Watch and Wear

Posted on March 30, 2011 | View 940

Are people to be judged by their appearance or their actions?

The cultural crosscurrents of a continuously shrinking world are indeed fascinating.

What one country does find echoes in the most unlikely places in another. Few would be surprised that Gujjars, at their latest panchayat sitting, have declared that girls would be forbidden from wearing jeans or using cellphones as they incited immorality.

The difficulties of enforcing such a diktat — and the obvious paucity of empirical evidence to show the connection between attire, accessories and morality — are implicit.

For instance, not much has been heard about what has happened in the two years since a similar order prohibiting girl students in Kanpur from wearing ‘western clothes’ was passed by the university, though the move was allegedly hailed even by local officialdom. Not that non-compliance stops conservatives from passing such orders.

However, before judging these to be merely the perorations of non-progressive communities, consider that last year, the equally obscure Southampton City Council told its female staff that skirts should be of “reasonable” length and male workers must be dressed “appropriately”.

And last week, Russian MPs and their aides were given a new ethics code that, among other things, forbade miniskirts and “indiscreet behaviour.”

Whether violations of the second directive may be exposed by WikiLeaks at some later date, adhering to the first means showing a “business style marked by formality, restraint, tradition, and neatness”. Now that does not sound all that different from what the worthies at Kanpur envisaged, and therefore the point is moot whether the Gujjars influenced the Russians or the other way round.

Sadly, it seems that authorities everywhere do believe that people should be judged by appearances and not actions.

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