NLS controversy There is no but in womens choice they can wear what they want
Blog Friday, April 08, 2016 - 19:35

On Monday, a student of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru was apparently not just reprimanded for wearing a pair of shorts to class, but was also subjected to humiliating remarks of a sexual nature about her “character” by her professor in front of the whole class.

Read: NLS students protest wearing shorts after senior professor chides girl for her clothes

Since the media covered this, a lot of people have commented on story pages and on Facebook where the stories where shared. Many people began their comments saying that it was not right of the professor to make such remarks, BUT felt that wearing shorts to college was inappropriate because people should dress depending on the occasion.

What we to fail understand here is that social standards of what is 'acceptable' or not is exactly what is being fought here, not just how the professor behaved. Yes, indeed there is a place and time for everything, but those are social agreements which have to evolve, and cannot be enforced.

It is valid to ask if we can wear whatever we want, anywhere. 

Say you are going for a funeral. Can you turn up in a set of brightly coloured clothes? You could, but you don’t, out of respect for the grieving people. Does it serve any purpose? Possibly none.

If you are a surgeon, it does not matter what you turn up in, because you are only allowed to wear a gown when you are operating on account for purposes of hygiene.

Say you are lawyer in Rajasthan, or Delhi or any part of India where it is unbearably hot in the summer. You still have to wear the black coat which roasts the hell out of you. Like many other things, the black coat was an unwanted colonial inheritance gifted to us the Brits. In 2014, the Bar Council of India finally said that lawyers need not wear the damn coat or gown (black absorbs heat, making it even worse) in the lower courts, but the rule stayed for the high courts and the Supreme Court. Now, one of the reasons that advocates have to wear the black coat is, according to this lawyer, a representation of the mourning of injustice. Another reason, is that it distinguishes the lawyers from the clients. While many lawyers do not want the black coat, they do feel that their clothing should reflect the dignity of the profession, and not just by default of adopting whatever the British left behind. The advocate community can discuss these questions and amend the rules based on the opinions and suggestions received.

If you are a member of the law enforcement personnel of the country. Now, here, there is a need for uniforms, to distinguish these officials and staff from the civilian population. It does serve a purpose. What form this uniform can take, is debatable. Again, it would help to take comfort and climate into question.

So far, we have been in easy territory. Now, we come to more grey areas: workplaces and educational institutions.

Schools are easy. A uniform does serve a purpose. A child in uniform who may be out on the street during school hours attracts attention and could be helped if she or he is in trouble. It also functions as a means of removing caste and class barriers, and enabling children to look as their fellow classmates equal and like themselves.

But should people be allowed to wear whatever they want in a workplace? Where work does not require an employee to be identified by clothing, or where clothing is not dictated by the nature of the work, attire becomes a question of “decorum”. Different people come with different attitudes, but there are some arguments to be made against “office attire”. Most adults spend the bulk of their days at work. Office clothing requires them to have a set of clothes that they wear only to work and nowhere else. That takes a serious chunk out of their salaries, which are, for most people, not great to begin with, anyway. Several workplaces today, allow people to dress casually. Shorts are perfectly fine. In any case, this question simply does not bother 90 percent of India’s workforce which is in the unorganized sector.

This brings us to the last question: What about institutes of higher education. Let’s ask some basic questions. Does wearing a pair of shorts somehow make your brain cells less receptive to classroom lectures? This search query yielded no credible results. (Dupattas are damn annoying by the way, they disturb you when you’re taking notes)

Do shorts or chappals affect the teacher’s ability to teach? They shouldn’t, because they are supposed to prepare for class before they walk into the room.

Now, let’s ask a fundamental question about a college or university. What is it for, anyway? An education, right?

Making it to an institute of higher learning is a privilege in this country, one that many take for granted. According to this survey, just 10 percent of young people make to colleges after finishing Class 12 or pre-university. Irrespective of ground realities, a university, a college is supposed to help students think for themselves, engage with the burning questions of our times, to not be so complacent and self-righteous about what we think we know. And yes, this includes debates on what we wear, what we think is ok to wear, and lastly whether we should be talking about clothes in the first place.

Some would argue that there are more pressing matters that require our attention. Like our abysmal enrollment rate for higher education. 

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