It is neither correct nor wise to judge one generation with the values of another.

Do you agree with the points made by Mr. P.V.Indiresan (a former Director, IIT, Madras)?

My response in italics.

It is neither correct nor wise to judge one generation with the values of another.

I think it is wise, in fact essential, to acknowledge a wrong as wrong. If human rights were encroached upon, the values were wrong.

When I was young, in Southern India, Brahmin child widows would have had their heads shaved when they crossed the age of puberty.

Even if this was acceptable in that generation, it was wrong. It was stopped only because some people refused to accept it as the right value even though it was a value of that time.

There are even groups, both among orthodox Hindus and equally orthodox Muslims, who have prescribed what women should wear or should not wear.

On the other hand, I wonder whether the most ardent devotees of women’s liberty would wear topless or transparent dresses or even condone such behaviour among others.

Hence, strictly speaking, the protest is not about a dress code but about its rigidity.

The protest is about dress codes (or choices) made by some people for some other people, just because they are women.

Generally these dress codes are enforced by threats of violent assaults, intimidation and rapes; and blaming and shaming the victims for all of these. This energy needs to be directed towards conveying that sexual crimes would be taken seriously.

I had a British classmate who wanted to talk – merely talk – to an Indian girl who was his neighbour in London. He told me he dared not because she was modest; she dressed in a full length sari (in an age when miniskirts had come into fashion) and would not look at any one. Apparently, modesty has its own virtues and even authority. That point is probably worth noting by some of our modern girls.

1. ‘Our modern girls’ sounds condescending. 

2. How is it a virtue that this British classmate did not ‘dare’ to talk to her? Would it not be  simpler to tell someone, if one doesn’t wish to talk to someone?

3. Doesn’t this idea of ‘virtue’ isolate women? Communication can be empowering.

4. What happens if a man does approach her? Would that mean she is at fault for not following the dress and behavior code? Reminds me of this post by Small Town Feminist.

5. Why expect women to dress in codes to convey that they are not interested in conversations/friendship/fraindship/relationships/sexual harassment/sexual assaults etc? 

From this article: Moral ambivalence, then and now, P.V.Indiresan (The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras.)

Related Posts:

Those little walks…  – Small Town Feminist.

35 thoughts on “It is neither correct nor wise to judge one generation with the values of another.

  1. Crap. This is what a former IIT director thinks!? Am so glad he’s no longer director. Hope the current Diro isnt as retrograde… no wonder there’s so few girls getting into IIT still. Maybe they just know they wont be welcome.

    Like

    • Richa, my batch had 20 women, supposedly the highest ever for B.tech till then. In the Welcome Speech to students and their parents, the Diro announced this, everyone clapped and then he went on to say how it was actually a waste of a seat of women took it, because they would not do justice to it.

      Can you imagine? There are 20 women in the batch, they are sitting there with their parents, wit the rest of the batch and their parents, the session has not even started and this is what he had to say.

      My dad went over and pointed out, albeit very politely, that this was the last thing he expected of an IIT Director.

      Things have apparently not changed much.

      Like

      • The IITs are hopelessly chauvinistic and misogynistic. The slightly increased influx of women seems to have made it worse rather than better.

        At IIT-D, it was bog standard to see classmates with tremendous chips on their shoulders using raunchy slang terms for female parts as synonyms for ‘woman’ or ‘girl’. It pissed me off every single time I heard it, but there’s nothing you can do about an entire institute’s mentality.

        Just one of the myriad ways in which IITs suck (and blow too). My ex (also from my batch) used to tell me how self-conscious the place had made her. Well, no kidding, right? If I were outnumbered 15 to 1 in a group of misandric, chauvinistic women who simply assumed that I was no good at what I did without even knowing me, I’d need to be made of flint to NOT fricking feel self-conscious.

        Like

      • Reminds me of the time, I was surrounded and harrassed by a mob of my male batchmates, for having the audacity to come to college in order to finish leftover workshop practicals, when they,the “students” had declared it closed. According to them as a “girl” in a. government engineering college,I was basically wasting a seat , regardless of the fact that I got in on the basis of an entrance exam while quite a few of those “guys” were basically in the college because they had the right caste certificate! I remember screaming at them to get out of the way and racing out of there on my two wheeler. I remember the constant intimidation and harrassment I faced while trying to get the college to take action against them,and the cherry on top if the cake- Being told by the principal that “as a girl student,you should have been more careful!”
        Luckily for a shell shocked me, my father who was sitting next to me was having none of it and basically told the principal in very uncomplimentary language exactly what an idiot he (the principal) was.

