the woman, along with the outfit, is condemned for trying to destroy the fabric of culture. Why is it that even in the 21st century, women are morally policed for the clothes they wear?
Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer, wrote of something known as “legal misogyny,” wherein “Fewer clothes = criminal” and “Salwar kameez = cover up of criminal” in the case of women. If such conceptions really do prevail in legal circles, then it presents a highly dangerous state of affairs owing to the biased judgment and character assassination it can bring a woman in the courts of law, whether she’s a complainant or a suspect.
Also Read: Can We Stop Associating A Girl’s Character With Her Clothes
The Onus Of Rape Should NEVER Fall On The Survivor’s Clothes
Even today, when a woman is raped, one of the first questions asked is, “What was she wearing?” in a bid to insinuate that she must have incited lust in the man which led him to rape her. Naturally, how is he to be blamed for the sexual assault? Her cleavage was visible, her shorts were too short, so obviously she must have asked for it, right?
A 2013 survey conducted in the state of Madhya Pradesh over five years found that “48 percent of (rape) victims were wearing salwar kurta, 41 percent were clad in sari and 11 percent of toddlers wore frocks and pajamas at the time of the incident.” Going by these numbers, isn’t it clear that the onus of rape lies solely on the rapist? That women shouldn’t be held accountable for provoking a perpetrator on the basis of what they choose to wear?
Also Read: Kurta Vs Dresses: Why Must My Clothes Decide If I Am Modern Or Not?
Naming, Shaming, And Defaming Women For Their Clothes
People are always able to pinpoint some sort of implicit messaging behind women’s clothes, even in informal settings. And both men and women do it. Oh, she wore a backless blouse to a family wedding? Ghar ki izzat ka kya? or Arey, why is she wearing a suit instead of a saree? She must be insecure about her weight.
We have all heard such comments, often made in hushed voices that travel through social grapevines naming, shaming, and defaming women for their choice of clothes. There’s just no pleasing everyone. Anything we wear will be cast with aspersions and our intentions will be misjudged. The only way out of this would be to wear what we want, choose, and like, and ignore what people have to say about our choices. Because they’re not shutting up either way.
Views expressed are the author’s own.