Modesty of Dress and Indian Culture: Suchi Govindarajan

Widely circulating just about everywhere, but for the unfortunate few who may have missed it…

I for one want to kiss the hem of her salwar/sari/jeans/other modest outfit.

Sir/Madam,
I write to complain about the abysmal standards of modesty I am noticing in Indian society. All bad things – sensationalist TV, obscene movies, diabetes among elders, pickpocketing, dilution of coconut chutney in Saravana Bhavan – are a result of Evil Western Influences. However, to my surprise, in this issue of modesty, even the Great Indian Culture (we had invented Maths and pineapple rasam when westerners were still cavemen) seems to encourage this.

The problem, sir/madam, is that revealing attire is being worn. Deep-neck and sleeveless tops, exposed legs–and these are just the middle-aged priests! Some priests are even (Shiva Shiva!) doing away with the upper garment. And I am told some temple managements even encourage this.

Read the rest of this brilliant and biting piece here.

18 thoughts on “Modesty of Dress and Indian Culture: Suchi Govindarajan”

  1. Cant resist sharing right here a response to Suchi’s post on her FB page. It’s even funnier, though (perhaps) unintentionally.

    Beloved Suchi Govindarajan : Your so said thoughts will not workout in Indian Society. If it would existed in Indian society then So called Indian society would have become Iran or Iraq…When u can recommend dress code for Indian Men why dont u recommend Burkah’s for Your so called Indian Women. So far i was thinking Indian Male society enjoys Girls cleavage, their so called secret part. Never knew girls are interested in reading boys Undies manufacturer…why dont u ppl conduct survey on number of boys exposing their undies , no of boys who have not shaved their under arm?….
    Talking about why dont parents impose restriction on dress code for boys….. If this was happened, we wouldnt have seen, pullela gopichand, yuki bahmbri, aron d souza, dhanraj pillai,sushil kumar, prakash padukone..(I suspect whether u knw these names or not)….. We would have seen Only Sachin…
    My critic is endless.. but I dont want to criticize ur write up… But dont aim to change India to Iran or Iraq…. Art is artist and Artist is art.. Beauty is real when u see the person in right way.. if not even beautiful male and female look like ghost and u feel u r existing in Devil society…

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    1. The article was a sarcastic remark on how women are treated in our country, And also on how women are under constant scrutiny based on what they wear. When a woman gets raped the first question people ask is “What was she wearing?” instead of arresting and punishing the attacker ( During one of the riots last year a nun was raped. I know for sure that nuns don’t wear revealing clothes and even then she was victim of molestation) Please know that the actual intentions of the author.

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      1. It is the supressed sex feeling of Indian Men of today still wants the dress code for women. They are unable to resist the temptation to have sex with the women.The very knowledge(wrong) that women is ONLY for sex is the main culprit of Indian society.This dress code mongers feel the superiority over women.

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        1. i think the problem of men thinking of sex when seeing a woman could be well solved ifwomen particularly asian women came out of their role of being the protectors of morality and ethics in the society and would just behave like normal human beings, wanting as much sex as men too and being polygamous like men.. not because of any pressure from men, but because it is natural to be polygamous, only women stupidly obey the orders of the society to remain monogamous or even sexless etc. men will then have to deal with strong women and mothers and will then have to behave like good children and not as brats…wanting to exploit anyy female body that comes across…

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  2. Beautiful piece; readable,enjoyable in a light vein, but not without getting obsessed with the thought of ‘manufactured’ culture that follows you wherever you go…. The article intentionally or otherwise, brings to mind many a ‘right’ answer for problems that are fundamentally the creation of a culture of misogyny but camouflaged as influences of the ‘other’ culture ..

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  3. Temporarily ignoring the often egregious behavior exhibited by Indian men towards women who might dress with equal disregard to skin coverage, I see no reason why Indian women shouldn’t be awarded the same freedoms to bare their chests and bottoms. Decadent western societies such as are found in the Scandinavian countries have seemingly complete mutual unclothing on the beach, saunas and at home and more, and often women may be found parading and demonstrating politically while topless without untoward behaviors by their men. But only 1000 years, not the many millenia of Indian Culture, separate the backward Danes Swedes and Norwegians from Viking barbarianism. Of course historically in India, say about 150+ years ago, in parts of the Southern States, women of scertain communities were actually REQUIRED to leave their upper bodies in full naked view. But that is an altogether different question with different antecedents…

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    1. John, interesting point you raise that “women of certain communities were actually REQUIRED to leave their upper bodies in full naked view.”. As you may know, it was common for all people, male and female, in many parts of the world not to cover their torsos – quite sensible, given the heat, This was true not only for southern India, but also for large parts of Africa, until the coming in of western bourgeois notions of proper dress and modesty (sadly lacking in uncivilized natives), through missionaries and colonial powers. Gradually, through modernizing indigenous elites embarrassed by their own ‘savage’ pasts, as well as by the introduction by missionaries of proper notions of dress, women began to cover their breasts. Check out for example, the so-called Mother Hubbard dress – “a long, wide, loose-fitting gown with long sleeves and a high neck. Intended to cover as much skin as possible introduced by missionaries in Polynesia to ‘civilise’ those whom they considered half-naked savages of the South Seas islands.”
      Of course, in caste-ridden Kerala, as “upper” caste women started to cover their breasts, “lower” caste women were forbidden to do so, and hence the anti-caste, militant breast-cloth movements there. I have a fascinating story in my book from this movement, drawn from Udaya Kumar’s brilliant “Self, Body and inner sense: Some reflections on Sree Narayana Guru and Kumaran Asan” (Studies in History 13, 2.)
      Once you start to see like a feminist, historical paradoxes of this sort leap out at you!

