There are many Indians around here. I have often noticed that many young Indian girls (4-12 years) who stare at me. When I look at them, they turn away and then continue looking at me. In the bus. On the roads.
I think it is because I do not dress like a typical Indian. I see most of these girls are wearing salwar kameez or pattu pavadai or at the most, jeans. I look like an Indian but defy their stereotypes of an Indian woman. They see clothes like this only on TV. They do not dress like that. Their moms do not dress like that. None of their relatives dress like that. The men wear shorts & jeans but the women don’t. I don’t know what their parents tell, rather demonstrate via attitudes about people who wear western clothes but I have a fair idea. I believe people can wear whatever they want but sticking to only traditional clothes reinforces conservative values and patriarchy.
Last time, I was in India, I was out with my friend and we made a quick detour to pick up something from their uncle’s house. When I was waiting at their place, I felt I was transported to 1970’s middle class India. That uncle’s daughter also, kept stop looking at me. It was surprising to see a young girl wear salwar kameez and pin her duputta inside the house while watching TV. This was not a school uniform. I do not remember dressing like that when I was a kid.
Also, there is something like an unwritten dress code among the different races here. Most Indians stick to Indian clothes. The rest wear short clothes. They are not stared at because they are well non Indians. It is easy to make your kids believe “we wear this & they wear that and they are not one of us.” When an Indian defies it, it is a different matter. It makes these kids question the unwritten dress code and the stereotype. It may go either way – ” Chee (eww), look at the clothes she is wearing” or “why am I not allowed to wear that?”
I sure hope I make at least some of these young girls question and break out of those traditional moulds. They can always argue ” If that girl can, why can’t I?”