Tamil Features

Kumudam, Leggings And Yogic Self Control: A Roundup of Reactions

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Last week, Kumudam Reporter, the investigative biweekly from the Kumudam group of magazines ran an ‘awareness’ story with a cover picture of (faceless, nameless) derrieres clad in leggings at 3x zoom. Strategically captured shots at the most (in)appropriate angle that must have involved much waiting on the wind. They even threw in some expert advice from a doctor, who said “women should wear proper clothes as blood circulation comes down because of leggings, and that chances of urinary and other infections are also high.”

Even with  Kumudam’s history of provocative edginess, the story went too far, causing several women’s rights groups to react strongly. And after the backlash, which included a change.org petition that at the time of writing had drawn over 18,000 signatures,  Kumudam offered no apology. Instead, its editor compared the pictures with ‘gory accident pictures’ of mutilated bodies in the news, and how all these disturbing images serve an important social function. Deterrence. Don’t lose your legs when driving drunk. Don’t wear leggings.

All week long (like every week), there’s been a flurry of outrage hurled across social media sites. Microphones thrust before college students. Jokes about Kumudam (or Kumu-Dumb or even Kumu-Damned) and its campaign for ‘public interest’.

What Kumudam did isn’t anywhere as interesting as what people said about what Kumudam did. Kumudam pulled a ridiculous (and arguably unethical) story for a little more money and infamy. But people’s reactions were raw with truth, conviction, and (at times) ludicrous logic. Logic without a leg (or leggings) to stand on. We take a tour. Because this is an important issue, and because,

naresh jain INDIA

woman are future

If only these self-declared culture-protecting traditionalists had actually opened a history book. They would be horrified. Latha Raghunathan writing in Ananda Vikatan recently pointed out that in Kerala, women traditionally wore the mundu.  Photographs and paintings from even the early 20th century, unearthed by scholars (like Chantal Boulanger and GS Ghurye) who extensively studied dress and costumes in the region, tell a different story. A story where the ‘traditional’ sari as we know it today was invented by the upper echelons of Hindu society in the 1900s as a response to colonialism.

Maharani_Ourmilla_Of_Jubbal
Maharani Ourmilla Devi Of Jubbal in Nivi Sari

White British officers meet brown Indian royalty in the 1900s. The women from royal families, who have till then maintained purdah, must now make an appearance. (The princes don’t want to look like barbaric monkeys after all. Never mind that 50% of the Brits sitting in the drawing room think that anyway.) You can’t just pull the purdah aside and keep wearing what you normally wear. You have to create some kind of personalised purdah that you can carry around. (The Maharani in this picture had her sari woven in France, incidentally.)

And so, a suitable change of dress is invented. Enter the elaborately draped modern-day sari. The idea was to ‘create a graceful, decorative effect which poets have likened to the petals of a flower’. Talk about corrupting Western ideas.

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So what did the non-royal women living in the geographical area now called India wear?

A Nair lady wearing mundu, painting by Rao Bahadur M. V. Dhurandhar (1928)
A Nair lady wearing mundu, painting by Rao Bahadur M. V. Dhurandhar (1928)

“In South India and especially in Kerala, women from most Hindu communities wore only the sari and exposed the upper part of the body till the middle of the 20th century.[5][6] Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the midriff completely uncovered.[12] Similar styles of the sari are recorded paintings by Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala.” (In sum: traditions aren’t static. At various points different struggles over clothing the female body happened. More info on caste, class, and clothing here.)

Something must have happened to the yogic powers of today’s Tamil men because going by certain comments, pre-1900 men would have had serious difficulties just walking down the road.

ram • 2 days ago

Any honest male will admit that the leggings arouse them sexually. Similar to flashing. Will any one accept if a male wear a dress in which his private parts are visible in shape? In this context the report is fully justified. Let these female folks whatever they wish to wear inside their house. But if they come in public with these dresses arousing men, they do create a nuisance and should be punished.

While agreeing with the negative effects produced by leggings, this commentator feels the solution lies with men and not women:

Goldi Sahu Anuj2 days ago

…As for seeing the “curves and all” what idiots dont realize is that temptations r everywhere and happen to be the rule in nature not the exception.

