This week news rolled out that Chandigarh has a new official policy against mini-skirts in discos to prevent anti-national activity. There was some railing, some mandatory ranting. There were plenty of jokes made about the "Controlling of Places of Public Amusement, 2016" policy which apparently came into effect on 1 April. Soon after the public uproar, the Chandigarh home secretary clarified in a press conference that the state is not planning to impose a dress code in discos.
In fact, the policy was created under the direction of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to deal with law and order issues (read: Tu kaun hai? / Haan, mujhe bhi pata nahin ki main kaun hoon brawls) in places like discos, bars, bowling alleys and gaming parlors. Turns out that apparently the only thing the policy does say directly about women is that these establishments should not deploy "any exhibition or advertisement whether by way of posters or in the newspapers, photographs of scantily dressed women."
Officers can now refuse issuance of fresh permission certificates or revoke existing permission certificates if they consider the business to be, among other vaguely framed clauses, "indecent or of a scurrilous character", "contain offensive reference to personalities", "wound the susceptibilities of any nation or followers of any religion" or "be seditious or to be likely to excite political discontent". For good measure, the policy also reduces bar timings by two hours to get them to shut by midnight. In his press conference the home secretary insisted, when asked about the mysterious sedition clause, "I am not saying seditious activities are taking place in Chandigarh's discotheques but if it happens, then action will be taken."
So mini-skirts are at least as safe as they ever have been in Chandigarh, except perhaps from the current onslaught of maxi-length hemlines.
Here's the thing, though. No one was amazed that such a new law could be passed. Trained as we are to believe six impossible things about policing women's bodies before breakfast everyday, why would it surprise us that someone has snuck in a law about hemlines? Until it was fact-checked, it seemed a thoroughly plausible story to all of us. And if in fact such a law existed (violating all constitutional rights) it would take roughly 24 hours for people to tell themselves that it's for women's safety and mini-skirts are disgusting anyway. In the way that the world functions, capitalist enterprise of all kinds that use women's bodies for advertising and selling their products and services co-exist peacefully (like animals observing the Water Truce in The Jungle Book) with laws that deny women control over their own bodies.
Some days I'm convinced that we are all living in one giant Resident Welfare Association (RWA) run by a cranky committee - all one billion of us. You know the kind that I'm thinking of - the kind that has made it 'normal' all over the country to say that children cannot play in neighborhood parks but companies can put their big, fat names on high fences all around it. The kind that has made it 'normal' for domestic help and drivers to have to go and get 'cleared' by the police. The RWA that is scandalised if you wear a hijab, and if you don't wear a hijab (take your pick). The RWA that is scandalised if the man from flat #4A offers a lift to the woman from flat #5A and then lets her sit in the front seat alongside him.
"I'm just fed up with these uncles," we mumble. Uncles left to themselves do tend to make all manner of things 'normal'. They are less interested in the possibilities of community living and more terrorised by nightmares of how everything can go out of control. This terror translates into a Colonel Haathi-type useless harrumphing about discipline.
In an RWA situation, uncles nevertheless still have to deal with litigious residents, irritable rebels who don't want to come to Jesus even when they are on their deathbeds, cranky young women who insist on walking too fast, teenagers who drive their cycles noisily, lesbians who don't have the decency to be embarrassed, flagrantly smoking teenagers. RWA uncles are fed up because they have to deal with the wide variety of human orneriness and know that their seat is precarious. RWA uncles wish they could send people to jail. They can only refuse to rent to you, or fight with your landlady if she's made the mistake of renting to an undesirable like you. Or go to court if by some blight of fate you are the landlady.
But in the greater RWA of our nation, where 'residents', 'welfare' and 'association' are all loaded words, such uncles remain unchallenged. So little is required for them to panic, so few people are (metaphorically) playing on their grass and (somewhat metaphorically) refusing to come to Jesus, that uncles begin to believe their own afternoon dreams of discipline. They begin to believe that their seat on the committee is a real thing. They begin to believe that bar brawls can be controlled by pressing the nuclear button, aka saying 'sedition-sedition'. If you say, it's all maya, uncle, they will ask angrily, kaun hai yeh Maya and what's her PAN number?
For a few hours, we all came to believe that hemlines will now be policed in Chandigarh. What would have been amazing was if we had all been amazed by this. If we had all said: How hilarious, no such law can be constitutional or ethical or possible outside of fiction, so it must be a joke. Instead, right now some uncle somewhere is harrumphing and polishing his speech that begins: Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and it wasn't in a mini-skirt.
Nisha Susan is Editor of the online women's magazine The Ladies Finger