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At my thirty seventh birthday party in fashion capital Mumbai, women complained indignantly about the unwelcome attention their clothes received on the way to the party.

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(Photo from Hollaback Mumbai)

It reminds me of the previous century – when as a teenager, I lived in Jamshedpur and Kolkata, and suffered culvert based lechery which then was a popularly practised art form in those cities.

I was a liberated dresser then, as I am now and often complained in this manner.

In the years since – I have proudly pre fixed Dr. to my name, I like to think that I now co-own the Indian skies as the wife of an Air Force Officer, I have a  lovely five year old daughter and am no longer as young and beautiful as I imagined I then was.

Yet, I am unable to step out of the house dressed as I please because I am a woman.

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As a cherished teenager my skirt hemlines did not care for implied apparel diktats. I felt limited by my paan chewing and starched sari swathed surroundings and dreamt of escaping to a liberated dresser’s haven.

Swimming against a tide that was determined to turn me into a third generation doctor, I signed up for English honours and graduated from being the butt of vulgar comments, to being the target of groping hands in groper’s paradise – Delhi.

I learnt to wear my cropped clothes with an unafraid voice and a reckless spirit that dared acid splashers and molesters.

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My academic mutiny was soon overthrown and I landed in Medical College in Pub City Bangalore -where in the nineties, slipping duppatas were resolutely secured atop young shoulders. Fortunately, apparel frontiers were slowly pushed and six years later I could leave in jeans.

The new millennium found me living in the far corners of the country with my fauji husband where I insisted on being the poster girl of liberation.

Then, as desirable vital statistics abandoned me, I grudgingly turned deserter. My replacements on the field took on the enemy with an offensive. Cropping went a few steps further and straps when present became noodle thin.

Watching from the sidelines, I was amazed at the paradoxes. Pune – the stronghold of woman power was shrouded in head scarves and gloves, Kanpur – the fortress of male chauvinism celebrated “kaanta lagaa” and strife ridden Assam donned short skirts.

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(Photo from the Chappal Marungi campaign against street harassment.)

Clamouring item numbers announced emancipation and women in Jharkhand fought to wear jeans.

My medical practice in the towns and villages showed me foeticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, sexual harassment and rapes at close quarters and in the midst of those festering wounds – protesting about clothes seemed like a luxury – but a necessary one.

Liberated dressing is not just about clothes. It is about feeling safe everywhere and all the time! Not being blamed for provoking rapists, molesters and eve teasers! Not being sexually harassed!

Every woman in this country needs these rights – not just those of us who dress differently.

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(Whypoll guest blogger Dr Varsha Dutta will be writing on being a woman in India. As broad as the topic sounds, she will endeavour to bring it to life with her particular and peculiar life experiences.)

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a garment?

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