        Funnily enough, the next semester, I was in trouble again, for being so bold as to wear a salwar kurta jacket, without a dupatta…while paying the college fees!

        Like

    • Oh yes, Director Indiresan probably thought that female students talking to male professors was to be discouraged.

      After all female modestly forbids good Indian girls from talking to older men — even when said man is a professor and said female a student in dire need of professorial assistance.

      Why this glorification of female modestly? Did Mr Indiresan not enjoy Helen’s sequin-clad legs (assuming he was referring to the 60s).

      Hypocrisy at its crustiest best!

      Like

  2. Totally agree with you IHM! How is it a virtue if it restricts someone from talking to you? And why are virtues only for women?In London, did Mr.Indiresan display his virtue and culture by roaming about in dhotis and kurtas?

    Like

  3. Reminds me of a Marwari aunty I knew, the wife of an SP, who proudly related how she doesn’t allow her (only) son to have any friends. Apparently, not having friends translates to a better pedigree (~unspoiled). I can see how this professor thinks as well, he imagines a woman is more respected if men don’t talk to her.
     
    There are Indian or Arab woman I wouldn’t talk to, because of their conservatist aura – but it is one of avoidance rather than presumptions of virtue or authority. There is nothing virtuous about being asocial.

    Like

  4. //Apparently, modesty has its own virtues and even authority.// Geee. I’ve spent most of my young adulthood, and mature adulthood wearing salwaar kameezes – yes, as modest as it can get – even more modest than a navel-revealing saree with a blouse that showed a little more of my back than I cared for. And yet I’ve never escaped unwanted attention on the road – be it in the form of stares, whistles, comments and so on. Not because I’m beautiful. But because a member of the opposite sex feels good with the power of harassment – a power bestowed by our society.

    //That point is probably worth noting by some of our modern girls.// Well, I’m a modern girl. I am modern because I value my freedom and individuality – not because of my clothes. But this is a concept beyond the grasp of many holier-than-thou moral high priests like yourself. And you know what? If my appearance and demeanour made me unapproachable; and I’ve missed out on some wonderful, potentially life-long friendships or yes, even a warm romance – there is nothing praiseworthy about me then. Hell, I’d be hoofing it to the nearest psychologist. So stop throwing up neurotic, debilitating, shrinking behaviour as examples of ‘modesty’. Modesty, as with every virtue, should come up in thought and action. A virtue which you are lacking in…significantly.

    //On the other hand, I wonder whether the most ardent devotees of women’s liberty would wear topless or transparent dresses or even condone such behaviour among others.//

    The most ardent devotees of women’s liberty KNOW that liberty is NOT ABOUT showing a pair of breasts. In India, women’s liberty is at an even more fundamental level – fighting to keep girl babies in the womb, demanding the right to walk safely on the streets, demanding the right to a safe working environment and demanding the right to equal pay….and much, much more. Women’s liberty is about having a SAY and CHOICE about one’s body, thought, speech and action.

    And yes, as an ‘ardent worshipper of PERSONAL FREEDOM’ (and not just women’s liberty) I would’nt bat an eyelid if someone DID walk around topless. Because I have enough maturity to dissociate clothes from morality. So yes, I won’t judge a woman who decides to chuck the blouse for the day – but I WILL raise my voice against a man who thinks it is his birthright to rape because he got ‘provoked’.

    Unfortunately stuffy, pompous, sexist academics like yourself have only grasped concepts of physics and mathematics, without understanding how these influence our very existence. Sod off old man.

    Like

    • //And yes, as an ‘ardent worshipper of PERSONAL FREEDOM’ (and not just women’s liberty) I would’nt bat an eyelid if someone DID walk around topless. Because I have enough maturity to dissociate clothes from morality. So yes, I won’t judge a woman who decides to chuck the blouse for the day – but I WILL raise my voice against a man who thinks it is his birthright to rape because he got ‘provoked’.//

      Love this.

      Like

  5. First off, I did not find the entire article as objectionable as these particular excerpts (even though it’s not great, obviously). This part is spot-on:

    The real issue is violence. It has been said that what people fear is not the severity of punishment but its certainty. Our laws are rigid; they are harsh and severe.

