By Maria Wirth October 2009 Peer pressure compels young people to wear western clothes even if they would rather not Some time ago much was made in the media of a dress code order by some Kanpur colleges. Female students were not allowed to wear jeans or other western attire. A lot of eve teasing had happened right at the gate of the colleges and the management felt that the way the students dressed encouraged eve teasing. The media took up the cause. They felt that it was an infringement on the personal freedom of the students and quoted some girls who supported this view. The new dress code sans jeans was called Draconian – a strong word.I am also all for personal freedom and would not wish anybody to dictate to me what to wear or what not. Yet recently I realised that there is already a strict dress code in force that especially students of both sexes have to follow whether they like it or not, and no media takes up their cause.I was waiting for a Vikram, as the noisy three-wheelers which can accommodate up to 10 passengers, are called in Dehradun. A young woman, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, entered the Vikram together with me and sitting there she complimented me on wearing a salwar kameez. “It looks good on you,” she remarked. “And it is so comfortable,” I replied. “Yes, it is true. I would also like to wear it, but my friends in college will make fun of me,” she replied.I was reminded of my student days in Hamburg in the ’70s. “Peer pressure” was an unquestionable authority even then. Nobody dared to disobey it if one did not want to be considered old-fashioned. Blue jeans, preferably a black pullover and sneakers, were then the dress code for students – male and female. Well, this was actually not bad for us, as Germany is a cold country and anyway we had only the option between trousers and skirts. Both were tight at the waist and uncomfortable while sitting in the classroom. We had not discovered the ingenuity of a garment that can be adjusted like a salwar, or a sari, for that matter. Maria Wirth feels more at home in India thananywhere else. She came for a holiday 27 yearsago, fell in love with the country and hasbeen here since. In the ’80s,when jeans and sneakers became popular in India, I was astonished that youngsters voluntarily sweat it out even in the heat of the Delhi summer. I would not have dreamt of wearing jeans in that climate. In those days very few girls wore jeans, but in the last 20 years an amazing job of promoting this attire has happened. I had not quite realised it, but after the remark of my fellow traveller in the Vikram, I noticed that each and every girl who seemed from a ‘better-off’ background wore jeans. Even those who looked like they would be more comfortable in a salwar kameez followed the dress code, even if it meant being uncomfortable or snubbing one’s parents.Another example occurred when I was travelling by bus and a mother in a sari and her daughter in low-waist jeans and a short top entered. The girl sat next to me, the mother on the opposite side. The bus got full. A young man planted himself firmly next to the girl, looking intently down on her. She felt obviously felt uncomfortable and gave him angry looks. And though she tried there was no way she could close that gap between the top and jeans. I sensed that the mother was not happy with the way her daughter dressed and wondered what type of discussions would be going on in their home. Yet peer pressure got the better of the daughter. “Now, after seeing you wearing a salwar kameez I will also take courage to wear it,” the girl in the Vikram told me before she left. I don’t know whether she actually found the courage.
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