Tamil Nadu Minister for School Education KA Sengottaiyan recently visited his assembly constituency of Gobichettipalayam to distribute free cycles to the students at the town’s higher secondary school. However, his remarks following the event have left many as flummoxed as they come - “jingling sound of anklets will distract boys”.
As Minister Sengottaiyan was addressing media persons after the event, reporters asked him about newspaper reports, which said that the School Education Department has announced a ban on girl students wearing anklets and flowers. When asked if the Department had made an announcement to this effect, he said nothing of the sort had come to his attention.
While all would have been well if the Minister had ended his reply there, he went on to provide an unsolicited explanation for this probable ban. “When someone wears rings and complains that it has gone missing, it will create a mental bitterness about who has stolen them. When anklets are worn and the jingling sound is heard, there could be a difference in the studies of boy students. There is no objection to any girl students wearing flowers though.”
While there is no official word yet from the School Education Department, one wonders why the policy targets girl students alone. Let’s say boys are indeed distracted from their studies by girls wearing anklets; it is preposterous, wrong and sexist to attribute a boy’s failure to study or concentrate in class to a girl’s accessory or ornament.
Let’s quickly analyse what the School Education has prescribed for the boys - no policy for a beard, no policy on wearing buttoned-down shirts or t-shirts that outline their physique, no policy on combing their hair a certain way and definitely nothing that says ‘concentrate on studies, not what girls wear or do’. As many girls will attest, these can be quite distracting, and education-threateningly so.
While it is well-known that schools prescribe dress codes for their students, the Minister’s reasoning underscores the stubborn sexism prevalent among our lawmakers and policymakers. The Minister would do well to re-examine his views and distinguish between what could potentially be a distraction in a classroom setting and what definitely is prejudice against girls.