Monday, August 10, 2009

Kerala: Do College Teachers Need A Dress Code?

In many areas, Kerala is a step ahead of the rest of India – but when it comes to dress sense and dress code, she lags way behind. It took a government order in 2008 to permit the use of salwar suit for teachers in school. This order does not cover colleges. So many colleges, particularly private colleges, insist on sari and only sari for teachers.

The reasons cited are many.
o It is the traditional dress
o It lends dignity to teachers & it is modest.
o It helps distinguish young teachers from students

Is sari the traditional dress of Kerala? NO! Mundu and neryathu – or the set mundu as it is now called – comes close to being the traditional dress for the women of Kerala. Among Christians, it is Chatta & mundu. I know of an occasion when a few young teachers in a private institution planned to dress in the truly traditional manner, and came to college in set mundu. They were pulled up by the Principal who sent them back with the instruction never to come to college in fancy dress!

One can imagine what would have been their fate if they’d decided to come in chatta and mundu!

I have a question. Why doesn’t this argument apply to male teachers. Why is it that they can come in trousers or mundu & jubba or whatever they please and take their positions behind the desk without inviting the ire of the management?

Does this mean that it is the woman on whom is invested responsibility of being the custodian of tradition?

About dignity and modesty – well. These are very subjective issues. A well made salwar suit can be as modest and dignified as a sari. And a sari too can be worn in the most undignified and immodest manner. With the ample scope it provides for exposure of the midriff, of the back with deep cut cholis etc etc. I know many people who can convincingly argue that the sari is the most seductive of all dresses!

About distinguishing young teachers from students – doesn’t the same problem apply to male teachers too? Why should only the lady teacher be shouting out her credentials all the time? As for that matter, why should any teacher do it? A good committed teacher does not need the aid of accessories to earn respect from the students.

Am I anti sari? Well, not really. But many a time the sari has landed me in trouble. It once got in the way while I was jumping into a jam packed KSRTC bus, and I fell forward hitting my shin against the step. Ever had your shin collide with the metal beading of the step? That’s the day when I understood the meaning of the idiom ‘blinding pain”. I can quote any number of sari related mishaps, but this is not the time and place for it.

Those who constitue the managements which still cling tenaciously to the sari- for- teachers rule should just once be made to travel by bus in a sari on a rainy day. I’d like to see how they’ll manage the umbrella, the handbag which a teacher must necessarily have and the sari, all wet at the bottom and getting in the way of feet movement and has to be hitched up while clambering on the slippery, wet and dirty steps of the transport and private buses. The latter, more often than not, will have a kili blocking half the width of the narrow steps.

I suggest this extreme step ‘cos no amount of explaining seems to convince these decision makers that sari is the most inconvenient dress for the fast lifestyle of the day, and that there are equally respectable outfits available.

Strange, how people whose concern should be to get the best out of those in teaching profession should be so mulish about dress code for teachers, and spend so much time and energy enforcing inconsequential rules which cause maximum inconvenience to employees.


  1. oh i never knew such a rule existed..this is so absurd...probably coz i studied in a central govt school inside kerala where we had north indian teachers wearing salwar...This rule is so immature!!

  2. Well, personally I prefer to see teachers in Saree but at the same time I cannot close my eyes to the glaring discomforts it causes, especially when spoken about by someone like you. I agree that a dress code is essential but I'm not too sure if we'll ever reach a consensus on the type of attire.

    Teachers are considered next to mothers for children, so there was an argument that Saree must
    be compulsory for teachers in Lower Primary Schools. When it comes to University levels the picture changes. Still it wouldn't be fair to ask only the female staff to come out in traditional wear and men to wear whatever they want ;)

  3. Seems like the burden of upholding and carrying forth the so called tradition & culture rests solely on the women.. and absolutely no mention of this culture at instances of dowry, domestic violence, rape and such incidents. and in a monsoon dominant state like Kerala, salwar is any day comfy than sari

  4. I am very saari to hear about the imposed dress code.

    But really, is saree that cumbersome? I don't know, but I thought saree was a comfortable, well-ventillated outfit. But then again, as Sis says to me, "What do you men know"?

