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The Face Behind the Veil - "College you Can't Do That"

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 Whether it be the three Muses or the Fates of Greek and Roman mythology, whether it be Kali, Draupadi, Radha or Sita, women have been idolised and revered. Why then are women battered, enslaved, exploited, subjugated and held on a leash? Do the two concepts not clash? Or does this dichotomy depict the essential aspects of the yin and yang? The fragility of a woman and her supreme fortitude and tolerance make her a subject that has consumed man for centuries and I explore the various roles that she is forced to don, the numerous agonies she has borne from time immemorial, the stereotyping that she is longing to shrug off. A wife, a daughter, a lover, a wanton, an object of desire, a pawn, a matriarch, a mother – where is the individual? Will Ma Durga need to define the woman? Will she be the symbol of the emancipated woman, the prototype as well as the protector? 
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College…you can’t do that!
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT — Along the miles of crowded beachfront in Egypt’s second city, women in bathing suits are nowhere in sight. On Alexandria’s breeze-blown shores, they all wear long-sleeve shirts and ankle-length black caftans topped by head scarves. Awkwardly afloat in the rough seas, the bathers look like wads of kelp loosened from the sandy bottom. 
The Alexandria as described in literature, was celebrated by Arab, Egyptian and Western writers as a cosmopolitan paradise where sailors mingled at cafes with exiles from Syria and Greece, businessmen from Italy and, eventually, women in sun dresses. Alexandrian novelist, Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, has written two novels of Alexandria’s 20th-century past that reflect a longing for a kind of golden age of diversity. Another author, Haggag Oddoul, said in an interview: “I wish we could go back to being the city of Cleopatra.”

But today, the scenario is quite different - Mr. Abdel Meguid attributes this to influence from conservative Gulf nations — in particular, Saudi Arabia. “We are no longer a universal city of song, dance, culture and art,” he said.

The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood is the prototype for Islamic political parties across the Middle East — and nostalgia for a legendary multicultural past is not part of its agenda. “At the end of the day, that’s all history,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood member of Parliament. A leaflet advising women on proper Islamic coverings is posted in the lobby leading to Mr. Saleh’s office. A caftan and long head scarf are correct. A skimpy head scarf accompanied by jeans is wrong.

Alexandria needs “stable” community values, he insisted. “There, Islam is just one topic among many. We don’t like those naked Greek statues. Anyway, that’s over. Islam should have a special status at the library,” he said. “This is a Muslim city in a Muslim country; that is our identity.”

(Courtesy - Daniel Williams in Bloomberg News.)
 
RANCHI: Fear gripped young women in the city on Tuesday after three posters by a newly-formed group, Jharkhand Mukti Sangh, threatened them with serious consequences if they were seen sporting jeans and T-shirts or not wearing a dupatta. The posters said they would start policing after August 20.

Since jeans have become the most common apparel for young women now, they were quite shaky after the warning. "I don't understand what's wrong if we wear jeans. Everyone wears jeans these days. I will now think twice before I slip into a pair," said Namrata, a student of Women's College.

Another girl, Pragya of St Xavier's College, was not too sure about the seriousness of the threat. "We will continue to wear what we have been wearing but we will definitely be careful. I have faith in the police and know that the culprits will be caught."

Meenakshi, a student of Nirmala College, said, "People who have put up the posters are criminals and it is better we do not talk about them. I hardly wear jeans but now after this threat, I will avoid wearing them."
Parents have also been caught unawares. Ajay Sharma, a father of an 18-year-old girl, said, "I never stopped my daughter from wearing anything but after the posters I will advise her against wearing jeans. Her safety is more important than indulging her."

The posters have rattled college authorities, too. The principal of Women's College, Manju Sinha, said, "Wearing indecent clothes is not appreciable but I don't think there is a problem if girls wear jeans. It is a matter of concern if the miscreants are trying to create fear.

The police must take strict action." The chairperson of the State Women's Commission, Hemlata S Mohan, was shocked, "I do not understand why girls are always targeted. We live in a progressive society but girls are always made to feel vulnerable."

(Courtesy – The Times of India)
 

Is there any difference between the above two news items?

The fact that men were superior figures in both societies, contributed entirely to the degrading of females, repressing them, passing dictates of dress codes, of ethical behaviour, of what they feel to be contaminating their warped idea of society. The issues and restrictions ancient Greek women tolerated, maintained the weak and subordinate view of females. In ancient cultures, women were seen as objects for they were “given” in marriage by the father to the bridegroom. This continues in some societies.