    It is something that I’ve been at pains to point out again and again.

    Coming to the excerpted portions, I’m not sure what context P.V Indiresan made these statements in, but there seems to be a sort of straw man argument here.

    Who’s judging the previous generation anyway?

    I don’t know anybody (supporter of women’s rights or not) who holds a generalized negative view of an entire generation of people. Maybe there are people like that, but really, that kind of a viewpoint does not make any sense at any level. Most people are only judging the practices (or, at most, the people of THIS generation who continue to follow them), which are certainly quite okay to judge.

    That said, the things that really bothered me about the article (apart from the dated, sexist phrasing) were :

    a) The descriptions of ‘modesty’;

    b) The implied acceptance of the notion that sexual violence is a ‘women’s issue’ that women should solve for themselves.

    The writer argues for moral and cultural relativity but does not accord the same privilege to his own depiction of modesty.

    ‘Modesty’ means different things to different people. It’s absurd to try and claim that there is some kind of universally accepted form of modesty, let alone that such form of modesty is a universally desirable trait.

    It is similarly absurd that to imply that sexual violence is an issue that concerns only women and that women should be the only ones dealing with it and demanding change. It is not a women’s issue, it is a social issue that concerns everyone who lives in larger society. Unless men are a part of the solution, there is no solution.

    Like

    • ‘Modesty’ means different things to different people. It’s absurd to try and claim that there is some kind of universally accepted form of modesty, let alone that such form of modesty is a universally desirable trait.

      Excellent point. To a nudist, there would be nothing immodest in his nudity. To a burkah/purdah wearing lady, showing her face may be considered immodest. It’s all relative.

      Like

  6. Well, the dress-code issue is not just an Indian problem. It’s relatively present in the west too (including the US). For instance, there is this go-topless day being held in various American cities, where women are dared to go topless. Legally many states allow women to be topless in public, but practically it’s frowned upon. Many feminists want this to change and want to allow women to be topless in public if men can be too. As you might imagine, this is highly controversial here and in many ways there are parallels to the situation in India (except in India, instead of going topless, it’s about wearing a knee length skirt).

    Like

    • Nish – in India its about anything that a woman wears – be it a knee length skirt or a bahu wearing a salwar, or girls wearing jeans(remember the posters in Ranchi warning about acid attacks on women wearing jeans- a garment that fully covers the body)

      Like

      • I agree, it’s not about skin showing at all, because the amount women in Haryana and women wearing saree in most parts of North Indian show is much more than women in jeans or capri or salwar. It’s more about women doing anything that is not approved by the next door neighbor’s brother’s grand uncle😦

        Like

      • Yeah, I know. I’ve only lived in Kerala where typically people are okay with women wearing jeans or salwar kameezes. It’s when they wear short skirts or cleavage revealing tops that some people get all worked up and upset.

        Like

        • But what did women wear before the needle was invented and stitching of blouses and petticoats began?

          //Some 150 years back the women in Kerala launched a feminist revolt for the right to cover their breast, women in Kerala were not allowed to cover their breast; mostly this rule was applicable to lower caste women, when someone from higher caste would come she should show her breast to cover ones breast was considered a sign of immodesty. Brahmin women can cover their breast while venturing out but at home they had to be topless, Shatriya women cant cover breast infront of Brahmins and lower cast women couldn’t cover breast infront of anyone. The cloth worn on lower part couldn’t be lower than the knee.I think in most of ancient India women generally were topless, there are some mention about this is Kamasutra. If you think about the climate in India, generally hot and humid most of the time, I would say being topless is the right way.
          Coming back to Kerala, what lead to the change in the topless trend was apparently the contact with the Brits. Some people converted to Christianity and as per European standards started wearing upper body garments, the higher caste people beat the shit out of such women, slowly the contact with Britishers and rest of India made topless out of fashion, women started feeling ashamed of being topless, it made them feel inferior.

          Coming back to Kerala, what lead to the change in the topless trend was apparently the contact with the Brits.” https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/slut-walk-and-how-womens-bodies-are-different-so-they-need-to-be-covered-for-their-own-safety/ //

          Like

        • Interesting info there IHM, thanks. So I guess what all these people mean by “Indian culture” is “British-Indian culture”🙂

          Like

      • Clothing is just a symbol for freedom or of it’s absence. So social conservatives oppose any form of clothing that implies greater freedom for women.

