Dress Codes in Delhi University

By Shreya Gupta

This article shows how Delhi University hypocritically feels proud about the absence of an explicit dress-code policy but continues to regulate students and teachers; subliminally asking them to dress “decently” – clearing linking up a person’s dress to any kind of sexual harassment faced on the campus.

Delhi University does not have an explicit dress code policy as such. Most of the students do not face harassment from the authorities if they dress up “as they are supposed to” – men and women in their respective jeans. During orientations, students are often requested to dress “decently” to avoid any kind of “provocative behavior”. Girls are generally asked to ensure their own safety by wearing “appropriate” dresses. It is hypocritical of the university to feel proud about the absence of an explicit dress-code policy but subliminally ask students to dress “decently” – clearing linking up a person’s dress to any kind of sexual harassment faced on the campus.

In Sept’ 13, NDTV conducted a weak debate about the Gyanodaya trip where boys and girls were not allowed to wear shorts/skirts and spaghettis. Comments such as “Good girls wear good clothes” and “Objectionable clothes lead to objectionable body language” were passed by the core committee member Mr. Dubey and dress code supporter Mr. Rajakumar, the vice principal of St. Stephens College, respectively. Imposing a dress code and a disciplinary action for any kind of violation allows perpetuation of the false idea that dress codes ensures some kind of safety against sexual harassment. Dress code implementation becomes the easiest way to ensure parents that the university is definitely worried about the safety of its students. It is a feel-good for both the university authorities and the parents. No study has proven that sexual harassment is prevented by wearing certain types of dresses. The point is to put students under patriarchal surveillance and to uniform-ize them under the intention of “saving” them from crisis situations. I really do not understand how Mr. Rajakumar feels uncomfortable if a Stephenian is wearing shorts – a point he mentioned repeatedly on the TV show. Mr. Dubey, who are good girls and what are good clothes? My so-called indecent clothes, Mr. Dubey, do not legitimize sexual violence of any kind.

In Oct’13, The Hindu reported about a notice put up in Hindu College asking the teachers to dress as “civilized people”. The teachers were requested by the college principal Pradyum Kumar not to wear “objectionable” clothes. This is directly in line with the Sept’13 debate about the Gyanodaya trip dress codes. Such a notice clearly exposes the liberal masks we wear at the university. Students are “allowed” to dress up as they like because the university is a liberal space. But if the university feels threatened in any manner, back to the dress codes!

It is also shocking to see the discrimination in some of the university colleges where students have not been allowed to enter their colleges because they indulged in “skin show”. Khalsa College has denied entrance to many students because they were wearing shorts/capris. Full pants are necessary to cross the college threshold. Shri Guru Gobind Singh College for Commerce has also frequently denied entry to students wearing shorts/skirts. A bizarre incident happened with Mister X (anonymity requested) who was not allowed to enter the college in his sports gear (too hot legs?). He had to wear jeans to enter the college, change again to his sports gear to practice, and then, wear jeans again for his classes. The dress code policy in these colleges is quite strict. Maybe because “skin show” causes a kind of skin pollution which destroys the intellectual capabilities of students, right? Right?

Most coed colleges do not impose any kind of restrictions. Nobody can stop you from attending your classes if you are wearing, say, Superman boxers. Girls’ colleges have become famous (and notorious) for providing a space for women to walk around in their pyajamas/night suits except on farewells when everybody tries to wear the saree for some Indian-ness. Miranda House, IP College for Women, and Gargi College do not impose any kind of restrictions on their girl students regarding dress types, shapes and sizes. So much so that Gargi College’s administrator once proudly encouraged girls to wear “skimpy clothes” because a “girl’s college provides a safe environment”. Do you understand, girls? Men are horrible. You ought to wear only “skimpy clothes” when there are only women around you.

The incidents mentioned above point to us a lack of understanding in the university that a particular dress does not mean an invitation for sex.

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4 thoughts on “Dress Codes in Delhi University

  1. I did not understand the sexism in the comment of Gargi’s administrator. What she did was enabled a safe environment away from misogynist world to live and breathe. These same set of girls would go out and then see more pointedly the small differences in the way they are discriminated upon. What – in my eyes – she did was be explicitly, rather than implicitly, supportive of clothing choice for women.

    Otherwise this was an excellent article. I am still learning the nuances of gender discrimination and this was an article that told me how I am still in a privileged position and how we need to cover a very long way ahead of us towards equality.

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      • I read skimpy clothes as clothes which are shorter than what we usually expect t be worn in society and in which an individual might feel uncomfortable on her/his own.

        And it is wholly encouraging to see a hostel administrator wanting girls to experiment outside their comfort. A girls hostel is an ideal place to do it – I agree with that statement. A place where everybody is a girl, it removes an unconscious barrier of preserving one’s morality. Now a few paraphrased words have a tendency to leave a massive context behind and I condemn the same admin if she also implied that such experimentation should be left at the door of the hostel, but I do not see her say so at the face of it.

        Aside: Some Miranda girls took admission into our course for Masters and were bold and brave enough to complain to authorities about sexist “introduction sessions” where they were specifically asked by seniors not to wear sleeveless kurtas and other dress code. I assume it is due to progressive environment of that college only (and I may be corrected if I am wrong).

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  2. ” A place where everybody is a girl, it removes an unconscious barrier of preserving one’s morality.” I do not understand this statement personally. I understand what you are trying to say, but, it does not work.

    To reiterate, an all-girls environment is not the best deal out there. The morality barriers are hardly ‘unconscious’. And, lest you forget, women often like to moralize other women based on their dress and other habits. – Shreya

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