Who owns an Indian woman?

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!



6 thoughts on “Who owns an Indian woman?

  1. Hi Sarah,
    I just wanted to give a different perspective. I am a mallu woman living in the US. I am not a prude nor does my husband/father/brother control me. Almost all my Indian friends wear shorts or short dresses or bikinis. I have ichthyosis. So even though I would love love love to wear shorts or a bikini or even short skirts, I can’t. It’s not my choice that I have to cover up. I wonder if that woman whom you saw was uncomfortable about her body too. You have to be confident in yourself and comfortable in your own skin. Maybe she is a from a rural area, maybe she is very conservative, maybe she is new to the country, maybe she has never worn western clothes before, maybe it has nothing to do with her husband or any other male. Who knows? Every time I go to chennai/Bangalore, I see girls wearing tight,revealing clothes. It’s become more westernized in the past 5 years. I feel overdressed sometimes. Now most middle-class girls I know wear only western clothes and only wear salwars for weddings or some special occasions. The staring,pinching and all that ‘eve-teasing’ has not changed though. I always felt it was worse in kerala than in chennai. There, men used to pinch my bottom even when I was with my parents!

    • Very true Saina. I too am Indian, Mallu, live in Delhi and am surrounded by Mallus who wear whatever they wish and I envy all those women. I have Large keloids on my left arm- proof that I was vaccinated for BCG. I have two large keloid scars resulting out of an operation done on my breast and one on my tummy- because I had gone through C sections. Forget about bikinis, I cannot even wear a sleevless bouse nor a low neck dress, and not even sarees. My husband or brother will not mind at all but the onlookers would surely think “I wish she covered up”. 🙂 🙂 Someone even might blog about me 🙂 🙂

    • Saina: firstly, Ichthyosis..like most orthodox syrian Christians, my sisters and I suffer from severe ichthyosis. We use, 1 part of Glycerine ( available at the chemist) in 10 parts of normal water instead of lotion. Apply it right after shower, let it dry on your body. The glycerine water mixture gets cloudy after three days because of ?fungal growth. I haven’t found a remedy yet to stop it from happening. I have used boiled water, kept the mixture in the fridge, even desal water. So far nothing has worked, so I toss it out after 3rd day and make a fresh batch.
      As a mother of three kids, I have more stretch marks on my body than roads on a google map. And much as I love to have a wash board abs ( which some of my freinds still have even after 4 kids) I don’t have it and live with a flabby belly. I also have a lot of surgical scars on my body. But none if it has been a reason not to wear something that I want to wear.
      Gender equality starts with you. So long as there is an excuse, there will never be gender equality and there will never be a safe India for women!

  2. Sarah,
    Don’t be too harsh on Indian Women who wore a tight salwar on a hot Day.
    Maybe that is what she was raised up on.Everyone cannot change like you did and be comfortable with their body like you are..
    I have been reading your blog for a long time and lately I realized you only have negative things about Indian women, mallus, Indian people.
    Change cannot happen overnight.I don’t know if you have visited Kerala lately.But in Cochin you would find girls with skirts/mini skirts and jeans mostly.Yes you wont find them in bikini for a long time.But if the point is being in comfortable clothing in the hot weather of Kerala , there is a change.And since most girls have started to work, the listening to men part is also becoming less.The proof is high number of divorces.If they don’t like a man, now they start a new life..

    • PrisPra: incresed divorce rate doesn’t show advance in modernity, it shows that there is a huge clash of values ( the old and the new) and our children are paying the price. As for negative things about Indians, Indian women and mallu, if you have been a reader for long enough, you would by now know that, I am impartial to bigotry and prejudice. Truth is often not pleasant!

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