Nandita Das

Skirting the Issue

  • June 1, 2011

Reading the papers continues to be a cursory activity for me, unless an intriguing news item or an insightful editorial demands attention. With violence, scams and growing economy, as measured by the Indian billionaires, dominating the newspapers, one has to often look in the inside pages for anything worth a read. But on long flight, I usually end up reading a little more and that’s exactly what I did on a recent flight to Rome.

Page 11 in The International Herald Tribune caught my eye with its heading-‘New mandate for skirts causes an uproar’. Apparently in an attempt to revive flagging interest in women’s badminton as the 2012 London Olympics approach, officials decided that its female athletes need to wear skirts to “ensure attractive presentation of badminton”.

“The dress code would make female players appear more feminine, appealing to fans and help attract more corporate sponsorship,” officials said. To me, these words seem offensive. What has playing badminton got to do with femininity and why does it need to be enhanced for the game to be better? What would appeal to the fans, a good game or players’ skirts? And why should corporate sponsorship dictate what women players wear? This wasn’t the first time one was reading news like this, but it still riled me enough to want to write about it.

By now this is probably stale news for most of you. But there are some things that need to be repeated till they actually stop. On net surfing the issue, I found that the rule had been widely criticised as being sexist, and the reasons given were hindrance to performance and offensive to Muslim women who play the sport. The officials added that women will still be allowed to wear long pants for cultural and religious reasons, but these garments must be worn beneath the skirt!

If I were a player, I know that would make it awfully hot and I would end up playing badly. Is it so difficult to understand that while playing I could be just uncomfortable and self-conscious wearing a skirt and it would have nothing to do with my religion? However, not many seemed to be making the point that it should be a matter of personal choice for a woman to wear what she feels and it will help her play her best. The decision could be affected by her faith but that is secondary to a woman’s right to choose what she wears. To counter an already skewed argument on religious grounds would be to detract from the real issues of sexism and the corporatisation of sports. Sadly, we have got used to using women for “attractive presentation” of various goods, be it a razor, men’s underwear, cars or films.

The space for personal choices is shrinking. And it is not just the usual suspect-self-appointed custodians of culture or religious propriety, like some Muslim organisation forcing women to wear burqas or right wing Hindu groups going berserk in colleges because girls are wearing jeans. Often it is also the State (the burqa ban in France) and in this case an official sports body.

Invariably, the recipients of these impositions are women. I often wonder whether we are progressing or regressing with time and whether the excuse for imposing attire for marketability is any better than religious/cultural motivations. But in a society like ours, most women are used to overt and covert imposition right through their lives. Father, brother, husband, employer, all in the name of culture, morals, safety and professional requirement have imposed a dress code on women. And in some strange way, many of us have accepted it. After all, there may be a link between individual and collective freedom.

We need to raise our voice of dissent every single time, and it has to be as much for others as it ought to be for oneself. I don’t think we can skirt the issue any longer.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11