Sunday, April 09, 2006

Skirting the issue

From the Mumbai Mirror (unreliable link)

Why no PYT wears shorts in Kandivli East

Shameem Akthar says the attitude towards what women wear shows more than is apparent to the eye

For long I lived in Bandra, then shifted Borivli’s idyllic IC colony. In both places I finally felt equal to men with their beer bellies and long underpants because they allowed me to live in a pair of shorts. I shopped in cut-offs, I walked in shorts. Best of all, I didn’t feel I was wearing shorts. But that’s changed since shifting to Kandivli East.

You think this is a frivolous issue? A middle-aged woman with half a toe in the grave, cribbing about not being allowed to pirouette in cut-offs? Believe me, this issue is far deeper than the length of a woman’s dress. Only that locality is safe where an innocent woman, wearing comfortable clothes, is allowed to feel comfortable. I present my argument: Kandivli East doesn’t make me feel that way. If a middle-aged woman sporting grey hair, wearing a spiritual icon around her neck feels that way, I dread to think what my young girl, turning into a pretty teen now, must go through.

The issue gets even pricklier when you read rapist-cop Sunil More’s defence lawyer suggesting the child victim’s character was suspect! If he can actually say that in the heart of seething South Mumbai and not be lynched, I worry what silly irrelevancies can crop off in a `far-away’ suburb with its own set of irrelevant morality. Again, as if that were not enough, soon after several politicians start obsessing about a silly mishap on a fashion ramp. If denizens of liberal South Mumbai can become so regressive, what to expect in `far-off’ Kandivli? I would feel safer, in shorts or otherwise, if these same people start giving equal prominence to corruption, civic safety, pollution, power crisis.

Anyway, after failing to be equal to men in Kandivli by wearing comfortable clothes, I decided to move around in tent-like ones, shunning lipstick, tying up my dread-locks monk-like. Once, outside a school (while in full-length sleeves and un-provocative baggies), I got grabbed by a running youth. Only one man, in a crowd that gathered while I accosted him, actually helped me deal with the situation. As I pondered why shunning shorts has not eased the situation, I had an aha-moment at a local supermart. The security guard, who has this I-am-missing-my-wife-who-is-back-home-in-the-village look, hit upon me. I realised this rude behaviour has nothing to do with a woman’s clothes at all, but with a flaccid male mentality. I complained to the manager who proactively threatened the culprit. But his balm-like action became less effective when he said, “You are the first lady to complain.”

Having a regressive attitude first creates an unsafe space for women. Then, a chalta hai attitude worsens it. If some of you still think this is about an old woman wanting to wear shorts, then god save your wives. And your sisters. And daughters.

Unfortunately, I stay in Kandivli (E). There was also a rape of a 8 year old last Friday.


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