        Many think a sari-clad woman endorses the status-quo and a woman wearing jeans questions it.

        I have met committed feminists who only wear sarees and women in little black dresses who think rape is a woman’s fault. Clothing is not always an accurate indicator of one’s cultural/moral value systems.

        Stereotypes about clothing are convenient when conservative people are trying to “slot” a woman into the “good girl/bad girl” buckets.

        Like

  7. Just read this: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/woman-attacked-with-acid-after-refusing-to-have-sex-254239?pfrom=home-otherstories. Two women have now been made victims of acid attacks in and around Ranchi. One of them apparently because she refused sex to two men (and she was in a village so I’m sure wasn’t wearing ‘western clothes’). This is utterly heartbreaking. Women in India are now being burnt with acid for resisting rape??! How does a billion strong country just allow this to happen? Having seen pictures of acid attack victims, I just cannot believe that men in India will do that to a woman for resisting rape! She is clearly not human to them, just a sex object.

    I feel so utterly powerless. These incidents happen on a daily basis in India with the Police, judiciary and government watching as mute spectators at best and actively promoting these incidents through their behaviour.

    I feel like the issues of sex ratio imbalance, sex segregation in society and sexism towards women are so deeply rooted in Indian patriarchy that we will not see any improvement until a whole generation rejects these. I don’t think this will happen in my lifetime. If anything, it seems to be getting worse with men thinking they can burn women for refusing sex/ wearing jeans/ whatever.
    😦😦😦

    Like

    • Women are really not viewed as fully human in most of India. They are viewed as objects or possessions who exist to be of use to men.

      As wives, daughters, sisters and as just women — we are not free humans, but the property of the men of our family and the larger community.

      This is unfortunately true; though it is difficult to acknowledge it or accept it.

      Like

  8. /I had a British classmate who wanted to talk – merely talk – to an Indian girl who was his neighbour in London. He told me he dared not because she was modest//
    Isn’t he bordering very close to the concept of victim blaming here? Isn’t he implying that wearing traditional Indian dresses will keep the stalkers and molesters away because it even keeps the modern Londoners away?

    //On the other hand, I wonder whether the most ardent devotees of women’s liberty would wear topless or transparent dresses or even condone such behaviour among others.
    I think I am fine with a topless woman roaming on the street. As Moonbeam correctly said, liberty is not about showing your breasts. Women in India fight for very basic rights. Lets talk about those rights first before throwing the ”topless” question.

    Like

  9. Condescending. Sometimes I’m caught between who I hate more. The “guardians” of a made up culture or these “well meaning” people who’re “trying to help”.

    With help like this…

    Like

  10. The article seems to deplore violence against women. Yet he takes potshots against ‘modern’ women and seems to suggest that they are also to blame for the violence because of their dress or whatever. He does not want to take a firm against orthodoxy. So, under the guise of moral ambivalence, he is trying to show that he is maintaining a neutral stance between “orthodox” views and the views of “modern” women.

    If the Director had read his Dante, he would have realized that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”

    He claims in his article that the real issue is violence. Yes, violence is a huge issue. But violence is the symptom of a diseased society, not the cause. The cause lies in the primitive, patriarchical mindset that permeates every region, every religion, every caste, every community in India. It is this mindset that relegates women to an inferior status and makes it easier for the misogynist fools to attack women every chance they get. Unfortunately, in spite of the objective of his article, the Director is only succeeding in perpetuating this primitive mindset.

    It’s too bad that even the director of the IITs, one of the foremost beacons of academic excellence in our country, does not have this basic common sense

    Like

  11. Actually most of the upper echelons of Indian Academia hold similar 14th century views. Unfortunately. Why else are women’s hostels – both UG and PG so equipped with guards, curfews for adults and general slut shaming?
    Anyhow, on the British classmate anecdote- maybe that poor chap was scared of the Indian lady- not because he was in awe of her clothing, but simply because she seemed so alien. Maybe if she showed more ankle she would have broadened her world view by talking to someone from a totally different culture… but then it is not a very good thing for women to learn too much is it?

    Like

  12. Pingback: Everybody knows what women should do to not ‘get molested’ in India. | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s