  5. Your new anonymous reader has recently had the honor to visit a Spanish university for a short while. There I met a sprightly young prfessor, around 30 years of age. Her natural hairstyle was wonderful, much like Medusa's. I saw her dressed in skirts, and bright white and short summer dresses. And she seemed to enjoy it too.

    She was a woman in academia, and she was enjoying her womanhood without repurcussions. She has an advanced degree, but she is also a woman at heart. It pleased me too greatly, to see her thus. Seeing her will always remember as a powerful impression in my mind. I wish I could see her sometime again; but I know that it is impossible.

  6. I do agree with you that the so called 'dress codes' only seem to apply to women. It is probably a way to exercise control and keep women down. I used to find that in Kerala, people are generally very uncomfortable with women in positions of power and strong women and also women who dress differently or look different. A dress code for lecturers sounds dumb. The college should be more concerned about whether the person knows her stuff and can impart knowledge to the students.
    Some one wrote about whether a saree is cumbersome. Heard about the American Indian saying about 'walking a mile in the other man's shoes'?

  7. @ hamsini
    great to see u here. thanks for visiting.
    saree- the traditional mould into which the males accommodated their perception of THE WOMAN. think they'll give it up that easily?
    ' A dress code for lecturers sounds dumb' -u can say that again!

  8. The actual problem s with the college teachers who can teach feninism and queer theory but are kept 'supressed and repressed' in many ways by everyone. they cant speak out...and are not bold enough. I pity myself for being such a college teacher....

  9. Would male teachers be allowed to be there wearing Bermuda? No!

    There is a Code for men also.

    Don't tell me that women wear the Salwar thing [with no Duppatta] because it is more 'convenient'!

  10. I would like to give a reply to the stoic above....

    what we lady teachers ask for is the freedom to wear a decent and conmfortable dress as per the code of conduct set by more than 50% OF the population. If you get the support of half of the college teachers Why cant you go ahead with your bermuda plan? why are all these men get irritated when the women folk ask for the freedom to dress properly?

  11. i can understand institutions maintaining a "dress-code". Corporate offices require u to wear formals. Clubs require men to wear closed shoes and collared shirts etc...

    But this disallowing of set-mundu is irrational and unreasonable!!!!

    The set-mundu when worn looks like the saree only, so its rildiculous when the authorities pick on you for this!

    its like picking on a man for wearing the 'slim-tie' (latest trend in ties) instead of the conventional tie!!! No sensible person does that!

  12. NO...I am not against women's [or men] wearing what they want to. Logically, it is best to be as 'God' made us.

    In the 1970s, when lecturers had a big raise [by getting what they signed for] after the fake 'College samaram', a great [even reverently treated] History HOD that wore the Joobba, commented: 'what use is this raise? All these youngsters will spend it on clothes only! Not a single idiot would buy a book'.

    I foresee a time when lady lecturers' attire would be sponsored by garment manufacturers.

    Yet, as-god-made-us would remain logical even then.

    And again, I do not in the least mind Kerala women's going about in Salwar etc in this horrid humidity, and stinking. Body odour has no Code yet. The more you stink, the free-er you are.

  13. Reply for A. Stoic:

    Er...Yes, it is FAR more convenient to do away with the dupatta.

    I wonder what you think are the true reasons? Surely, it reflects on the way your mind works.

    A woman’s mind works differently than a typical mans. Which is why a man rarely gets cat-calls from a woman irrespective of what he wears or does no wear.

  14. To P Nair:

    Yes, I do wonder what the reasons might be...

    Your insinuation indicates that my mind works absolutely normal; thank you.

    We had a Maaru-marakkal agitation a century ago. If someone insists on Maaru-marakkal now, there would be a more violent agitation.

    Women have even been sending pink chaddies...

  15. A Stoic,

    Yes, you are normal. I did not mean otherwise. I am saying that a typical womans mind however does not work like a typical man's.

    If a woman says salwaar kameez is more conveneient she means just that. Mo "hidden" reason behind it like what you think.

    The pink chaddi campaign, a personal favourite, was about pub-going not about choice of dressing.


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.