Every woman can relate to the frustration that one might feel when you hear someone say, “Baahar ja rahi ho, dupatta le kar jao.” No, this is not an unsolicited opinion on a woman’s clothing choice but a voice of scrutiny which normalises the predatory male gaze and puts the onus of protecting one’s dignity on women.
Forcing women to cover their breasts is just another way patriarchy reduces our bodies to mere territories. Women and their bodies are constantly policed to enforce a gender hierarchy in which men assert dominance by controlling what the other gender wears. Women’s discomfort is way low on the priority list here, as compared to virtues of modesty and morality.
Society’s ideas of tradition, culture, family honour, and religion, which extensively benefit men, often wrap themselves around a woman’s body with complete disregard to the three Cs: choice, consent, and comfort.
Dupatta for women should be choice, not a mandate
A dupatta can be used as a shield from the blistering heat and undoubtedly adds to certain ethnic clothing, but at the same time, for many, it becomes a cage beyond which lies the realm of shaming and harassment. Why is woman’s honour so vulnerable that it has to be covered up constantly? Why isn’t the scrutiny on male gaze, that objectifies women and their bodies?
When a woman refuses to adhere to these rules she is labelled ‘selfish’ inferring that a woman’s body belongs to the society and thus she should dress to appease it, not herself. A woman is also called “sameless” for inviting scrutiny from male gaze, because clearly, poor men have no self control.
For ages, dupatta has helped enforce the delusion that covering over a woman’s chest is enough to repel sexual predators. But in reality, it encourages ‘rape culture’ where the focus is on the woman and what she is wearing instead of the mentality of the people around.
This policing isn’t just limited to streets or outdoors. Most women dash to their cupboard and grab a dupatta to cover their chest whenever a male family member is in sight. There is no respite from dress policing for women, even in the so-called safety of their homes.
Besides, the enforcement of dress policing is generational, so it is an exhausting fight ahead, if you plan to challenge this dictate. From parents to husbands, to grandmas and uncles, no one holds back when it comes to asking women and girls to drape a two and a half metre long piece of cloth around their body whenever they step outside the home or when they have a male visitor. From teachers to neighbours and our political leaders, everyone feels entitled to scrutinise what women wear. As if women are merely dolls, dressed up by the people in accord.
Indian society needs to stop putting women’s bodies on a pedestal and deeming them as sacred vessels that hold a family’s izzat. The truth is that every person is responsible for their family’s reputation via their conduct. Let us stop giving lecherous men a free pass to ogle at women and hold them accountable instead. Like any garment, wearing a dupatta should be a choice which is rooted in free will, not fear or shame.
Views expressed are author’s own.
Suggested Reading: Why Do We Still Have Problems With Woman Traveling Alone?