I will begin by recalling the memory of an incident that dates back to November 2014. This four-year-old memory is still quite vivid.
As part of common practice, our school allows us to wear coloured clothes besides the uniform for a few days. On one such day, I remember a bunch of girls, including myself, were pulled out and asked to stand aside and not participate in any of the activities. We were shamed and humiliated for wearing sleeveless clothes. We were told that “girls from decent families do not wear such clothes to attract unwanted attention”.
The 13-year-old me was unable to comprehend what my mistake was. I just knew this wasn’t similar to the punishments we got earlier. This was a lot more humiliating, derogatory and discriminatory. That disgusted feeling stayed with me.
Girls as young as 8-10 years old are being taught that their clothes define their character.
Then a directive was circulated with rules for a dress code for such occasions. For the past 4 years, I, like everyone else have abided by that. Even though every time the feeling of suppressing freedom and choice did suffocate me, I did not have the courage to speak up. I could not even talk about it on my blog/page considering I was still a part of the same institution, among other fears and inhibitions.
It sure took me some time. But today, I have gathered all the courage required to pen down this piece without hiding behind anonymity. There is a greater reason behind it.
I am doing this for the hundreds of young girls who are studying and will be studying in the future in this institution. As well as so many others who, I am sure, will be subject to gender-based moral policing. Girls as young as 8-10 years old are being taught that their clothes define their character. At that age, young children look up to authority figures with a lot of respect. If your educators are teaching you to correlate modestly with the length of your skirt, young minds at an impressionable age are being conditioned to believe that.
In times like today where child sexual abuse is rampant, if some untoward incident happens to that young girl, she will be internalised to believe it was her fault. Along with physical pain, the emotional trauma of victim-blaming and social stigmatisation will ruin her life.
society spends resources, time and efforts to teach girls not to be assaulted rather than teach boys to not assault women. It’s such an irony.
5-6-year-old girls are being told to put their legs together and sit “like a lady”. Instead, they should be given gender sensitisation classes and be educated about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. Everyone in our society spends all their resources, time and efforts to teach girls not to be assaulted rather than teach boys to not assault women. It’s such an irony.
Gender-based moral policing, especially in educational institutions, may appear to be normalised as casual social stereotypes but they have far-reaching and horrific consequences. It is for those hundreds of young girls that I decided to speak up today. Also, being the outspoken feminist that I am, the regret of not speaking up for so many years has been suffocating me.
Having spoken to numerous people and after conducting surveys on digital platforms, I know gender-based moral policing is practised rampantly in Indian schools and colleges. It is often overlooked as a part of the autonomous rule code of the institution. But when such a practice affects people at large in far-reaching negative consequences, it’s high time it should be addressed. No young girl deserves to be told that her clothes define her character.