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Mumbai: Moral policing silly season is back on campus

Updated on: 21 July,2022 07:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dipti Singh |

The post-pandemic class of 2022 finds itself unable to wrap its head around the ‘old-fashioned’, ‘sad’, and ‘draconian’ dress code imposed by colleges this year

Mumbai: Moral policing silly season is back on campus

St Xavier’s College says students in short dresses will be sent back home. Representation pic

As admissions to junior and degree colleges are underway for the new academic year, dress codes and restrictions have returned to college notice boards, reigniting the old debate over freedom on campus. St Xavier’s College, one of Mumbai’s top institutions, has brought out a diktat barring short tops, short dresses and ripped jeans on its premises. “Defaulters will be sent home,” reads the notice. Some students called it “old-fashioned”, “sad” and “draconian”.

With students found breaching the dress code repeatedly after returning to campus post-pandemic, St Xavier’s posted a dress code notice on its website as well as pasted it all across the campus and outside classrooms. It was one of the first colleges in the city to ban sleeveless tops, shorts and skirts that fell above the knee inside its campus.

Moral policing silly season is back on campus

St Xavier’s College’s strict dress code goes back to 1997 when the principal banned the annual prom because girls “dressed inappropriately”. 

Quoting from the college handbook’s clause 16.10, the latest notice reads: “Students are expected to wear clothes that contribute to the academic atmosphere necessary on an Indian college campus. 

Accordingly, sleeveless or short tops as well as short dresses, shorts and ripped jeans are considered inappropriate. Defaulters will be sent home.”

Principal Dr Rajendra Shinde said that inappropriate and indecent clothing is not acceptable on campus. “Many offenders were reported in the past few days and we decided to put up the notice as a reminder for the students. The dress code rule is part of the college’s handbook. There is a possibility that students might have not remembered this after their return to campus post-pandemic. Students must dress considering the sanctity of their educational institution,” Dr Shinde said.

The all-girls Sophia’s at Peddar road also follows a dress code similar to the one at St Xavier’s. The rule part of the college’s student handbook mandates no short skirts, revealing tops or clothes that are explicitly tight.

Chembur’s Shah and Anchor Kutchhi Engineering college too does not allow shorts and body-hugging clothes for girls and boys. There is a complete ban on hipsters, low waist and sleeveless clothes for girls.

Many colleges said they do not have a written dress code but expect their students to look presentable. Anna Pratima Nikalje, principal of Wilson College in south Mumbai, said, “We do not have a dress code for students. However, we expect students to dress appropriately. We don’t need a dress code as students understand these things now.”

Neha Jagtiani, principal of R D National College, Bandra, said even hairstyles have become an issue to worry about. “We do not have any dress code, like we have restrictions against smoking and using vulgar language on campus, for example. We used to have a dress code, possibly until 2006-07, but not anymore. However, we do not condone inappropriate attire on campus. The hairstyles students sport these days also are equally important to consider I feel.”

‘Need to be broadminded’ 

The dress code notices have divided the student community, with some supporting the diktats “that is supposed to enforce discipline” and others arguing that “institutions and college management ought to be broad-minded and allow outfits that students like and feel comfortable in”.

“There has been a ban on sleeveless as well as shorts and miniskirts. In 2016-17, they even banned ripped/torn jeans also, on grounds of “mockery of the poor”. Also, there exists very strict policing regarding crop tops and low waist jeans as I’ve myself seen my classmates being warned against it. These rules are relaxed a bit during events in the college and students are at liberty to wear whatever they want, but it should be modest. While I do not support indecent behaviour and attire on the campus, I still feel the rule is too old-fashioned and stringent,” said a student from St Xavier’s college’s Arts stream.

Another student of the college said, “The dress code is to maintain discipline among students. I have seen students wearing crop tops and sleeveless dresses to college and just to pass the security at the entrance they wear a jacket. Once they get in, jackets are off. There is no restriction on wearing a decent top/T-shirt with a good pair of jeans. I have no issues with the dress code, I can wear whatever I can once I am out of the campus.”

A Sophia student said, “It is very sad that at this age and in a girl’s college, we have to follow dress codes. College is where we spend most of our time and so it is where we will show off what we have in our wardrobes. I love my college but I hate the outdated dress codes. My academic performance will not be determined by what I wear to college.”

Debates from the past

October 2014  Nalanda College of Law in Borivli West bans girls from wearing skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops as well as displaying body piercings and tattoos. Also asks boys to wear formal white shirts and black trousers. College says girls can’t wear heavy ornaments, and make-up should be sober and unobtrusive, forbids translucent dresses

March 2014  Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute issues circular requesting that ‘special days’ (Rose Day, Saree Day, Tie Day, Friendship Day, etc.) be prohibited on campus

June 2010  Krishna Menon College, Bhandup, bans ‘figure-hugging’ jeans. Controversy sparks after three girls are denied admission for wearing tight jeans

February 2010  Thane’s Parshvanath College of Engineering doesn’t allow students to wear T-shirts or jeans to class, starts confiscating ID cards and imposes R500 fine on ‘violators’

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