- As Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat’s comments went viral, women holding their babies take to social media in their ripped jeans, sending a strong message to the BJP leader.
Denim — the favorite punching bag of Indian patriarchs who routinely blame the fabric for the moral degradation of youth — is back in the news. Denims first gained popularity in India in the 1980s and over the years have become the clothing of choice, especially for the young, across the country.
In the past few years, ripped jeans have become hugely popular and everyone from Bollywood stars and celebrities to ordinary Indians are seen wearing them. And they may or may not be the current fashion trend, but ripped jeans are back and the center of a debate on social media.
The puzzling obsession with denim, does make one think of how jeans, specifically ripped jeans, can be actually quite polarizing, with Indians having a love-hate relationship with them. For the young, they are about looking hip and cool and fitting in with the fashionable crowd. For their parents and grandparents, it could be incomprehensible why their children would wear torn clothes. Many upholders of bharatiya sankriti (Indian culture) also decry ripped jeans as “anti-Indian” and “morally corrupting”, while others, specifically women see it as another form of male control.
The significance of jeans for today’s Indian women, goes far beyond their function, aesthetic, or fashion currency. As journalist Sameera Khan once aptly pointed out, “The larger worry seems to be that if today she wears jeans, tomorrow she will no more make rotis, she might seek a career not just a job, she will swipe right and choose dating over marriage, she might choose a man with the ‘wrong’ background, she may even prefer women to men.”
The latest to be riled by jeans is Tirath Singh Rawat, the newly-appointed chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Earlier this week, he blamed “ripped jeans” for all that ails the young. Rawat in his short time as chief minister, has embroiled himself in a Twitter storm over his views on women wearing ripped jeans.
His remarks stemmed from his shocked observation of a young mother sporting ripped jeans and boots while she was on a flight with her children. Noting that she runs an NGO, goes out in society and has two children, Rawat wondered what values she would give them. Further elaborating on the fashion choices of the said woman, he said, “If such women go out in the society to meet people and solve their problems, what kind of message are we giving out to society, to our kids? It all starts at home. What we do, our kids follow. A child who is taught the right culture at home, no matter how modern he becomes, will never fail in life.”
A member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Rawat went on to describe ripped jeans as clothing that both caused and was symptomatic of moral turpitude and criticized parents for allowing their children, especially girls, to wear them. The chief minister chastised Indians for “running towards nudity,” and claimed that “while people in India were wearing ripped jeans, those abroad were covering their bodies properly and doing yoga.”
The comments made on March 16 took over Twitter. Soon after, angry social media users slammed his “misogynistic and patriarchal” comments aimed at dress policing and called his mentality “ripped.” Reacting to his statement, a social media campaign with hashtags such as #GirlsWhoWearRippedJeans and #GreetingsFromMyNakedKnee are currently trending on Twitter. Social media users, celebrities, influencers, politicians and ‘nobodies,’taking on Rawat for his comment on women who wear them, sharing photos of themselves in ripped jeans, as a mark of protest.
American Kahani caught up with some women in America to get their take on the issue, because it’s one thing for parents to frown upon their children’s sartorial choices for wearing ripped clothes, it’s an entirely different issue when public authorities start blaming clothes for societal ills.
Razia Mashkoor, entrepreneur and media personality in the Boston area, who runs an online TV channel BDCTV posted a picture of herself in ripped jeans on social media with the comment, “#rippedjeans #TirathSinghRawat did you think before speaking?” She told American Kahani that “the issue is very, very unfortunate. It hurt me.” She further questions, “Why should anyone else have a say in what we (women) are wearing? This is my body and it is only me, I who decides what to wear.” Mashkoor, who is from a Muslim family, grew up in conservative Aligarh in India, and comes from a fairly progressive family of seven sisters. “There is patriarchy in every walk of life,” she says. “They (men) want to control women. This is just another way to do it. Now, patriarchy has inserted itself in politics and this is a very dangerous thing for Indian women. As Indians where are we heading? Giving up our beloved country into the hands of the jahil goons.”
Atlanta based entrepreneur, 30-year-old Veena Gopal says, “It’s an attempt to control women. It’s tiring how these patriarchal men hide behind the veil of tradition to put women down by trying to control what they wear. They have no new counter-arguments so they offer the same tired arguments that jeans are not a part of our (Indian) culture, that it has come from the West.” Gopal, who is unmarried and has no children adds that she was “so mad” by Rawat’s “ridiculous and offensive,” comments that she”cut up a good pair of jeans” to turn it into ripped jeans. Gopal adds, “Whenever I get married and have kids, I’ll make sure I wear ripped jeans as I parent, because one has nothing to do with the other. I’ll be a great mom in ripped jeans!” On a serious note, she adds that what women wear is nobody’s business but their own. “It’s not Mr Rawat’s concern. He should be worried about melting glaciers in Uttarakhand, the environmental issues that the state is facing and not about what women are wearing.”
