Today is Denim Day. If you were to think that this is a day to celebrate the fabric we all love, you’d be wrong.
This day is a campaign against sexual assault on women and the perpetrators getting away with their claim that the victims’ clothes had something to do with the case. How did it start? The origin lies in the overturning of a guilty verdict against a rape accused in Italy in 1998. The judge was convinced that since the victim had been wearing tight jeans at the time of the incident, the accused couldn’t have stripped her all by himself, and therefore it was consensual sex, not rape.
- Anti-rape jeans: Two Indian students, Diksha Pathak, 21, and Anjali Srivastava, 23, both from Varanasi, designed a pair of “anti-rape jeans”. Their design had a pair of trousers equipped with a small electronic button, which, when pressed, could send a distress signal to the nearest police station. The signal from the button could help the police track the woman in distress.
While there’s no case exactly similar to this in India, a very common question after any reported incident of rape is: “What was she wearing?” Skirts are blamed most frequently, but fingers are pointed towards jeans, too. Politicians have blamed jeans, mobile phones and even Chinese noodles for rapes. Various educational institutions have tried to ban jeans at one time or the other. It’s as if the sense of freedom a girl / woman experiences when wearing a practical garment like jeans somehow makes her deserving of contempt and suspicion.
If a woman is wearing jeans, she must be ‘forward’. If she’s forward, then ‘she must be asking for it’. It takes a very small leap of the imagination to go from one idea to another. All it takes to bring out this warped thinking is a little scratch on the apparently civilised surface of urban India.
Delhi resident Ananya Biswas shares an experience. She was climbing down the Metro stairs, in skinny jeans and a T-shirt, when she suddenly heard two middle-aged women talking about her. “I saw them giving me strange looks and saying ‘Aise kapde pehen ke ghar se niklengi aur fir shikayat karti firengi ki ladko ne chhed diya. Ab aise kapdo mein ladke dekhenge to aarti to utaarenge nahi (She comes out of the house wearing such clothes, and then she’d complain that boys have harassed her. Now if boys see her dressed in these clothes, they’re not going to worship her). I was surprised how a piece of clothing was enough [for them] to decide on my character and justify male sleaziness,” says Ananya.
The people that most women rely on for help when they’re in trouble are the police. But, says Delhi resident Sangeeta Gupta, who has lived in four different cities in India, can one expect justice when law enforcers themselves have ‘views’ on women wearing jeans? Sangeeta recalls this incident when she was walking down a lane in Kolkata. That lane has 24/7 police presence because the US Embassy is located there. Since the pavement was dug up, Sangeeta was walking down the road, and a policeman ordered her to stick to the pavement. She refused, pointing out that the pavement was unfit for use, and as she walked away, past the bench on which the constables sat, she heard one of them say to the other, “It’s no wonder she’s like that. She’s a girl in jeans…”
Delhi resident Somya Suresh tells us, “On my trip to South India, I went to a temple in a tunic and jeans. A lady there told my mother that jeans shouldn’t be worn as they accentuated the curves and could have unthinkable consequences.”
Another city resident Avneet Sodhi had a nasty experience in her student days. Going to college by bus, she was in the usual student attire of jeans and tee. As one of the seats reserved for women was occupied by a man, she requested him to give her the seat, and then repeated this when he refused. At this, the man retorted, “Jeans pehen ke, English bol ke zaada smart samajh rahi hai. Hum toh naa uthte, jaa kya kar legi (You think you’re very smart, wearing jeans and speaking English. I won’t get up. Do what you can).”
Take this man’s advice. Do what you can. Do wear denim today.