There has long been a history of using fashion to make political statements in India; perhaps among the most memorable is Gandhi wearing a dhoti to have tea at Buckingham Palace in protest at Britain’s role in the decline of India’s textile industry. Once again, women in India have returned to this most powerful statement in order to protest recent comments made by an Indian chief minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat was a speaker at a workshop organised by the Uttarakhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, where he spoke of his deep shock of meeting a woman wearing ripped jeans. He remarked that her moral virtue was compromised and that because she was a mother and running an NGO (non-governmental organisation) it was not right for her to wear such clothing; worrying about the type of lessons that would teach her children.
Though the comments about this particular woman are indeed shocking, he made a wider comment about the lack of values in society as a whole and according to The Print, he spoke of how children are ‘following strange fashion trends and consider themselves to be big shots after wearing jeans ripped at the knees. Women also follow such trends’.
His comments were slammed by other politicians and his fellow minister and colleague, Smriti Irani, who called it a ‘faux pas’ and continued that ‘no one in their enlightened mind will make that statement.’ She is not alone and women have joined her on social media, posting pictures of them wearing ripped jeans with the hashtag #RippedJeans briefly trending.
The minister has since apologised for his comments, however, the backlash has yet to be retained and many have used this as further ammunition to criticise his and his parties’ views. Not simply has there been criticism of the blatant sexism and policing of women and their bodies but ripped jeans have, in some ways, come to symbolise free speech in general.
It should also be added that his apology was not a retraction of his comment but rather he said sorry for any hurt he may have caused. He maintained that ripped jeans and other apparently needless trends are corrupting society, stating that he believes in protecting children from intoxicants and other evils. He added that a lack of discipline is exemplified in the ripped jeans and he commented on how many young people cut their own jeans.
Ripped jeans have thus reclaimed their rebellious history. In recent years, they have become a cult staple of celebrities and influencers worldwide, muting their mutinous origins. So, as more women take a stand across India they not only join a long-standing history of using clothes to take a political stand but are also remembering the origins of rebellious ripped jeans in the 1980s.
The women of India have shown that they will not take the minister’s comments lying down, once again protesting how comments like these propagate the misogynistic belief that a woman’s worth is determined by what she wears. So, perhaps it is time we all dig our ripped jeans out and stand in solidarity.