Pants & Prejudice
Sharmila Ganesan,TNN | Feb 8, 2015, 06.07 AM IST
If only she had worn a sari for a year, her cows would not be lying half-charred today. That's what the voice in 27-year-old Pournima Yelange's head has been telling her for some days now, ever since she found her cowshed reduced to ashes.
"This is all my fault," says the corporate lawyer with a bitter laugh. Her village, Yelangewadi in Raigad, just three hours from Mumbai, has boycotted her for wearing jeans. Setting fire to her shed, she suspects, is just another punishment.
A Pune girl, Yelange moved to the village last February with her mountaineer husband, Rahul, to set up a dairy farm and promote adventure treks. But whenever she turned up in jeans or three-quarter pants to milk her cows or scoop their dung, villagers would call her names. She was stopped at the threshold of the village temples and not allowed to participate in local festivals like Holi.
In a village that has to deal with critical issues like water supply and bad roads, men over 50 discuss her body during panchayat meetings, she says. "This includes cops," alleges Yelange, who says that a friend slyly captured the proceedings on a phone. At one point, unable to bear the taunts, Yelange even bought six saris. "Torture can make you believe things," says the 27-year-old.
Yelange lives only hours away from another village, Gothivali, in Navi Mumbai that recently put up a board asking women not to wear nighties. But women's attire, she knows, is an issue in metros as well.
Despite the sweeping changes India has seen over the last few decades, a woman dressed in pants is still seen as a social misfit by many Indians. A recent Lok Survey on gender bias, spanning 65,000 urban and rural households across India, found that almost 77% of respondents felt that pants and shirt were "inappropriate" attire for young women. Most of these were villagers but a remarkable 60% were city dwellers.
"The cultural context cannot be ignored, especially in India," says sociologist Nandini Sardesai. "It takes gumption to dress a certain way in a particular milieu," says Sardesai who observes that often women switch from jeans and slacks to Indian attire once they get married. "I am a widow but I wear my tikka and mangalsutra and maybe there are people who criticize me," she says. A lot of working women who are required to wear trousers as uniform, Sardesai points out, switch to saris or salwar kameez before they return home.
In October last year, singer Yesudas had remarked that women shouldn't wear jeans because "what is meant to be covered should be covered. Wearing jeans and roaming around attracts unnecessary attention". Haryana's Women and Child Department three years ago asked female employees to only wear saris or salwar kameez and not "indecent" jeans. Khap panchayats have ruled against women wearing trousers and quite a few colleges have similar rules.
There is something distinct about the pants prejudice. As opposed to son preference, says the Lok Survey, it is not driven by so much by caste or religion as by income and education. For 18-year-old Aafreen Syed who lives in Jivdanipada in Virar near Mumbai, it is a double whammy. Her father doesn't allow her to wear pants quoting religious texts, and her largely cosmopolitan yet backward village derides western clothes. "My dad still doesn't know that I wear jeans," says 18-year-old Syed, who shrouds herself in a burqa while travelling by train. "Where I live, if a woman wears anything other than a salwar kameez or a sari, it is assumed that she is 'loose'," she says.
Jeans, for some reason, are commonly associated with promiscuity in conservative communities across India. Objections to the attire range from 'too revealing', 'bold' and 'figure hugging' to 'show no respect for the rules of society'.
Recently, when Syed was harassed by a boy, her father scolded her for 'provoking' him by looking at him. "It's all my fault," she had screamed in despair, not unlike the voice in Yelange's head now. It landed her a tight rap. "The problem," says women's rights lawyer Flavia Agnes, "is that the woman's body in such cases becomes the property of family or community. This has to be fought at various levels which sadly isn't happening."
This attitude is underlined by deeper gender bias. Three years ago, Rubina Qureshi, a sprightly commerce student from a well-to-do family in Mumbai, defied her dad when she started working at McDonald's. That was the first time 21-year-old Qureshi, who usually wears long kurtis over jeans, tucked her shirt in to her trousers. "My father is conservative and he refused to talk to me for a year about my work," says Qureshi, who quickly climbed up the ranks from crew member to floor manager.
Right now, in a cap, her hair up in a bun and her blue shirt tucked into her black pants, she is instructing a male crew member to clean a table. Her father now sometimes drops in at the burger outlet to proudly watch her work. But then there are times when the world tells her who really wears the pants. "Can I talk to the manager?" some customers ask. When she tells them she's one, there's a pause. "Can I talk to the male manager?"
Source - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/deep-focus/Pants-prejudice/articleshow/46161141.cms?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=TOI