There are public spaces and there are public spaces. While city’s bus stops, railway stations, and the streets make up one side of public space; malls, movies and restaurants make up the other side. And the two sides have very different set of rules and these rules as usual affect women the most. Sartorial choice might seem to be a very trivial issue in larger scheme of things but the right to choose what one wants to wear rather than be told what to wear is hardly something to ignore. This in a city that boasts of being cosmopolitan.
Offices have for long had dress codes and these days a lot of colleges have dress code which takes away this choice from the girls. But there are dress codes quietly being implemented outside college campuses too. The malls, the coffee shops, movies have a certain dress code and then there is a whole other dress code for buses, streets and auto rickshaws. But that is not to say that the girls and women that you see in the malls don’t take buses or that the ones who take buses don’t go to malls.
Well, see there in lies the clever little plan of a smart urban woman. A day out with your girl friends and you need to dress up in the latest trends that involves sleeveless kurtas or tops? Wear jacket on top and take the bus, get to the location and discard the jacket. No one (so far) has overtly has announced a dress code for public spaces (barring the Sri Rama Sene’s antics last year). Yet, these are unwritten rules that usually apply to women more than men. And the women as usual have found a way to work around it.
Interestingly, some parents do not have a problem with their daughters dressing up in western clothes. But do caution the children when they step out, to be careful. One might rhetorically argue about the loss of Indian culture to skimpy clothes. But these young women will quite happily drape a six yard sari when there is an occasion and the go the whole hog with accessories; just that they would like to decide when and where. It is a matter of comfort too.
It is not surprising that the women choose to drive their own vehicles than use public transport for this very reason. Talk to young women in the buses, who can’t afford their own transport and they will tell you about the lack of safety from grabbing, staring men, convenience and freedom to wear what one wishes to.
Vishweshwaraiah Technological University’s (VTU) Vice Chancellor recently announced his plans to ban students from bringing personal vehicles into the university affiliated college campuses. He cited environmental and safety hazards as the reason behind this plan. I am not sure if this will ever be implemented. The students are of course opposed to this move. While convenience and freedom of choice is primary reasons for the opposition, there is a sartorial preference too.
The cosmopolitan city seems to be living in two halves, the IT and the non IT, the streets and the malls.