‘This is not our culture!’
‘Don’t you have any shame?’
‘Good girls don’t dress like this’
‘You are asking for it!’
There is no dearth of cliched comments that our society throws at women who wear modern attire. Most recently, when the Kozhikode District Sessions judge granted bail to writer Civic Chandran in a sexual assault case stating that the survivor’s dress was “provocative,” the verdict was slammed by many for the regressive attitude.
While the High Court stayed the order, and the misogynistic comment was ridiculed by many, the women students of Calicut Medical College (CMC), Kozhikode, felt that it was not enough. They wanted to register their protest louder and stronger but in a more youthful fashion. Thus was born the #NotAskingForIt campaign, which has gone viral on social media since it was launched a few days ago.
The campaign presents a series of photos in which CMC students – Fiona Joseph, Ancy Shaju, Sreenima P, Sreelakhshmi Prakash and Radhika Deeju - are photographed in various public localities wearing modern outfits.
It’s an initiative of their WINCA aka Women in Campus, a club under their college union. The first of the three-part series ‘In the street,’ is out. The next, which would be staged on campus and on beaches or malls, will be done soon.
They have already received predictable comments like ‘This is a publicity stunt' and ‘What impact can such shoots have?’ from the conservative lot, but the youngsters are undeterred.
Third-year MBBS student Fiona, who is also the lady vice-chairperson of the college union, says, “No outfit – however revealing or not – gives one the licence to touch anyone inappropriately. Though many opposed the controversial judgment granting bail to Civic Chandran, we felt that enough was not done to protest the attitude. Moreover, after the judgment came out, even on our campus, girls feared that wearing modern outfits might get dubbed as an ‘invitation.’ That’s why we decided to stage such a protest and clear the air that you can’t touch anyone without their consent.”
A creative reaction
What they wanted to do was a creative protest within their time constraints and budget. That’s when WINCA came up with the idea of the photoshoot. Fiona says, “The first stage named ‘On the Streets’ was shot in Kozhikode’s famed SM Street and in the bus stop in front of our college. The next two parts – ‘On the campus’ and ‘Outing’ will be staged in our college and malls, beaches and the like. We have continuous exams and other work going on at the moment. Moreover, we want to execute them after considering many aspects like the dress code on campus and more. Once that’s done, we will shoot the next two parts too.”
Apparently, in their college, female students are only allowed to wear salwar or sarees. Ancy Shaju says, “Modesty is a huge word that’s thrown around here and according to many, women doctors should only wear those attires (salwar and sarees). However, we know doctors who work outside Kerala and the dress they wear. Here, we can’t even wear jeans, pants, shirts and the like. These restrictions can't be justified. There are times when I have protested in my own way by wearing pants and tops.”
The ‘unsavory’ reactions
These women are not new to the comments of the culture police and the reactions of their family members who, they say, 'don’t get it'. To those who throw the ‘culture’ comment at them, Fiona asks, “If we should dress following our culture, shouldn’t the men restrict themselves to mundu and women to saree, chatta-mundu and the like? Dresses like pants, shirts and salwars that we wear for comfort and convenience are from other cultures and were normalised over time. A few years ago, wearing salwars without shawls wasn’t considered decent and now, isn’t that normal enough? Even today’s modern dresses like shorts would be nothing new if more and more people wear them."
“I wonder how people who boast of ‘culture’ can make nasty, tasteless comments,” she adds.
Ancy, who was also told not to wear modern outfits on campus, says she let her actions speak. “I wore a similar outfit to the campus the next day too,” she says with a smile.
“The reactions from our families too depended on various people’s attitudes. However, what we are aiming at is a change of such narrow perspectives in the years to come,” says Sreenima.