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Dressing the Feminine Body

What do the attempts to implement a "dress code" for women teachers, students and employees in schools and colleges in West Bengal signify? No political rganisation in the state, whether left or right, has really been able to contest the hegemony of the image of the bhadralok which has its roots in the upper caste and Victorian moralities. Dress is one critical marker of the bhadralok and this is therefore also a fi eld where bhadralok politics is practised. The dominant cultural ethos is most importantly transmitted through educational institutions. So a dress code in educational institutions is not only important but becomes a moral force. The silence within the women's movement on this issue is also noteworthy.

Of late, the Indian media has been replete with reports of women being subjected to different forms of scrutiny, restrictions and even violence, especially pertaining to their attire in public places.

On 18 April the Women and Child Welfare Department of the Haryana government issued orders to its employees, especially those working in the Integrated Child Department Scheme (ICDS), to “wear decent clothes to office”. It even specified the nature of the decent clothes to be worn, namely “saree/salwar kameez”with “dupatta” by female employees and “pant shirt by the males”. These orders were to come into force with immediate effect and failure to comply would be considered serious violation of government rules. When there was a storm of protest from various quarters, the Women and Child Development Minister Geeta Bhukkal defended the order and merely went on to replace the term “decent” with “formal”.1

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