Our obsession with what girls and women wear continues. At the prestigious National University of Science and Technology (NUST), up to seven female students have been fined between Rs500 and Rs1,000 for wearing tight jeans, tights or failing to wear a dupatta. It has also been reported that all women at the university have been asked to wear dupattas. While the issue is being widely discussed on social media, and among young people, the administration at NUST maintains silence with the Rector’s office denying knowledge of fines and saying only that students have been asked to wear ‘decent’ clothing on campus. The question of what is deemed ‘decent’ will, of course, vary from individual to individual and the word itself is closely associated with that other term, ‘morality’, which we brandish so freely. Women have always been a main target of morality squads and we see this happening once again, with students falling victim.
There is another issue here. Shouldn’t the administration at NUST be focusing primarily on imparting quality education? Ensuring the courses are on track and working to help students learn? Surely, how these students perform in the classroom is more significant than what they wear. Our priorities seem to be becoming more and more distorted and this should be a matter that concerns us all. Academic achievement is in so many ways crucial to our future. The matter of whether jeans are worn is not. This is something the administration at NUST needs to very carefully consider and it needs to recognise that its main role must be to ensure that pupils receive the best possible learning rather than concentrating on their attire or other actions such as keeping male and female students from interacting. This mindset is a dangerous one, feeds into the extremism we are trying to combat in society and simply detracts attention from needs that are far more pressing. This should essentially be a matter of personal choice and university-level students certainly need to be granted this most basic of liberties.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2013.