Laying down a dress code for female teachers is an infringement of fundamental rights

Laying down a dress code for female teachers is an infringement of fundamental rights

There have been many a controversies in the last few years, regarding the dress code of lady teachers in schools. The most recent one in this direction happened just last month, when a government girls primary school teacher in one of the villages of Anand district in Gujarat wrote to Chief Minister Narendra Modi with an urge to scrap a controversial dress code. Well, the dress disallows teachers to wear ‘salwar-kameez’ to school and insists they wear sarees. Fair? Not Fair? Chhaya Upadhyay argued in favour of ‘salwar-kameez’, citing the reason of comfort, which ‘salwar-kameez’ ensures, without compromising on the decency factor. This is, of course, not a standalone incident. Just about a year ago, an order by the School Education Department of Tamil Nadu, passed such an order, clouded in controversy. The circular that was sent to various schools, urged teachers to come dressed “in a dignified way”, in line with their noble profession and culture.” The lady teachers in Chennai unanimously responded in a resentful manner against it, as they felt it was a tacit message to them, conveying that they would be held responsible for any kind of undesirable behaviour of students, especially boys. One of the reputed academicians reportedly remarked that as teachers women are well aware of what they should wear and there is no need for the government to interfere. If at all, any student misbehaves or manifests any form of unacceptable actions, there are other ways in which they can be dealt with, rather than enforcing such rules on teachers on their attire.

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Teachers have also been heard expressing their discontent at the very suggestion that the outfits of female teachers induce inappropriate behaviour among male students, is tinged with male chauvinism. Many of them believe that women are to be respected solely on grounds of what they are and not what they wear; in this context, teachers deserve unconditional respect, and not judged on the basis of their clothes. Senior officials of the Education Department have said that such dress codes are not being implemented to be blindly imposed on female teachers, but are being considered with the sole objective of ensuring decorum and decency in a school campus. Most schools have accepted the guideline of forbidding teachers from wearing jeans and t-shirts and tops; but they are against the rule of making saree compulsory. Similar cases have occurred in quite a few Jamshedpur schools where the authorities were keen on enforcing dress code for teachers, with a view to sending the “right message” to the students. Such circulars in many schools across a number of states in India have sparked off a debate; and expectedly so. How one dresses up is an expression of his/her personal liberty and individual choice. Patriarchy should not be encouraged on any grounds, especially in schools, amongst young vulnerable minds who ought to nurture healthy thoughts and practices at such a ripe stage of their lives. Such rules smack of parochial thought that imply that the outfits of women are to be held responsible for men’s behaviour. Teachers and concerned personnel are mostly of the opinion that lewd comments offensive glares from male students directed at lady teachers cannot be stopped altogether, simply by the prescription of “dignified dressing”; rather, this issue needs to be tackled at a much deeper level, with an aim to develop a healthy mindset among students so that they are predisposed to respecting women in general, and teachers in specific. Some are also of the opinion that instead of laying such unnecessary emphasis on what the teachers wear, the school authorities, besides the government, should rather focus on far more crucial things, such as ensuring proper facilities and amenities in a school, like hygienic toilets for girl students, which many private and government schools lack. It is high time that quality education become the primary concern of schools, besides other crucial aspects such as improvement of libraries, expanding the scope of extra-curricular activities, increasing the teacher-student ratio, paying a fair salary to the teachers and so on. Dressing is a voluntary thing and should be left to the discretion of the women teachers, rather than issuing such diktats that violate one’s personal rights.

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