By P. Jayaram, India Correspondent
NEW DELHI, INDIA - College students in northern India are furious about being told how to dress, following a ban on jeans and tight-fitting clothes.
The management of four girls' colleges in Kanpur city announced the ban earlier this month, with a co-educational college later extending the ban to both male and female students.
Ms Meeta Jamal, principal of one of the girls' colleges, said: 'A notice has been issued in the college, restricting girls from wearing Western outfits like jeans, skirts and tight tops on campus as it does not indicate a disciplined atmosphere.'
And using an Indian term for men who sexually harass women, she added: 'Such dresses often attract comments from 'eve-teasers'.
'There are more than 8,000 students in the college and we cannot overlook the safety of so many students. A dress code would check eve-teasing to some extent and ensure discipline.'
At the same time, teachers have been banned from wearing sleeveless blouses and using mobile phones.
And while students violating the rule would be let off with a reprimand, teachers will have to pay 100 rupees (S$3) each time they flout the rules.
Some Indians fear the ban is part of a growing trend of 'moral policing' by religious hardliners.
In January, activists from a Hindu hardline group beat and kicked women at a pub in the southern coastal city of Mangalore, saying the women were violating traditional Indian values by drinking alcohol in public and warning them of dire consequences if they were seen in bars again.
The government in communist-ruled Kerala, which boasts a 100 per cent literacy, has banned Bollywood-type dances at college functions, while policewomen in Meerut city have beaten up courting couples in a public park.
Both students and teachers in Kanpur city are outraged by the the dress code, with a student who gave her name as Saumya saying: 'We are grown-up people and at this age we should not be told what to wear.'
At the same time, a teacher who did not want to be named implied that the rules questioned teachers' professionalism, saying: 'We don't have to be told what to wear. As teachers, we are conscious of what we wear to college.'
A particular focus of student anger is that the new dress code outlaws their most popular piece of clothing.
'Jeans are the most common outfit worn by college students, particularly because - unlike other clothes - they are easy to maintain,' one student said.
Meanwhile, many students feel that the dress code is taking aim at the wrong target, punishing women rather than the men who harass them.
Some said that instead of banning jeans, the college authorities should arrange to provide them with martial-arts training so they can protect themselves from harassment.
And student Tulika Saxena said: 'It would be much better if the college authorities sit down with police and other officials to formulate a strategy to check the menace.'
Ms Neelam Chaturvedi, who works with a women's rights group in Kanpur, said the ban was 'totally irrational'.
'It appears that the college authorities feel that eve-teasers target only girls wearing jeans. I can narrate umpteen incidents in which boys misbehaved with girls wearing salwar kameez (a form of traditional wear),' she was quoted as saying in media reports.
Feisty former minister for women's affairs and child development Renuka Choudhury has blasted such moral policing, terming it as the 'Talebanisation of India'.
But others see it as simply a reflection of a traditionally male-dominated society.
'The dress code is blatantly patriarchal and
anti-women. If, at the age of 18, students can be given the right to elect their prime minister, can they not choose how they dress?' said a left-wing student activist in Chennai.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.