In India too, this mindset has given rise to this aversion towards girls as playmates in the very young, coveting of girls in youth, and the obsessive domination of their women by adult men.
 
New Delhi: Unable to check the rising rape cases in the city, the Gurgaon administration has reportedly advised women to stay at home and not work beyond 8 pm in commercial establishments.
Reports claimed that the Gurgaon local administration has directed all malls and commercial establishments to take permission from the Labour Department to have their women employees working beyond 8 pm.
 
The move from the Gurgaon authorities came in less than two days after twin rape cases were reported in the city.

(Courtesy - Zeenews Bureau)
 
Girls, in their childhood and growing up years are so repressed that they cannot handle the new-found freedom they get as soon as college starts. They find their identity hijacked by men who claim to be their protectors. Why do women need to be protected? From whom? Men? Well, then, why do they not behave better? Because they have never been taught during their youth to respect girls.
 
It's 2 am in millenium city, where the police chase young men and where women disappear into the darkness.
This is the underbelly of Gurgaon, when sleaze spills onto the streets: minor brawls erupt, pubs get shut, a motor cycle lies abandoned. The party poopers in Khaki are playing spoilsport, disrupting the normal nightlife that thrives here.
Days after an escort girl was forcibly dragged out of a car and gangraped, the system hits back in full force. Woken out of slumber, Gurgaon police are out to get at the night goons of Gurgaon. Headlines Today exposes Gurgaon's sleazy underbelly as it goes undercover in rape mile.

How effective is it to stop the plying of trains or vehicle in case of accidents? How effective then can it be to stop so-called unauthorised women from hanging around bars in order to prevent rapes?

Under pressure to curb the growing number of violent incidents and crimes against women in the area, the Gurgaon police have come up with a new list of regulations for pub and discotheque owners.
(courtesy – INDIATODAY.in)
 
So it is today, in India, among other nations where men in patriarchal society are so insecure that repression of girls starts from childhood, and then, college happens. A truly strong and advanced society with ethical values would be one, in which the new generation would be given guidance and not told to follow so-called old-age values and dress codes of the yesteryears. The suppression leads to the desperation of girls and boys today, who try to go the whole way to drugs, promiscuity, experimental lifestyles and deviant behaviour. The desire to be different is the mantra that is destroying the mindset of the youth and paving the way to a weakened system.
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© Monika Pant
 
About the author Monika Pant from Lucknow is an English teacher, short story writer and poet. She has authored several series of English course books. Her short stories and poems have been published in various collections, including many titles in the 'Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series'. She is currently writing a couple of novels
 
 
Image Source : Fineartamerica.com, UN.Org
 

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Face behind the veil..

Well written Monika. First, its scary that a whole culture is swept away...I often thin of how fortunate we are to live within a society enriched with art, music, dance, literature...I shudder to think of all that withering away.

I am surprised that you have written on a subject that is close to my heart. Repression of women. Got plenty to say on that topic. But I also see a fine line between the actions of repressed men and the actions of women who dress seductively. You touch upon both very complex subjects...and I wd love to have a continued dialogue :))

I search deep within for an unconditioned opinion on dress code. When I went to a relatively 'open minded' college (NID) many of us dressed in a manner that did not necessarily conform to tradition but was hardly considered indecent enough to arouse lustful interest. The few who did dress 'inappropriately' had to deal with the natural consequences. Yet, when my son joined high school in the US I must admit to being quite unnerved by the laxity in the dress code. Me! It made me question my own values. Does the fact that everyone shows cleavage or wears hot shorts make that acceptable as a dress code in schools? Am I superimposing my own prudish attitude upon their innocence? I don't think so. Dress (or the state of undress) certainly projects one's need to be appreciated or merely acknowledged.

So much to say...but got to run...the male has arrived ..!!!

Very well expressed, Monika!

Ruby Sahay's picture

Very well expressed, Monika! 'To dress or not to' in a particular way is an issue that women have to handle based on their culture, upbringing and various other factors. Yet, the fact that one has to follow the diktats of the 'male god' is an issue far more tough to handle than adopting the dress code itself. Candidly enough, the Indian patriarchal society is the greatest pressure on our women than any other.

You have rightly pointed out that the youth need to be guided than be coerced into adopting a lifestyle.Unless that seriously happens at all levels, there will always be a sense of misdirection. Yet, there is always the need to change with the changing times and those at the pedestal, directing, ought to keep in mind the flavors of the changing times. One has to integrate the old with the new and to bring out this balance is the need of the hour.

Very informative..

Very informative, disturbing and well written Monica.
Regards,

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