Does the campus need a dress code?
Is there any need for university and college authorities to think of introducing a dress code on Kerala's campuses, wherever it is not in existence?
Is `provocative dressing' by women any justification for the increasing assaults on them by men? Have the modern outfits become so `revealing' that university and college authorities have to ban them? Was there a strict dress code on the campuses of yesteryear, or is it something we have come to hear of in the present times?
These questions took the form of a national debate after the Vice-Chancellor of Anna University issued an edict on September 1 imposing a dress code for the campus. In his directive, Vice-Chancellor D. Viswanathan made it clear that students should not wear jeans, T-shirts and sleeveless, tight-fitting, or revealing outfits.
Girl students were asked to wear only salwar-kameez. Fearing allegations of gender bias, the university authorities, later, clarified that even men students would not be allowed to wear T-shirts or jeans.
The Hindu-Education Plus caught up with the academia in Kerala to know their stand on the issue of imposing a dress code on campuses. Majority of the respondents opposed enforcement of a dress code, but voiced support for what they called `a decent and modest way of dressing.'
"Kerala has its own traditional style of dressing. People here, generally, follow a modest and decent pattern befitting our culture," says P.K. Abdul Azis, Vice-Chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat). Dr. Azis says that girl students can avoid `unnecessary attention' from others by dressing decently. "It will be always better if students stick to a dressing style that falls within our cultural milieu," he adds.
Terming attempts to enforce a dress code on campus as `moral policing,' students say that they should be given the right to choose their dress. "At an age when I can exercise my power to elect the Prime Minister, is it not an irony that I do not have the right to decide on my attire?" asks Manoj Abraham, a management student.
Universities and colleges in Kerala are yet to enforce a ban on tight jeans and sleeveless tops. But some of the institutions have issued clear directives to students on how to dress on the campus. "We have included the dress code in our academic calendar. Students are told not to wear tight jeans and short tops on the campus," says Christabelle, Principal, St. Teresa's College, Ernakulam.
Teachers too keep a tab on whether girl students stick to the dress code prescribed on the campus. Sr. Christabelle says that the management does not advise students how to dress but insist on avoiding dresses that are `revealing' in nature. "Majority of the students in our college wear churidars. The latest fashion trends are visible on the campus, but students do take care not to dress in an indecent manner," she adds.
Questioning claims that `provocative dressing' by girls provides ample justification for attacks by men, K.S. Radhakrishnan, Vice-Chancellor of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, says that students should be given the freedom to select their attire. "During our college days, girl students used to wear half-sari on the campus. The young men of those days seldom fell prey to any provocative attire," he adds.
Dr. Radhakrishnan is against enforcing a dress code on the campus. "How can I ask my students to wear only mundu and jubba? How can I insist that they wear only a particular dress? About 99 per cent of students in Kerala dress decently. We need to evolve a mechanism to ensure decent dressing only when the style goes beyond the levels of tolerance."
Rejecting `findings' that decent dressing reduces attacks on young women, Deepa George, a B.Tech. student, says that she finds jeans a better option especially when working inside an engineering laboratory. "Has the crime rate gone down after students started wearing churidars? By imposing such restrictions, authorities are infringing upon the fundamental rights enjoyed by students," she adds.
"They have been wearing uniforms till Plus two. So there is nothing wrong if they want to don the dress they like to wear after that. I do not think these days, students are very much conscious of dress," says R. Shailendra Varma, lecturer, Zamorin Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode.
And are uniforms a social leveller, helping bring about a parity of sorts on campuses? Not so, says C.K. Vijyakumari, a parent in Kozhikode whose second daughter is studying for a degree course and first daughter had completed her B.Tech. a few years ago. "Some rich people can buy expensive clothes as uniforms for their wards. There is no use in creating uniformity on the campuses when such uniformity is elusive outside, in society. Even if the uniforms worn by the students are of the same type, the food they eat on the campuses may be different. But dress codes are necessary. For example, students should not wear clothes that may have `sex appeal' and come to the campuses," she says.
A section of the students, however, feel that there should be some kind of restriction on dress worn by both boys and girls. "How can you accept a trend when a majority of the girls start wearing low-waist jeans and short-tops? By saying so, I am not doing any moral policing but only advocating the need for proper dressing on the campus," says Rekha, a student of Ernakulam Maharaja's College.
Ranjini T.H., a first year degree student of the Zamorin Guruvayurappan College, also feels that uniforms should not be imposed on students after Plus Two. But she says that a dress code is necessary. "The dress the students wears should not be vulgar," she says.
Mithun Madhu, final year student of KMCT College of Engineering, Kozhikode, feels that a dress code is necessary. "Students should not be allowed to wear T-shirts or any such casual wear. Uniforms, in my opinion, do not instil confidence in a way wearing a professional style of dressing does for students. In our college, there is uniform, but final year students are exempted from wearing it. Even when students work in a lab, just an overcoat is necessary," says Mithun who is a mechanical engineering student in the college.
While opposing enforcement of a dress code for campuses, Jyothi John, Principal of Model Engineering College (MEC), Trikkakara, says that there is no need for imposing unnecessary restrictions on students.
"But I would always prefer them to be wearing uniforms on campus. At MEC, we have a prescribed uniform for students," Professor John adds that the obvious distinction between the rich and economically weaker students get effaced when in uniform.
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