Have Shorts. Will Smoke.

Image: Pranaadhika

The following was submitting by SMIW reader Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman and is the opening salvo in our brand new campaign #HaveShortsWillSmoke  – an initiative aimed to protest against a spree of recent incidents curbing and controlling rights, freedom and bodies of women across India.

The harassment and public humiliation faced by a woman in Kolkata for being dressed in shorts and smoking; the public shaming of a law student by her professor for wearing shorts and an ensuing order by the Bar Council of India banning shorts in Law schools across the country and; discotheques in Chandigarh reportedly banning women from wearing shorts and skirts to “fight anti-nationalism” are some of these appalling incidents.

I am writing to you today in a state of extreme anger and distress. Here’s why –

A young female student in Calcutta (okay, Kolkata) was recently harassed, ridiculed, and insulted in public by a group of men (and women) for having the gall to wear shorts and smoke.

This has obviously happened before in many different parts of India. Very recently, a student at NLSUI was insulted and slut shamed by her law professor in front of her entire class for coming to class in shorts and, only yesterday I heard Chandigarh wants to ban women from wearing shorts and skirts because it is somehow anti-national (WTF?). I feel that it is high time that the reality of “FREEDOM TO CHOOSE” is made clear to people from all genders.

The issue here is not about smoking, or wearing short clothes; it is that anyone who is an adult is permitted to make life and lifestyle based choices. It is no big deal if a man smokes, or wears shorts, but if a woman smokes (legal at designated places in India), or wears shorts and skirts (legal anywhere in India), suddenly everyone’s all boo freaking hoo!

It’s time feminists – of all genders – got together and issued a fitting response to this infernal policing of women’s bodies and choices.

Let me be clear, this is NOT about “promoting” smoking or a certain type of attire – this is about the fact that I have the right to choose what I will do – within the purview of the law.

What happened with the woman harassed for smoking or the one insulted for wearing shorts in class had little to do with “smoking is injurious to health” or “maintaining decorum of class” and MORE to do with the following –

  1. You are a woman, you do not have the right to smoke, because, you know, Sanskar.
  2. Smoking is for men only, because, macho-feels. How dare you cross the gendered Lakshman-Rekha?
  3. How dare a woman reveal her skin and appear to be sexually liberated when her sexuality is supposed to be controlled by the self appointed gatekeepers of morality?
  4. Women who smoke and /or wear shorts are loose (HOWEVER, nobody gives a fuck about women and kids who work at tobacco/bidi factories or garment sweat shops. The people (MEN) making them work there and thereby violating their health and labour rights are not loose, eh?
  5. People feel threatened by women who exercise their right to do something that is clearly legal. Men smoke, women smoke, children wear short, adults wear shorts. Period. Except, not really. Not in India.

Women, and those who identify as women – be aware that this is your time to stand up for your right to make Choices. Making choices is NOT restricted to smoking or wearing shorts / skirts. It is about equality, it is about justice. It is about one section of the society being harassed, vilified and burned at the stake for something that goes un-noticed if another section of the society does it! If one group can do some and nobody says shit, other groups should be able to do that too. Simple!

Gentlemen – You smoke, we smoke. If you don’t like others smoking and if you care about the health of our nation and Indian culture so much, then how about setting an example by quitting to smoke yourself? And pointing out and discouraging OTHER MEN from smoking in places where it is illegal to smoke or where others are vulnerable to passive smoking? Or, if you are so concerned about people exposing themselves in public, how about shaming the guys who pull out their penises to masturbate at women in public, to poke them in public transport and to pee pretty much anywhere they fancy!

If people are concerned only with smoking as a cancer-causing habit, you have every RIGHT to have an opinion on it, but please do not RESTRICT it only to one gender and DO NOT force your opinion on them. Smoking, by anyone from any gender, is injurious. That said, we are all responsible for our health and the last time I checked, you are NOT my doctor or my stylist and DID NOT ask you for medical, fashion or cultural advice.

Go, use an ashtray and, stub out that regressive mentality. Till then, along with the Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, I am proud to announce that me and women like me WILL NOT stop ourselves from doing what we want to do or wearing what we want to wear – because it makes YOU uncomfortable.

Have shorts. Will smoke.

A Very Spoilt Modern Indian Woman.

Disclaimer: This campaign does not promote smoking. It promotes an individual’s right to smoke – irrespective of their gender and within the purview of law. Smoking is injurious to health and may cause cancer.