Thursday 26 September 2013

Its not Just the Jeans

Courtesy "Rants of a Pakistani Citizen" page on Facebook
Latest Notification from NUST, courtesy Syed Nadir El-Edroos from Twitter

The recent debate over the issue of NUST students getting fined for "wearing Jeans" or "Not wearing Dopatta" started with one blog and amalgamated into a critical mass that forced the Rector of NUST to actually come forward and clarify the stance of University Administration. On the social media front, that qualifies as a success of "new media" and how individual blogs can be powerful enough to influence opinion. Although it appeared on news pages of Dawn as well(and ET published a Blog on this issue), which was basically bad rep for the University and they had to do a face-saving exercise. 

Anyhow, this issue is just the tip of an iceberg. The concept of individual liberty, or the right to wear what you want to wear, without getting judged, is non-existent in Pakistan. While the right to choose does not mean running in the streets naked, as is usually considered, it does mean that within certain limits, everyone irrespective of gender should have the right to wear clothing that they like, without getting judged. 

While civilized societies have usually moved beyond this point, Pakistan is still lurking behind. Even in this day and age, women who dress a certain way are judged as being "immoral" or possessing "loose character". The Rector of NUST reportedly said, "What is wrong with giving you a culturally acceptable dress code?". He also mentioned security as one of the issue that caused increased surveillance "inside" the campus. 

What is a culturally acceptable dress when we don't even have a well-defined "culture". Hijab and Three piece suits are not part of "our" culture. If the erstwhile Rector wants to know what our "culture", he needs to visit rural areas of Punjab and Sindh, or even cities like Lahore, Karachi or Rawalpindi. If we go simply by "cultural dress", both men and women would all be dressed in Shalwar Kamees. 

But I can't argue about this, because people like me were specifically pointed out in the Rector's spiel as "outsiders" who have no stakes in the University and should mind their own business. Plus, the rules regarding dress code are present in the prospectus and students should know that before joining the University.(If the latest address by the Rector is being reported correctly, he is pointing fingers at foreign NGOS and CIA for all our problems. Thus proving my original point: Its not Just the Jeans)    

I should remind readers that NUST is not the only educational institute with dress code issues. I remember going to Government College University, Lahore, couple of years ago to participate in some competition when I was stopped at the gate. The guards informed me that I could not enter the premises because I was wearing Jeans. I was flabbergasted. I told them that I was not even a student at GCU and had only arrived to take part in a competition for which I had been invited. I had to call my hosts who ushered me in after some discussion with the guards. 

Most Universities in Pakistan do not welcome outsiders and one has to provide some form of identification for entry. Compare this with foreign Universities. I have been fortunate enough to visit Major Universities in the United States and in Turkey, and no such hassle was present there. I admit that the security situation of Pakistan is much worse than that in other countries but the feeling of "Intellectual Freedom" that I felt in those campuses is non-existent in Pakistan.  

In my own medical school(and reportedly in some others), teachers behaved differently with students who dressed "liberally" and who were seen with members of the other gender frequently. I recently had to explain this awkward situation to a foreigner and I could not enunciate the exact "setting". He kept questioning me about how it was possible to study with members of the other gender and still be expected to "not be seen together". I could not muster a clear answer. 

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