Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat’s comments on women wearing ‘ripped jeans’—the CM suggested that women in such clothing were “degrading society”—invited just outrage across the board. Opposition politicians, filmstars, and many others roundly condemned Rawat’s comments, and there was a Twitter campaign in which women posted pictures in distressed jeans. But the voice that mattered the most, that of Rawat’s party colleagues seemed missing till Union women and child development minister Smriti Irani minced no words in rejecting Rawat’s views. Irani said no one in their enlightened mind would make such a comment, and that “politicians have absolutely no business talking about how people dress, what they eat, what they do.”
Perhaps, Irani’s fellow BJP leader, West Bengal’s Dilip Ghosh, could take a cue from the minister’s words? Ghosh, at a political rally, crassly stated that chief minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, who had recently been injured in an alleged politicallly-motivated attack, should “wear bermudas” if she wants to “display her legs” (alluding to Banerjee showing her injured leg in political rallies), not a saree, so that “everyone can have a good look”. A tsunami of criticism doesn’t seem to have helped Ghosh see sense, who defiantly maintains that “a woman showing her legs in a saree is inappropriate” and not “befitting Bengal’s culture”. Such policing of women’s clothing choices has fed into survivor-shaming in cases of sexual offences committed against women. While former culture minister Mahesh Sharma had suggested in 2016 that female tourists visiting India shouldn’t wear skirts and dresses in India, Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi blamed rapes on “women wearing less clothes”. It is, however, no small consolation that for every Rawat/Ghosh/Azmi, there is a Irani/Gul Panag/Priyanka Chaturvedi asserting women’s freedom to choose.