Tuesday, 4 October, 2022
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What Xavier’s Kolkata did isn’t surprising. Catholic schools’ definition of decency is outdated

Stop packaging the perpetuation of orthodox values, often stemming from religion, as some sort of a regimen. It won’t stand in today’s world.

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St Xavier’s University, Kolkata allegedly forcing an Assistant Professor to resign over her photos in a bathing suit she posted on Instagram is not surprising. That’s exactly what you expect from an institution obsessed with what its students are wearing. Now it has reached professors too.

Convent and Christian-run institutions in India are sought-after. Schools or colleges, convents have the reputation of providing quality education at relatively affordable fees. St Xavier’s, St. Stephen’s, Jesus and Mary Delhi, Madras Christian College, Loyola, Sophia, top the list for students seeking higher education.

While the teachings at these institutions might be progressive and liberal, their attitude toward the agency of students, especially females, is not. Even to enter the gates of these ‘gurukuls’, one has to be ‘decently’ dressed.

Before professors stand to defend the sanctity of dress codes, let me put it plainly: they’re arbitrary in nature and stem from the institutionalised bigotry perpetuated by management over the years.

Many years ago in St. Xavier’s Kolkata, an ex-student wasn’t allowed to enter the premises because her pants didn’t reach her ankles. At Sophia College in Mumbai, women cannot work out in the gym in shorts or skirts — in the humidity of Mumbai, one’s legs must be fully covered, despite no men in sight. At St. Xavier’s Mumbai, students have often come head-to-head with the management over their dress code: ‘no flaunting of your shoulders or knees’. The one that caught national attention was the management’s aversion to ripped jeans. Christ, Bangalore insists its students attend the college in formal attire. “The dress code was even more bizarre for female students, they couldn’t wear tights under kurtis either, it had to be a patiala,” recalls a former student. At the Missionary Settlement for University Women, Mumbai, wearing shorts is discouraged and wardens often scold residents for donning such attire. This, in a hostel where one is supposed to feel comfortable.


Also read: India insults women’s modesty in a million ways. Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot isn’t one


Toxic culture reaches staff

This policing has now reached a professor. The institution is now trying to stretch its jurisdiction beyond its physical boundaries. What students or staff do outside the college campus shouldn’t be the business of the institution, unless it’s criminal in nature. But for ‘decency’ police, an adult woman posting photographs in line with Instagram’s Terms of Use is a cardinal sin.

The university maintains they didn’t suspend the professor and that she resigned at her own volition. But the institute did form an ‘emergency’ committee to ‘investigate’ the matter, which itself is obnoxious. If an 18-year-old is looking at some pictures online and his father sees it and finds it offensive, do we take that complaint seriously, or do we ask the father to let their teenage child be? I hope the father hasn’t gone through his son’s browsing history — looking at his professor’s privately posted pictures could just be the tip of the iceberg. Did the varsity ask the student how he obtained the pictures in question?

Now, an institution that finds ankles offensive, can easily fall off the chair by looking at their professor in a bathing suit, and like it said ‘besmirch’ its reputation. The professor’s description of the slut-shaming she experienced is all too familiar for an average woman, and easy to empathise with.

The professor insists the photograph was a story (a post that expires within 24 hours) posted on Instagram before she joined the institution. But no questions seem to have been raised so far on how the student accessed them. Even if he had full access to it, shunning the student for looking at something extremely normal doesn’t qualify as a disciplinary action. The teacher too doesn’t need to give any explanation whatsoever. In fact it is the institution that needs to do some navel gazing and tell us if their ‘dress code’ is a disciplinary measure, or just another way of slut-shaming its students. Because in a lot of cases, the guards at such colleges don’t even let you enter the building if you’re in violation of the dress code, and liberally say the most heinous things to women students.


Also read: Pseudo parents or modern Khaps, Indian RWAs are here to police young, single people


Dress codes are unnecessary, arbitrary

Karnataka colleges can’t stand it if their female students are fully covered in burqas. It’s not part of some discipline. It’s Hindu majority’s crusade against burqas, denying female Muslim students access to education.

Other public colleges non-affiliated with religious missions may have their own arbitrary dress codes but the harsh truth is that this level of policing happens more often than not in Christian colleges. Such institutions need to sit down, revisit these policies and come back with some that are more in tune with the times.

Why can’t a female student wear a cut sleeve when it’s too damn hot outside? What’s so sexual about knees or shoulders? Decency of classrooms is not found on the bodies of its students. Reputation of colleges aren’t shaped by what its professors are wearing on Instagram. Women are not here to uphold your outdated values. Stop packaging the perpetuation of orthodox values often stemming from religion as some sort of a regimen. It won’t stand in today’s world.

Women are somehow responsible for the dirty gaze of men, and stopping sleazy thoughts from entering their minds. The documentary on Netflix Most hated Man on the Internet captures this systemic villanisation of women all too well. A man was posting nude pictures of women without their consent by hacking into their email on isanyoneup.com for almost two years without impunity. He was cheered on by men and women who insisted that the women who took their pictures in the first place are at fault.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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