That is exactly why yoga was invented to train ur mind to get over the temptation and carve out ur own path.

…What women choose is there matter.

How u control urself is ur issue not their matter.

In fact, when one commentator tried to point out that men also have to watch out for what they wear:

Anuj2 days ago

Men too have the freedom to choose their wear. Is it ok if they start wearing skin tight leggings that expose the bulges ? Exhibitionism is a disorder whether it be man or woman and it’s a deliberate act

To which the reply was,

Sanjay Kumar ram2 days ago

what logic…by that logic all women should get aroused seeing many men routinely flashing their privates in public, exposing their hairy thighs and being topless on road…you need a heavy dose of civility build into your character, not blame women for your shortcomings…get well soon, my best wishes

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Today, it’s hard to think of women’s clothing as just something practical, climate specific, and comfortable. Because clothing for women of necessity has become associated with the concerns of those Maharanis and Begums. Of respectability, fashion and decoration.

TH-URINALS_1905133f
Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Allegations of wilful exhibitionism aren’t just wrong and funny, they’re dangerous. Most girls drop out by 6th standard because of the lack of toilet facilities, and the shame and violent risks of any public ‘exposure’. This is the city where the Corporation uses public money (one lakh per unit) to build new ‘aesthetic’ toilets for men only. And that’s the flip-side of the hyperfocus on what women are ‘showing’:

“Some women get bladder and urinary tract infections from holding in their urine, while others simply don’t drink water all day to avoid the bathroom. Many women are raped or assaulted each year when they leave their homes to find a toilet…” (from coverage on #asktopee)

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When it comes to expressing outrage, we often use words like ‘rights’ and ‘awareness’. But these words can be used to mean almost anything.

Senthil Kumar2 days ago

Let those women activists show their parts to others and call freedom, not our Tamil ladies who have modesty chasisty and virginity as their rights..

Still From Lagaan
Still From Lagaan

Modesty, Virginity and Chastity. Some rights, these are. Meanwhile, we are told that the rules of Tamil culture are only applicable within India. Cross the borders, and no more Tamil culture.

surendar Swaroop Tagore8 hours ago

no men wil alone his sister to wear leggings without long tops.if he is a purely tamil cultured….adopt to tamil culture girls only wen ur in India.if u go abroad u can wear wat ever u want.plz understand everyone who r against ths news.

And then there are those who oppose what Kumudam did. Because such photos should be limited to private Whatsapp groups, you guys.

Srini vaas Arun k2 days ago

U see a sexy girl comment it with ur frends but should not make it a public discussion as this journal did. Wat are they trying to bring on to this country by publicising this topic??

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kumudaminside_0_0Certain news articles criticised Kumudam and said there was nothing wrong with wearing leggings in public. But then they blurred the images, claiming (a day later) that it was done “out of respect to the women whose privacy has been breached”.

Jagan Krish hema2 days ago

You are saying this cover page is shame, Then seeing it in real s not shame ?? . Okay as per your view if it is a mindset ,not sexism , then why this page censored the coverpage ? .

In an innocuous scene in Queen, the censor board wanted an image of a bra blurred. Here’s what a source from the team said:

“Frankly,we were quite stunned when we were asked to blur the lingerie shot. Bras have been a part of Indian cinema from the time one fell out of Kajol’s suitcase in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge while Shah Rukh giggled. Here in Queen the shot wasn’t even suggestive or giggly. It was just a piece of clothing that Kangna hurriedly stuffs into her purse. What was the big deal?”

In fact, as youtube-ing ‘unnecessary censorship’ demonstrates, blurring or bleeping can make almost anything (from Disney movies to pictures of athletes) look and sound ‘obscene’. B-grade Malayalam movies use black bars constantly in their promotions. To magically create nudity in the photograph, where none exists in reality. (Nothing, as The Sound of Music reminds us, comes from nothing.)

goodboyWhich makes one wonder. Does the idea of vulgarity create vulgarity? Did the idea of decency create decency? Take both ideas away, and what’s left?

Note: Comments (taken from here and here and here) may have been abridged (with ellipses), and bolded in parts for emphasis. No other changes have been made.

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