New Jersey professional Neha Mahajan who wears “ripped jeans all the time” is dismayed at the current situation. “Why should anyone have a say in what a woman chooses to do? Men ke liye kaun sa checklist hai? (what checklist is there for men?). I’d love to see it!” she says. Mahajan further adds, “They (men) are okay to wear a lungi and banyan, showing their chest hair and walking like no one’s business and no one has an objection to it. How is a choice of clothing linked to a woman’s character? This thought process is exactly what needs to change,” she says. “You know, just the way companies have harassment policies in place, the CM of Uttarakhand should be made to undergo gender equality classes. He was made chief of state to look into the state’s affair not into what a woman wears!”
Farzana Doctor, a Canadian feminist, author and social worker told American Kahani, “One of the aims of patriarchy is to police our bodies – what we wear, how we look, where we go. I find it absolutely beautiful to see the feminist resistance springing up on social media.”
New York-based clinical psychologist, Dr. Priyanka Upadhyay points out that “women are reared across cultures to be caregivers and are held to a certain standard in Indian society. While women continue to bear the responsibility, joy and many a time the burden of child rearing, who saysthat it has to be done in jeans that are not ripped! Women do parenting and shaping their children’s hearts and minds in many ways. When someone targets their outwardly appearance or clothing and makes that wrong, it’s just another example of misogyny and the oppression of women being able to express themselves.”
Elaborating further, Upadhyay says, “When men speak this way about women, they not only perpetuate archaic gender stereotypes but also make it okay for men to engage in bad, harmful and abusive behavior towards women.” She further asks, “Why don’t men, like these politicians take on some of the parenting? See how that goes? Also, fully clothed men have been known to commit atrocious crimes on fully clothed women. What did their fathers teach them about treating women well?” “What mothers wearing ripped jeans offer their children is not that ‘it’s okay to expose your body’ or other messages like being disrespectful. They are really communicating that you as a child (boy or girl) get to be mothered by a woman who is strong, can stand on her own and is a vocal conversation starter in the modern landscape of empowered parenting.”
Meanwhile, in India, even Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, joined the conversation, slamming the BJP leader for his remarks against women who wear tattered clothing as a fashion statement.
The trend started soon after Indian journalist Nishtha Gautam called on women to share their pictures in the outfit, condemned by the chief minister. She wrote, “I hope some of you remember the #GirlsWhoDrinkBeer hashtag from 2018 as a response to Goa CM’s statement. It’s that time of the year again: Another CM, another attempt at policing women’s choices. Let’s tweet our #rippedjeans pics with #GirlsWhoWearRippedJeans. What say?” Notably, a similar trend had gone viral in 2018, after Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said that women drinking beer was a cause of worry for him.
Reacting to Gautam’s call, singer Sona Mohapatra commented, “I don’t wear jeans owing to the humidity & heat here but happy for this ripped T- shirt with my sanskari ghutnas (cultured knees) showing!”
Members of the Delhi Congress women’s wing staged a protest at Connaught Place on March 19 afternoon where women wearing ripped jeans and carrying their children were seen raising slogans. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra posted photos of Mohan Bhagwat, PrimeMinister Narendra Modi, Nitin Gadkari and others dressed in their RSS attire and wrote, “Oh my God!!! Their knees are showing.”
Actor Gul Panag, writer-lyricist Varun Grover, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Rabri Devi and a host of others in between, had an opinion. Social media platforms were flooded with one-liners, memes and photographs of jeans with artful rips, some narrow and others gaping.
Actress Kangana Ranaut, who often finds herself in the center of a controversy, also weighed in. “If you want to wear ripped jeans make sure the coolness quotient is of this magnitude as in these pics, so that it looks like your style not your state – a homeless beggar who hasn’t got an allowance from parents this month, most young people look like that these days.”
Actress Koena Mitra tweeted: “May Bjp rule for another 50 years but…. ripped jeans and boots will rock forever! Men don't tell us what to wear! I wear shorts and snickers, I dance like a hip hopper, I chant Hanuman chalisa, I vote, I travel like a Gypsy and I cancel Men like him. Stop.”
Actor Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife and writer-filmmaker Tahira Kashyap also took a dig at the ripped jeans remark. She posted a picture of herself on Insta in a bikini and wrote, “Atleast not wearing ripped jeans.” In the video Kashyap can be seen donning a floral blue and white bikini, flaunting her shaved head. She appears to be standing next to a pool, wearing a pair of sunglasses.
Even Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan’s granddaughter Navya Naveli Nanda reacted. Taking to her Instagram story. She shared a photo of herself in ripped jeans, asking Rawat to change his mentality. “Change your mentality before changing our clothes. Because the only thing shocking here is the message comments like this send to society. Just…” Sharing her photo in ripped jeans, Nanda wrote: “I’ll wear my ripped jeans. Thank you. And I’ll wear them proudly.” However, she later deleted the post.
After her granddaughter, actress-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan has also come down heavily on Rawat. “Such statements don’t befit a CM. Those on higher posts must think & make public statements. You say such things in today’s times, you’ll decide who’s cultured and who’s not based on clothes! It’s a bad mindset and encourages crimes against women,” she told ANI.
Zee Hindustan journalist Priya Singh aptly tweeted a picture of her in ripped jeans with her baby, “Ripped jeans is better than Ripped mindset.”
Guess all that needs to be done now is to get our ripped jeans out!
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters andPhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at OakGrove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.