Look who is wearing the pants!

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Look who’s wearing the pants!

By Rajashri Dasgupta


Saheli wants to join the police force, like these trainee police officers. (FlyingCloud under a Creative Commons Licence)

Every Sunday morning in the centre of Kolkata, young women in khaki pants and shirts march to the beat of the music. At the end of two hard hours of exercises and drills, Anwara and Saheli, two friends, quickly change into their salwar-kameez, their traditional Indian clothes. They look very happy as they go home for lunch. For the past year, the two have never missed a weekend at the fields. They have never missed a chance to wear their pants and dream.

‘I have always wanted to wear tight blue jeans!’ Anwara laughs. ‘My parents will never allow jeans, but they now accept khaki pants.’ Saheli tells the story of how she convinced her parents who even said they would take her away from college. ‘Our parents were scared about pants, but men don’t look at women in khaki pants’, Saheli had argued. Saheli dreams that the weekly training might help her become a chief constable in the police force and have some power. For Anwara, who loves sports, the marching and the exercises are a good sporting activity.

It was a poster of men in khaki pants in the college that gave Anwara and Saheli the idea to be different. Immediately the two students at an undergraduate college outside the city decided to join the National Cadet Corps (NCC) for parades and basic training. The NCC is an Indian version of the Scout movement. But in their college, the NCC (and sport in general) is only for male students. The girls had to look somewhere else. So very early every Sunday, they walk through empty fields to the main road where they catch the bus to the city centre and do their NCC training. They have their cell phones to contact their families if there is a problem.

The two girls know that people think that what they do is immoral and so they asked for their identities to be secret. And because not many girls join NCC from their village and college, this information too is secret. Like thousands of girls in India, Anwara and Saheli have to be very careful. Even a careless smile could take away their new freedom. To want to do physical activities and to wear pants becomes a way of rebelling. It gives them possibilities. It is a way of action, confidence, and power – and not being a victim.

Anwara wants to wear jeans that show her legs. This is a way of rebelling from wearing her salwar-kameez, her loose traditional clothes, that hide her body from male attention. Wanting to attend college is another way of rebelling. She is the first in her family to receive higher education. With Saheli, the baton she holds during NCC training is for her a way of escaping poverty and earning money.

But I was worried. The police force she hopes to join is in my opinion something controlling and masculine. The worlds of film and politics want people to like violence and uniforms with their guns, batons, and chains. The uniform has never given hope. For example, in 1972, when policemen raped a 16-year old girl called Mathura, which started the Indian women’s movement in protest. Or in 2012, when the police did not help Suzette after she was raped in the centre of Kolkata. For people to see women as citizens with equal rights, must women like Anwara and Saheli have roles that are traditionally for men?

But the idea I had of the two friends was their energy in rebelling and the help they give each other to follow their dreams. They are not helpless women, the kind that attracts some men.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see:http://newint.org/blog/2013/08/14/look-whos-wearing-the-pants/