Do my thighs offend you so much that you have to ban short skirts?

“My mother always tells me to wear a bra. It’s something that I have done since I was ten or eleven – ever since I had the beginnings of my breasts. I’ve always been overtly conscious of my buxomness and the fact that all the men who have been attracted to me want to touch me there first”, says my elder cousin.

I want to suck your b**bs, bi***, reads the last message in my other” folder, that I promptly delete as I start to write this column. I wonder what excites this lust in a complete stranger, and the reason for such objectification of the female body, and then I shudder as I remember a selfie I posted, taken a few hours ago in a cab, where my top had slipped down a few notches than what is respectable for a “respectable feminist writer”, and the tip of my pink lace bra was peeking out.

I love the snap, the deliciousness of watching my own body, of finally making peace with my breasts, after years of being in a stubborn, conditioned confrontation. I think of the taxi that was breezing beside mine at the moment I clicked the snap, in the sweltry Kolkata heat, the fixated stare in the eyes of a pot-bellied, balding, middle-aged man who stared wide-mouthed – a spurious, slanted, sideways glance.

Had he searched me out on Facebook and taken a chance? I found asking myself. “Chance pe dance”, the way most closeted Indian men love to operate. Their lust always camouflaged, always confined in some way.

Being an Indian woman, I have always been taught to be a typical pativrata Sati-Savitri – returning home on time, texting parents after dark that I am safe, not drinking too much before calling for an Uber, scared to live in a far-flung part of the city alone, hesitant to have sex with strangers, sans the promise and premise of marriage.

I have always been told that married men are to be steered clear of, and that motherhood is our highest validation – our bodies remain chambers of cloistered individual control, and cheap, mass entertainment, simultaneously.

Ours is a country where the word masturbation and porn are uttered in the same breath, where men and women still sit separately at most social functions, and where most Indian men get married just to get laid, and prove their mardangi by producing an heir quickly, where infertility is the curse of the baanjh, where condoms spoil pleasure and archaic khap panchayats decide the fate of lovers, where honour killings and gruesome child abuse happen almost daily.

It is a country where a reputed college, the Scottish Church College in Kolkata, in June last year, issued an official notice, “Clothing worn to the college must reflect the seriousness and importance of the learning environment.

Therefore, students’ attire is expected to be based on modesty, neatness and safety on the campus. Only full-length trousers and skirts well below knee length without slits should be worn. Salwar kameez and saris should also be worn properly”.

In the same city, a woman puffing on a cigarette and wearing shorts – a college student accompanied by her boyfriend – was heckled by Trinamool Congress (TMC) cadres and blasted by aging social commentators on local channels as being women of loose morals who were inadvertently spreading “aposanskriti” in a country where Sunny Leone leads the Google race for the “most searched adult celebrity”.

It is a country where child trafficking and “nath utarna” is rampant in the flesh trade. Just who is the Chandigarh administration fooling when it decides to ban short skirts in discotheques because apparently it’s a breeding ground for “anti-national” elements?

I mean what is the exact correlation between sex and sanskriti? Between my cleavage and the pujaniya Bharatiya culture? Or by saying “Bharat Mata ki jai”, are we deliberately imagining the woman’s body that is covered up, in an inpenetrable moralistic shroud like the purdah that always needs permission to flaunt itself, akin to a “nayi naveli dulhan” (newly-wed bride) waiting with bated breath for her heavy ghunghat to be lifted by a man?

Or are we saying our sex is a real, national threat? That the number and sheer scale of sexual violence can be curtailed by containing the power of pleasure, and by a sort of female cultural castration? Or are we forgetting that it is this accidental peek-a-boo that most Indian men secretly crave for – this brush with a woman’s breasts in a subway, this pressing into her rear in a crowded metro, this chance to stare at her made-up face and then jerk off in a cramped office loo?

The sleazy item numbers in Bollywood movies that we download and dance to in discotheques, at big, fat, desi weddings and at children’s dance reality shows actually satisfy the pent up lust and horniness of an entire race that is in denial of its latent sexuality and raging cravings.

And look, it’s not as if women love the sight of hairy chests and baboon-like arms and backs either. The men we make love to and are impregnated by. The men who touch and torment us… ever thought of banning tight crotched pants and tight, V-neck shirts with chest air sprouting out, instead?

Or placing a hefty fine on men who touch their privates at the sight of a woman, and look away like a coward? Or an FIR for the obscene messages every Indian girl gets daily in her social media folders? why must she protect herself by making her settings private?

And what’s next?

After putting a restriction on sleeveless, backless, cleavage, and covering our breasts, navels, knees, ankles, should we cover our heads now? How regressive can we get? How about fast-tracking rape cases for a change? Remember, Nirbhaya, India’s daughter, huh?

Can we criminalise marital rape? Can we have sex education and gender sensitisation in schools? Ban sleazy sex comedies and raunchy lyrics that reduce my body to tandoori and my skin to malai? How about TV soaps that endorse domestic violence and infidelity, sans any shame?

Or shows like Big Boss that advertises adultery? Commercials that reduce women to caricatures? What about sexist comments by politicians all the time? And what about Konark, Khajuraho and the Kamasutra? What will we do with our ancient and sexually explicit past that revelled in orgies and homosexuality? Where hijras guarded harems? Where “69” was just the beginning of sexual positioning?

Aren’t they part of “Incredible India” that we pay Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan to sell to the goras? Should we demolish them next? Why Talibanise my thighs, when the rot is in a deeper, darker place?

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