This article originally appeared on VICE India.
In a victory for students and progressive dress codes across the country, the St. Francis College for Women in Hyderabad, India, has now withdrawn its controversial dress code. In a ruling issued on August 1, the college mandated that all students at this all-girl college would be required to wear knee-length kurtis (a loose, collarless traditional Indian top) from thereon, claiming it was a way to ensure uniformity. However, students felt that this mandate was regressively patriarchal and an attempt by the college to moral police them by dictating what they can and can’t wear. They also felt it was unfair to drop such a rule in the middle of the semester since not everyone could afford to switch to it.
However, students claimed that even when they tried to reason with authorities, they were told that it was necessary since “thighs attract boys” and that their parents had sent them to such colleges so they could “get good marriage proposals” after they’re done getting an education. To add fuel to the fire, female security guards, who heckled students and prevented them from attending classes if their kurtis were even half an inch above the knee, were stationed at the gate. “We don't want to be a part of an institution that wants to institutionalise this kind of patriarchy,” a student from the college told The News Minute. “Speaking to us in such a tone, giving us subliminal messages that we are arousing males, I don't think is a very appropriate environment or a good environment for all of us to be in. I don't think it helps our intellectual development either.”
The students had been staging massive protests since August and even blocked the entrance of the college, which finally prompted authorities to listen up. Ultimately, the students emerged as the winners, and the school officials had no choice but to lift the kurti dress code following the protests, on Monday, September 16, reverting to the previous undertaking that allowed girls to wear whatever they wanted except mini skirts and cropped tops.
This may be a win for one college, but strict dress codes that moral police women but see it as doing them a favour is rampant in both, Indian colleges and dress culture. Whether it’s Bollywood films projecting that for a girl to be marriage material, she has to dress the part, or girls constantly being shamed for wearing an outfit because “they’re asking for it”, it’s easier to blame girls for their choice of clothing instead of addressing that it’s these backward notions that are holding back our nation.
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