At the inaugural of a two-day workshop by the Uttarakhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights in Dehradun, the Chief Minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, gave an impassioned speech about the sartorial choices of women. In this speech, he highlighted all the ways in which women’s donning of ripped jeans has been detrimental to Indian “culture”. Interestingly, women’s clothes was only the starting point of an arduous and overreaching pathway to how this could lead to alcohol and drug abuse.
“Kyanchi se sanskaar (culture by scissors) showing bare knees, wearing ripped denim and looking like rich kids – these are the values being given now. Where is this coming from, if not at home? What is the fault of teachers or schools? Where am I taking my son, showing his knees and in tattered jeans? Girls are no less, showing their knees. Is this good? All of this, in a mad race of westernisation,” said the newly appointed chief minister. The entirety of his speech was punctuated with disparaging remarks against a woman who runs an NGO and simultaneously wears ripped jeans, a concept that is so beyond comprehension that their coexistence is truly baffling. According to Rawat’s comments, women are the sole flag-bearers of “culture” in India who are doing injustice to the legacy of this country by “running toward nudity”.
What makes his speech so appalling is the distillation of his goals in one swift monologue. In the same speech, he thumbs through every cultural calamity plaguing the country – the ineffable aspiration for English-medium schools, the value-inducing capability of Hindi-medium schools, and the damaging indulgence of tobacco, liquor, and drugs in social lives. However, what seems so striking about his speech is the wilful ignorance of the real problems afflicting the country and the drive to look for real solutions.
Over the years, we have banned everything from skirts to cell phones to ensure India’s women are safe and our sanskriti protected.
However, this isn’t the first time we have digressed from the real evils haunting the country. Over the years, we have banned everything from skirts to cell phones to ensure India’s women are safe and our sanskriti protected. Yet the crimes against them continue unabated. Rawat’s home turf, Uttarakhand, recorded more crimes against women in the first 10 months of 2020 than it did in the entirety of 2018 and 2019. The numbers were predicted to have increased in the last two months of the year. Yet, we trip over the fact that women, too, possess knees which are visible from time to time.
Taking his misogynistic comments in their stride, women across the country started the #RippedJeansTwitter trend which has amassed over 30k tweets already. In order to retaliate against Rawat’s tirade of an apparent cultural disintegration, women have posted photos sporting ripped jeans. Most of these photos are accompanied by captions that thwart his ideas of “sanskaar” and also illustrate how it does not fall within his purview to police women’s clothing choices, rightly so. This social media campaign is reminiscent of the “Pink Chaddi” one in 2009. With a following of over 3,000 people, the central aim of this campaign was to send pink underwear to the office of the Sri Ram Sene on Valentine’s Day. This was to condemn the various incidents of right-wing conservatism that had taken place in Mangalore, one of which was the pub attack. Much like it’s 2021 counterpart, the campaign roused much debate about Indian culture.
Acts of solidarity such as this serve as a reminder that the conspicuity of women’s bodies is not inversely proportional to the country’s cultural integrity. If Tirath Singh Rawat’s comments are anything to go by, we would pave the way for a developed society by rejecting “western” norms and safeguarding outmoded customs. If only it were that simple.