No law allows dress policing

A man in HSR layout stopped a girl riding pillion on a bike and asked her to wear ‘proper’ clothes. The IPC does not define what dress is proper

Last week, a 28-year-old techie, riding pillion on a motorcycle with a male friend, was stopped by a stranger who criticised her for wearing shorts.

The stranger asked her to follow “Indian rules and wear proper clothes”. The incident took place in HSR Layout. 

In a video that went viral on social media, the male friend can be heard yelling at the stranger, asking him where it was written in the Constitution that people had to dress in a certain way.

The woman too can be heard asking, “Are you going to decide what Indians are going to wear?”

Many were irked by the incident; comments mocked the man for wearing a Western outfit like trousers and shirt (“why wasn’t he wearing a mundu?”) while delivering a lecture about Indian values.

A netizen said it was hypocritical of girls to walk around wearing “short shorts” and then complain when people stare. Some others defended the man’s right to express his opinion.

Metrolife asked some elderly citizens what they felt about the entire incident. While some were annoyed at the high-handedness displayed by the man, others said the girl ought to avoid short clothes for her own safety.

“Unfortunately, Indians are not broadminded enough to accept Western ways of dressing,” said a 50-year-old woman who refused to give her name for the story. 

While she admitted that it was not right for a stranger to heckle a woman about her clothing, she feels it is justified for a parent or husband to stop a girl from wearing ‘risky’ clothes.

Another woman said that “others should not interfere in such matters but you should keep an eye on how you dress”.

What the law says

Advocate Geetha Mohan says there is no legal backing for moral policing. In her words: “Obscenity is not defined in any law including the Indian Penal Code. People can say short clothes cause depravity in the minds of the young, but they are just taking things too far. Firstly, as long as an act is not causing a public nuisance, it doesn’t count as indecency or obscenity. Secondly, if one thinks that a person is causing a public nuisance, you call the police, and not take up the case yourself.”

Another lawyer said the Indian Penal Code has provisions that prohibit obscenity, but wearing shorts or skimpy clothes does not amount to it, in any way. “No one is allowed to have a say in someone else’s choice of clothing. If someone were to kiss in public, that could be seen as obscenity because in our country it is considered a private matter. It is subjective ultimately, as there is no legal definition as to what is morally decent,” he says.

Colleges keep eye on girls

Despite being India’s face of modernity, Bengaluru has some rules about how young girls should dress. Colleges are the major perpetrators of this ‘dressing discrimination’. Many don’t allow girls to wear shorts and skirts even inside their hostel rooms. A trainee journalist once got a lecture from an auto driver she happened to ride with. “He said North Indian girls wear shorts and ripped clothes and then blame the men if something happens. I was wearing jeans and a shirt, and yet I very uncomfortable. When I tried to say what to wear was a personal choice, he changed the topic,” she says. Earlier this year, students of Christ (Deemed-to-be University) complained about moral policing by a woman police officer. An online campaign went on to expose many such incidents of moral policing by women cops, especially in the SG Palya area near the college.

 

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