First year students of Women’s Studies in Tata Institute Of Social Sciences (TISS) Hyderabad were recently faced with a conundrum. While gearing up for their exponential learning programme, where they had to spend 10 days in a rural area interacting with the locals, they were told of a ‘dress code’ by their teacher. “No jeans, no skirts, no sleeveless tops. Wear chudidars with dupattas,” was the mandate.
The irony of it made a couple of students uncomfortable. But, they knew that they couldn’t have gone dressed so differently from the locals and justify it as ‘feminism’.
“Feminism can be easily misunderstood and people can call you a ‘feminazi’ if they don’t understand. One doesn’t have to actually study two years of women studies to understand it. It’s as simple as believing in equality of both the sexes,” says Umme Salma, a first year student in TISS, adding, “However, to get more people to understand it, a course like this could be introduced at the school level. At a Master’s level, we get overwhelmed because all our lives, we are taught one thing, and now we have to go back and tweak the belief systems that we were brought up with.”
Apurva Vurity, a second year student of the same course, explains, “One must know how to choose the right battles. Feminism exists in multiple standards and is never black or white. How does one take a stand in something like Islamic feminism? Some feminists say wearing a burkha makes them feel empowered, but there’s also a certain amount of restriction and limitation in the concept, so other feminists say it’s oppression. But they have their reasons. What feminism means to an individual is personal.”
She adds, “When we were told by the teacher to wear chudidars, I was uncomfortable but after I went there, I realised that it was done because they would see us as foreigners if we came in western clothes. We dressed like them, so they felt more comfortable to talk to us.”
Ayesha Farheen, MSc Nutrition student at Shadan Institute, adds, “Though I dress up in both western and Indian wear, I do not think wearing a particular outfit makes someone a feminist or vice versa. When I go to watch movies, I may wear jeans and a T-shirt. However, I often shop at Old City and then I prefer wearing something traditional. Feminism has nothing to do with ‘modern clothes’.”