Last Saturday, when I was at the mall, as I was going down the escalator, I noticed this young woman coming up the escalator on the other side. She was in her 30’s. Apart from taking my kids to the movies, there was one another reason I was at the mall. The temperature that day was 38 degrees and the humidity was too high. Malls are air conditioned and are really the best place to be on a hot summer day, plus I really couldn’t bring myself to cook anything at home and mall food courts are a saviour.
Back to the young woman. why I noticed her was, part of her outfit ie dupatta was trailing behind her and was on the floor of the escalator. On one shoulder she carried a very heavy bag and on the other hand she carried her baby. The salwar must have been stitched before she had the child, for she looked really ‘stuffed’ in that outfit.. The heat, the tight dress and a heavy child.. I could imagine why she never cared where her dupatta was.
I did wonder why she bothered so much trying to wear such an uncomfortable outfit. I am not trying to belittle salwar Khameez. 30 years ago, young girls in Kerala wore short skirts and long skirts in their teens with a matching blouse..Beautiful ( silk )skirts and well stitched blouses..Some of them in their late teens wore half sarees if they had bigger breasts. Then the girls got married and they wore sarees and chatta and mundu/settum mundum in their old age. No one asked a girl to cover her chest with another piece of cloth when she wore blouse with the skirt. You even had the flexibility to stitch the blouse a bit tight, a bit short, neck a bit low etc etc.
Poets wrote about women’s ankle that played a hide and seek game with the observer as she walked wearing her long skirt..or the naval seen through the saree..As for sexualization of women as an object of desire..there wasn’t much to sexualize. The outfits covered pretty much all that was expected to be covered.
Now, this wasn’t the same in movies..there was the heroine who wore skin tone blouse underneath her dance costume that portrayed to the viewer that part of her torso was naked, but in reality it wasn’t.( Hema Malini). and then there were girls who wore skimpy dress (silk smitha) that exposed more than it covered and was only there in the movie to ensure that horde of male viewers watched it..The idea was that decent girls never exposed their body, because in the grand scheme of Indian culture, woman doesn’t own her body. Her body is a sexual object that is reserved for the entertainment of her husband. Any girl who refused to cover up is asking for trouble, because she chose to flaunt her body, therefor it is the right of the male to ogle at her. pass lewd comments etc.
The trouble doesn’t end there. The said girl who is not willing to cover her body is not alone in her crime when it comes to the actions of cultural police. Her mother too would be considered irresponsible. It was the duty of every Indian mother to raise pious, gentle girls who would make pious gentle wives. This affects in all part of her life. Remember most Anglo Indians of my time were considered to be loose women because they didn’t wear dresses according to the Indian norm and were often portrayed as secretaries to powerful men with the insinuation that the those men got a pretty good bargain! Decent girls from decent families often didn’t work and if they did they only worked decent jobs..( My aunt was given admission to do nursing in Vellore 50 years ago and her family refused to send her!! )
4 generations ago, women in my family never covered their chest and now you have ‘tourists’ of (mallu) men going to the temple where women bath and pray naked ( can’t remember the name!) once a year.
If you do a youtube search for mallu movies, you will see that soft porn movies have a lot more viewers than the regular movies!
Most people associate westernization with less clothes. It is true in a sense..from fully covered dresses of renaissance time to now..the outfits have changed dramatically. The difference is that women aren’t considered to be a sexual object in the west. No one in the west bothers to go to the beach to ogle at the semi naked woman. The woman owns her body, not her husband, not her family and certainly not the society/church.
I chose to live in Australia. I wear a bikini when I go to the beach, not because I want to be like an Aussie. But because it is my body and I have the right to wear what I want. No one pointed their gun to my head and asked me to wear a bikini and no one had made me feel inferior because I wear a bikini. However, I do choose the beach and the time I go to ( very early to catch the morning swell) because I do my darnedest to avoid Indian crowd.
I have seen Indian women in the beach. I am yet to see someone wearing the swim suit on its own. I have seen them wear boardies and rashi over their swim suit. Most Indian women wear half pant and loose shirts to the beach.
My grand aunt is one among the first lot of Indian women who have come to Australia. She still wears sarees. Her daughters are first generation Aussies, they wear midi skirts/ salwars and her grand children are second generation Aussies who wear salwars to the Indian church and shorts when they are with their friends.
I have heard the story about One of the Indian import priest to Malaysia many many years ago who refused to serve the bread and wine to a mallu woman because she wore lipstick. He humiliated her by scolding her and then made her wipe the lipstick off. The priest considers himself to be the custodian of Indian culture and wearing lipstick wasn’t our culture and it was his duty to herd the women to the right direction ! so even though my cousins are second generation Aussies, they still wear salwars to the Indian Church.
So back to the woman who was wearing the salwar on the elevator..how many more generations would it take before an Indian woman learns that it is really her body and it is ok to wear shorts and t shirts on a very hot summer day…but then again, it isn’t the woman who needs that lesson.. it is the Indian man!