Sunday, December 4, 2011

What is wrong with a bit more skin in Kerala?

Kerala is fast becoming a land of paradoxes and hypocrisies. A land where I was born, where I spent my formative years and where I proudly return to yearly to spend my well earned holidays. 

I came across the YouTube videoclip of an interview with Renjini Haridas, in which she was targeted by the audience for inappropriate dress-code, while she was dressed in a long, elegant, below the knee skirt. 

It pained to see Kerala stuck with these medieval beliefs and values. I wanted to unpack this a little more. wanted to understand the value system from which I have become so far divorced. Is it me who has lost the values and heritage after spending more than half my life in South Africa or do I have a point in saying this moral code is a lot of hog wash?

Let us start with the dress code. So why does women wearing a dress or a t-shirt and jeans infuriate some people in Kerala? Where did this cultural right to judge women's attire arrive from? Do we have historical evidence to back our judgment of what is appropriate dress-code in terms of Malayalee women or is it built in to our heads that any action that deviate from the norm is a symbol of rebelliousness, especially if the source is a female breed, and thus deemed inappropriate.

Why is a Sari any less sexy or inviting than a dress? Sari reveals a lot more than a dress and hugs the curves just like the alternative in question. When worn by an attractive woman, neither form of attire is going to slow down the blood flow of any normal man.  

Lets go back 15-20 years back, when I was a little kid running around the paddy fields supervising the koythu (rice harvest) with my grandfather, where it was pretty common to find women wearing a lungi and blouse as the daily attire. These were a lot more revealing than a western dress like the one Renjini wore. So far, history is not helping the argument of the narrow minded. Lets try go back even further.

I do not claim to understand the depth of history with regards to traditional Kerala dress-codes, but from my knowledge of traditional wears like Mundu Blouse, Mundum Neriyathum and Mulakkacha, none of them hint at a sense of extreme conservatism seen in Kerala today. If anything, sexuality was proudly displayed through most of our historical artworks and literature. 

For now, I would like reserve the right to call  these guys,"male chauvinists", and instead ask them to celebrate female sexuality. Men in Kerala cannot take a moral high-ground on this issue, without stopping the harassment of young women (eve-teasing as it is called) while walking on the streets, without closing down the slew of sleazy movie houses and without ending the publications of hundreds of raunchy Malayalam magazines on the newstands, of which the latter two, I do not wish to happen as it is their freedom to chose.

Time has come for more women in Kerala to stand up and take a brave stance for themselves to enable this change. Your skin is no-one else's business.


philip.eapen said...

Good post. Permit me to add a few points. The people of Kerala must wear clothes that are suited to Kerala's hot and humid climate. Unfortunately, both men and women fail to do so. The multiple layers of clothes that most (men and) women wear create health issues. Skin diseases such as fungal infection are quite common in Kerala.
The saree and blouse is certainly an Indian attire. But excessive sweating and the lack of "ventilation" causes fungal infections. The transition to Punjabi dress - though unwelcome in rural areas - was more the sake of convenience. The Punjabi dress too is not suitable for Kerala's climate.
Skirts, tops, dresses etc are good - not just for Kerala's girls but also for women! I think the Kerala's men folk too should learn from the men of Fiji and opt for skirts or mundu!

Sharath Krishnan said...

Actually, I think the traditional attire is quite practical as far as the heat is concerned (As a male, I certainly prefer the mundu over jeans when in Kerala). The north Indian attire is more recent and owes its popularity to the convenience of wearing.

And about the post in general, I have seen the video in which poor Renjini was pounced upon, but I think the audience there that day was unrepresentative of today's Kerala. It was skewed towards the more conservative middle-aged / ageing population, perhaps the target audience of the typical news channel. A fairer assessment can be made after considering the furore against the video that emerged in social networking sites.

The state is actually quite urban and in most towns and cities, the kind of attire Renjini regularly wears is quite acceptable, and increasingly common.

I agree on the more serious issues you raised about eve-teasing, and it can only be addressed with strong law enforcement. You cannot simply ask women to stand up and start walking out in the streets late at night if the state has no means of ensuring their safety.

Finally, I believe it's nobody's prerogative to dictate attire to women, be it clothes that cover or even those that don't. It's up to the women of Kerala to decide. And trust me, most Malayalee women are strong enough to keep their men within a leash when it comes to fashion choices for themselves and their daughters.

Radha said...

I love Kerala, but I hate to be here for more than a week as I am expected to wear a sari all the time ( I ancestral home is in a village near Kerala). It pains me to see the way things are going on in this state..

Thoma said...

we piss on road, but we hate kissing on road