Indian backlash after ripped jeans are blamed for 'societal breakdown'

‘Change your mentality before changing our clothes’: Thousands of Indian woman join online protest after ripped jeans are blamed for ‘societal breakdown’

  • Thousands of Indian women have posted pictures of themselves in jeans and shorts on social media, criticising comments made by a politician
  • Tirath Singh Rawat said jeans were a cause and symptom of ‘societal breakdown’
  • Women were furious about having their clothing choices policed, saying attitudes like Rawat’s put them in danger
  • Rawat is only the latest high-profile figure in India to blame jeans for what they see as society’s ills. He has since apologised

Women in India have hit out at a politician who blamed ripped jeans for a ‘societal breakdown’.

Thousands of women have shared pictures of themselves in ripped jeans under the hashtag #RippedJeansTwitter after Tirath Singh Rawat criticised the garments during a workshop. 

Speaking during a workshop on the protection of child’s rights earlier this week, the newly-sworn-in chief minister of Uttarakhand state criticised an unnamed woman he had met on a flight.

Rawat said the woman was travelling with two children and was ‘wearing boots, jeans ripped on the knees, and had several bracelets on her arm.’

‘You can run an NGO, wear jeans ripped at the knees, move about it society, children are with you, what values you will teach?,’ he asked. 

Women in India have hit out at a politician who blamed ripped jeans for a ‘societal breakdown’. Thousands of women have shared pictures of themselves in ripped jeans under the hashtag #RippedJeansTwitter after Tirath Singh Rawat criticised the garments during a workshop [Stock photo]

Rawat, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), criticised parents for allowing their children – particularly girls – to wear ripped jeans, which he said ‘pave the way for societal breakdown and is a bad example parents set for children.’

Rawat, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), criticised parents for allowing their children – particularly girls – to wear ripped jeans, which he said ‘pave the way for societal breakdown and is a bad example parents set for children’ [File photo]

He also claimed that people abroad where ‘covering their bodies properly and doing yoga’ while Indians, who he slammed for ‘running towards nudity’, were wearing ripped jeans.

Rawat’s comments drew fury and ridicule on social media from women, activists and opposition politicians – with the opposition Congress party demanding Rawat apologise to women or resign.

Jaya Bachchan, a member of India’s upper house of Parliament, said that ‘this was the kind of mindset that encourages crimes against women.’    

Women, weary of having their clothing choices policed by politicians, shared photos of themselves in ripped jeans and shorts on social media.

‘Rapes do not happen because women wear short clothes but because men like Tirath Singh Rawat propagate mysogyny and fail to do their duty,’ Swati Malwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of herself in shorts. 

Congress party politician Radhika Khera posted a mirror selfie of herself wearing shorts to Twitter, along with the message: 

‘I am a Politician. I wear shorts. I can WEAR What I Want I can EAT What I Want I can DRINK What I Want No SANGHI will decide for me,’ she wrote.

Sanghis are members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organisation – but the name is often appropriated as an insult towards BJP members or those who hold right-wing views.    

On Thursday, senior Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra shared old photographs of Modi and one of his cabinet colleagues in their RSS days wearing shorts cut well above the knee, highlighting the double standards behind Rawat’s comments.

Others criticised Rawat for being more concerned about what women were wearing than fixing India’s ‘ripped economy’ or ensuring the safety of women in a country where at least 88 rapes are recorded each day and the conviction rate is less than 30 per cent, according to a 2020 report from India’s National Crime Records Bureau.

The actual number of rapes is likely to be much higher as social stigma and poor faith in police and the judicial system discourage women and others from reporting instances of sexual violence. 

‘Change your mentality before changing our clothes. Because the only thing shocking here is the message comments like this send to society,’ the model Navya Naveli Nanda said.

While jeans, and to a lesser extent ripped jeans, are extremely popular among young Indians, who see them as cool, many parents and grandparents struggle to understand the appeal of wearing ripped clothing. Pictured: Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas wears ripped jeans in New York [File photo]

On Friday, Rawat did offer an apology for his comments, saying he did not intend to disrespect anyone and that everyone was free to wear what they chose.

But many have pointed out that he is far from the only Indian politician to dish out unsolicited advice on how women should dress.

In 2016, Mahesh Sharma, then the culture minister, said tourists at airports were being issued with a list of dos and don’ts when visiting India that included advice not to wear skirts or dresses in India and not to go out alone at night in small towns.

While in 2014, singer KJ Yesudas drew ire for saying women should not wear jeans because it provoked ‘undesirable behaviour’ and was ‘against Indian culture’.

Several prominent politicians have connected instances of rape and sexual assault to women’s outfits, according to the BBC, while restrictions on women and girls’ clothing are common in rural India, where some have also been banned from using mobile phones.             

While jeans, and to a lesser extent ripped jeans, are extremely popular among young Indians, who see them as cool, many parents and grandparents struggle to understand the appeal of wearing ripped clothing. 

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