Indian #GirlsWhoWearRippedJeans Are Protesting Violence, CM Rawat!

What Uttarakhand CM Rawat has done is this: establish some women to be worthy of sneer, jeer, and violence.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Indian women are flooding Twitter with their photos in ripped jeans after Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat’s remarks. 
i

What is the similarity between the incident of mass shooting at multiple sites in Georgia, US and the trending twitter hashtags, #GirlsWhoWearRipped Jeans and #RippedJeansTwitter?

Both are an outcome of a continuum of stereotyping women on the basis of their appearances. Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old man shot eight people dead at three different massage parlours or relaxation spas in Atlanta on 17 March: six of them were women of Asian descent. Just as ‘westernised’ women—those who live, earn and spend independently—have long been stigmatised as tarts in India, Asian women have borne the brunt of continued hypersexualisation in pop culture.

Murder—even metaphorically—often begins with a casual tug. At what the victim may hold dear: a portmanteau, or comportment. You can resist the tug and escalate the fight, or ignore it and be robbed—of your dignity or diamonds.

What Makes Someone a Good Mother or Mentor?

Exactly a month ago, on 18 February, I was addressing a bunch of senior students at my stepdaughter’s school. I was invited by the school management to mentor these meritorious students in their upcoming career pursuits. The conversation turned out to be lively and informative, feedback even better. The school boasts of a stellar record of students making it to the finest universities across the world—none of our institutions in India figure on the top charts now, unfortunately.

I can only thank my stars that the new CM of Uttarakhand hadn’t iterated his opinion on what brand of women are fit to guide and mentor children and young adults.

My ripped jeans and brightly coloured hair would not have stood a chance. Never mind my university degrees with enviable grades, almost a decade-long academic career at one of India’s best universities, countless publications, and a respectable career graph spanning various fields.

Oh, I forgot about the two brilliant—academically and socially speaking—daughters I’m raising at home.

No, I’m unwilling to be modest about any aspect of my life anymore because each little bit of this collage has been painstakingly put together involving copious amounts of sweat, blood, and milk. And I speak for all women who get casually stereotyped, whether or not they wear ripped jeans.

However, before we proceed, allow me to share my scepticism about CM Rawat’s “flight” story: it’s amusing how all the possible “liberal” cliches are present here—husband is professor at JNU, woman in question is an “NGO” worker, bratty children et al.

Do Indian Legislators Really Care for Mothers?

We have debated time and again that motherhood is not only a social construct, but also a performance—an extension of Judith Butler’s idea of gender being a performance. Mothers are not born, they are made. And each mother is made differently.

When Tirath Singh Rawat ridiculed a woman’s ability to raise her children well, merely by looking at her ripped jeans, he perpetuated a fossilised notion of motherhood—one that is easy on patriarchy’s eyes and allows men of all responsibility with respect to raising children.

The location of a society’s collective morality in a woman’s body is problematic to begin with. To see motherhood in sartorial terms is damning at the very least. And remember, it is the same attitude that frowns even at the perfectly turned out mother nursing her infant in public.

I wish concern for mothers and their children went beyond the attires—or the lack thereof—to ensure maternity benefits for all women so they can focus on the job that nature has bestowed upon them.

Remember, India’s 2011 census data put the female labor force participation rate at 27 percent. And it’s even worse today, with more and more women leaving work owing to growing maternity pressures and an absence of supportive institutional infrastructure.

Discrediting NGO Workers

Mr Rawat is concerned about who #girlswhowearrippedjeans can go about their business in samaaj, and what message they have to give. A look at the entries under this hashtag on Twitter is enough to say that women have been contributing meaningfully to the society, whether their clothes are ripped out of choice or out of compulsion.

The sniggers that followed when CM Rawat uttered “NGO chalati hun” are unlikely to sit well even with the BJP government at the Centre. After all, Niti Aayog has been reaching out to 92,000 NGOs since last one year to step up India’s fight against COVID-19.

Even if we were to view CM Rawat’s sartorial jibe from a dress-code vantage point, he seems to lose the argument. Does he not know of formal and informal codes of dressing? Surely, what one wears during a private travel—with family—has nothing to do with professional credentials. Or was Mr Rawat missing the jholawallah vibe of the NGO workers, even though it’s an anathema to the establishment?

Is This a Call For Violence Against ‘Guilty’ Women?

It is a travesty that a sitting chief minister would resort to insensitive stereotyping and ridicule aimed at stripping women of their agency over their own lives and bodies, especially when the latest WHO report shows that one in three women, globally, experience violence. And this report is displayed by Indian government on its official portals.

How long is it before ripped jeans become an excuse—like mobile phone, chowmein in not so distant past—to unleash violence against women?

Going back to the Atlanta shootings, it has been debated that the entrenched cliche of Asian women being “pleasure women” has resulted in racially charged sexual and physical assaults on them in the US. Asian women have been complaining how cliches perpetuated by cult pop visual products like Piccadilly (1929), Full Metal Jacket (1987) have endangered them in social spaces.

Violence against Indian women is not a small matter and has been on a rise as even the recent parliamentary committee report suggests. Anything that triggers it needs to be condemned and challenged. What CM Rawat has done—firstly through his voyeuristic behaviour in the flight in question and then through his proud retelling of the incident—is establish some women to be worthy of sneer, jeer, and violence. Scholar Laura Mulvey assesses such behaviour in a neat manner: voyeurism aims at finding and/or assigning guilt—real or imaginary. And guilt deserves punishment.

These ‘guilty’ women, according to CM Rawat, are neither good mothers, nor good workers for they are #girlswhowearrippedjeans.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!