Tirath Singh Rawat, the new chief minister of Uttarakhand, has a problem with Indian women wearing ripped jeans.
This item of clothing, he feels, is responsible for many social evils, including irresponsible motherhood. In a flight, he had met a woman who was travelling with two children — and was wearing boots, jeans ripped on the knees, and had several bracelets on her arm! What recklessness! What values was she teaching, he demanded.
His remarks set off several hashtag protests and generated many answers. There was talk of “ripped brains” and the “ripped economy”, which, some felt, should cause more concern. He was also advised to focus on problems people faced and not women’s knees.
Ripped or torn jeans, sometimes shredded down to threads or gaping holes, to be fair, have often caused bewilderment in beholders, but what is it really about that triggered the chief minister?
It seems it is his idea of the Indian sense of decorum in clothing. This dictates, not so much that women’s bodies should not be seen, but which part of the body should be seen and how. If this was not so, all apsaras, mythical to Bollywood, would have been banned from the nation by now. Women are required to sizzle, on the screen, and in real life. But tradition will decide with which part of her body.
A sari can and may reveal. As much as is possible. Do you remember Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram? How was her sari held in place at all, leaving nothing to the imagination? Will power? Fevicol? How was every part of her body scrutinised, by the camera, by the viewers, yet the hero missed the scar on her face? Because she was being rewarded, for following the dress code approved by tradition, by wearing the sari, and that, too, in the presence of divinity. Which made the sari metaphysical. Therefore even if she seemed a skin show, she was not. Her body was made entirely of soul, shining through a transparent sari. Same for Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili, another film directed by Raj Kapoor, the great patriarch of Hindi films.
Hardly anyone, including Mr Rawat, presumably, has a problem with the sari, which allows not only Zeenat, but also lesser, ordinary women to show a broad expanse of waist — and other stuff. If tradition approves, everything is ok.
But the skin on a woman’s knee peeping through ripped jeans? Now that’s bad. Real bad. Neither the Hindu shastras — which other religion matters in India? — nor Raj Kapoor had ever talked about jeans. Let alone ripped jeans. Women’s flesh showing through ripped jeans is wrong, because jeans are wrong and women’s knees are wrong. Both are forbidden and cannot and may not be seen.
And any bit of female body that is banned from view becomes an erogenous zone for men. It can provoke men to do God knows what, warns tradition. And men do.
However, no one ever complains about the effect a man has when he takes off his shirt, rolls up his banyan and rolls down his pot belly in full view of the world. That is because he is tradition.
Maybe Mr Rawat should carry knee caps with him, distributing them free to girls showing up with bare knees? Or we should just run and cover our eyes when we see the offending knees approaching?
But some will never learn. A woman has dared to suggest to the chief minister that the Himalayas showing through the melted glaciers in his state are more obscene than girls’ knees showing through jeans.