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      1. Then our Nair ladies were more feminists than the present lot of feminists. They were able to get rid of their “Nairs” by just throwing their beddings into the open court yards! Sugata Kumari is still nostalgic about that.

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      2. Sorry for entering so late but can’t resist. even in early modern kerala, both men and women had to be bare-breasted, and covering the breast was much more a matter of upward mobility in caste rather than modesty, for all classes of people. there is plenty of historical evidence — i have a whole chapter in my book — which continues to be ignored by those who want to insist that victorian modesty is something naturally desired by all freedom-loving people all over the world. There are truly interesting stories about how LMS missionaries in south kerala imported used blouses from england to be distributed among their congregation — for the use of many ladies
        remained quite undisturbed by their bare breasts and still hadn’t got a hang
        of the idea that the naked body was sinful after the Fall. These ladies agreed to wear them to church but on Sunday morning, there they were, with blouses neatly folded and thrown over their shoulder as if they were the mel-mundu — the upper garment worn by upper caste men and women to reveal their caste superiority! It took quite a bit of persuasion to get them to actually wear it!

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      3. Actually I am referring to to the breastcloth controversy in Southern Tamilnadu and Kerala in the 1850s when some of the Nadar/Shanar Community women, especially those whose traditional occupation was climbing Palmyra trees, were forced against their will by ritually superior castes to go topless like the other communities designated as ritually impure. This became a great legal issue of the time and which was finally decided in their favor first by British authorities and then Indian Royalty. This is discussed at length in Hardgrave’s “The Nadars of Tamilnadu and can be searched on the Internet. as well.

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    2. john, your words “Decadent western societies such as are found in the Scandinavian countries have seemingly complete mutual unclothing on the beach, saunas and at home and more, and often women may be found parading and demonstrating politically while topless without untoward behaviors by their men” are quite indicative of the fact that most of you (Indian) men are so very moralistic, inhibited and unnatural in your outlook towards sex and the physical part of human lives. you men do so as if you are more sexy, but you actually hate sex and hence hate the woman who makes you most satisfied. and you hold your own -mostly sexless- wives as godly beings and a real woman. hence also the many rapes on streets to any “other” woman, for whom you cannot have any regard, particularly if she likes and exposes her body. you dont know that she could be a genius too.
      we really need to understand all these connections. only then will we one day get rid of rape and sexual /domestic violence. i am hundred percent sure that the scandivanian men behave more caressing and egalitarian and not as decadent as the Indian men when it comes to having sex together.
      why can we not regard our bodies as goddess given things, which need not be always covered and given so much and undue importance than say our minds, which actually are the creators of all the decadence in the world. minds are more decadent than naked bodies, dont you think so?
      i am of the view that if we were more open as regards physicalities, dress, shape, colour etc. and less tolerant towards the use of destructive materials like knives, guns, swords, as well as abusive languages, we would have a more sane society…

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      1. Please! I’m being a bit facetious in that post and I’m not an Indian man, rather a resident indophile. And I think you need to very carefully re-read my post. In fact in the Nordic Countries, as they prefer to be called, women make up a large and sometimes majority of the parliaments and political parties. Very strict and enforceable laws against rape are in place, and public nudity is a common occurrence in bathing places and summer beaches as well as private nudity among family members in the home. People meet and have sex consensually as middle teenagers, sometimes with members of the opposite sex and sometimes their own and many children are born outside of marriage. In the schools sex education is taught early and often along with videos of the human love act to the extent that the students are bored and tired of it all. If India were to follow in this path there would be an very large abundance of children born out of wedlock to girls in their teens who would not necessarily be of the same caste or even caste classification as the biological fathers. The Caste System would be a social system of only historical consequence within three generations. India might also be a greater wreck than it is now but stratification would be along lines of class rather than birthright. I would therefore wish to propose that the behavior of men in India towards women, (and the behavioral conduct training imparted to daughters by their mothers as well) is not that of men, or any group, but of the Caste System itself and its wish to perpetuate itself. When Indian men harass women in public, it is the Caste System speaking to them saying “you better be pure” or else or your caste, subcaste and family will suffer a loss of status and you will suffer terribly.

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  4. Though the post is for public-viewing, one cannot comment there. I really wish to register my appreciation for Suchi Govindarajan for her essay. When I teach, which hopefully I will someday, I would definitely use this essay along with Gloria Steinem’s “If Men could Menstruate”, in a class on feminist critiques of power. Most definitely!

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  5. Am speechless after reading that response. “Art is artist and (A)rtist is art”. Can’t argue with that now, can you.

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  6. suchi govindarajan’s approch to the problem “modesty of dress and Indian culture” is really refreshing and so much more powerful in sending the right message to the men and society in general, than when we start getting into analytic and intellectual exchanges. i for sure want to learn writing in this satirical way.

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  7. Much likey!!:))

    Tho I wonder what makes people in lounges and restaurants comment on each others clothing “pst, dnt turn your head now…but look at how its spilling…she’s showing…. bla bla bla”- what kinda double standards are we living with in this world? These same “pst pst” folks will venture in similar clothing….but will dare remark on others!:D

    So it is about clothes/attire? Or is it about our need for voyeurism and gossip? Is it about living like a puritan and behaving differently or is it about differences of the sex’s and wanting equality?

    Live and let live people:D

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