Another fatwa on dressing 'properly' and one more controversy on what to wear is roiling the cyberspace in Kerala. This time the diktat came from Thiruvananthapuram medical college, which issued a circular banning jeans and leggings for students.
It led to an outcry from many including budding doctors, who called it a violation of their freedom to dress as per their choices.
What the circular said?
Women students have been asked not to come to classes and attend to patients wearing short tops, jeans, leggings, chappals and 'noisy ornaments' and instead wear churidars or saris with their hair put up.
Budding docs told not to wear jeans, t-shirt at Kerala medical college
Male students cannot wear jeans, T-shirts or any other casuals and chappals and should instead wear 'neat and clean' dresses.
"What is so inappropriate about wearing jeans or leggings?" Jithin James, Thiruvananthapuram medical college students' union chairman, asked Manorama News television. "What is the difference between formal pants and jeans?"
"All of us wear the required overcoat or ID. We haven't questioned these," he added to emphasize what the students had an issue with.
Some students asked why a government college should issue such an order. "They should tell us on what basis they have brought in this rule.”
Never ending tirade against jeans/leggings
Ever since the trend of leggings began to make waves in Kerala's dressing scene, many – including some prominent personalities – have riled against it. The girls who wear them said it was comfortable, but some (mostly men) called the dress "vulgar".
Two years ago, renowned singer K.J. Yesudas was trolled ruthlessly after he said women should not wear jeans as it was not our culture.
Some of us may remember that the same kind of resistance – from men – was there when Kerala women started to shift from the sari to the churidar at the end of the last century. But the women won that battle.
Entangled in sari?
True, our mothers and aunts would have worn a sari and run the breadth and length of villages and towns, or to catch the lone bus to office. But can we impose the same rule in 2016 on 20-something girls, who are on the 'wake-up, get-ready and get going' mode. How many of the young ladies would even know how to drape a sari on their own?
For all practical purposes, the attire has attained an ethnic status among youngsters, to be worn in all glory during the Onam celebrations, other traditional occasions, and official farewell functions.
And that is not bad. Women, and men, do not need to dress to honor traditions, or even to respect elders. The thumb rule should be about convenience, without being vulgar.
Thank god, the medical college authorities left some space in the circular for the churidar. But then again what about the yards-along dupattas (shawl) that come with the attire? Wrap it around the neck and then put on the overcoat in the hot and humid cities of Kerala?
It would have been better, if the authorities had thought of including kurtas or kurtis (largely worn by the woman of the day) in the 'decent dress' list but are less of a hassle than saris and churidars.
Do clothes make the doctor?
Thiruvananthapuram medical college vice-principal Dr A. Girija Kumari pointed out that the college brought out the circular every year for new joinees. She said a majority of students from the second to fourth year spend most of their time at the hospital with patients and future doctors ought to be dressed properly.
There have been complaints by patients and teachers in this regard, she added, justifying the circular, adding there were no official complaints from students.
Point taken: doctors need to maintain decorum when walking into a patient's room. But let's pause for a moment: what is the need to impose such restrictions on future doctors?
Are we trying to say that we don't trust our young medical students, who will soon be making life and death decisions, to know how to dress appropriately?
As this girl who spoke to Manorama News said: "Why do we need to dress on how the patients want us to be. I rarely see students wearing T-shirts inside the campus and then too all us compulsively wear the overcoat while meeting patients. So why such a rule?"
What is perhaps appalling is the mindset behind such fatwas: diktats issued to 21st century youngsters based on prejudices from a century back.
There is no place for such prejudices in today's world. Let's just take this opportunity to remind all those fatwa-issuers that not so far back, in the late 19th century, most Keralites were not allowed to cover their upper bodies. We have come so far, shrugging off those shackles.