The environmental vulnerability of Uttarakhand is raising evidence. Flash floods are not uncommon in this hilly state. The most recent episode left a trail of death and destruction, departing from the riverside settlements. Although global warming has avoided ice-melting disasters and development projects without re-evaluating their environmental impact, ghost villages now occupy state territory. Newly sworn in Chief Minister Tirat Singh Rawat could be seen as an issue earlier this week, however, with cultural values — knee-jerk threats. The risk assessment was based on the inputs he collected on the flight, he said at a workshop organized for the protection of children’s rights in the state of Uttarakhand in Dehradun. He said a woman flying with two children wearing denim jeans at her knees was thinking hard about what signal such attire would send to future generations. “She runs an NGO, her knees look torn and she moves in society,” Rawat, translated from Hindi, asked, “What cultural values does she convey?”
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader may be playing to a gallery of a support base that feels like a great store with a very traditional code of conduct and get-up, guaranteed to him by tweets and online posts across the country. He does not need to sleep on the social breakdown caused by the fashion trend. As if to introduce him to the popularity of fried denim, hundreds of women have posted pictures of themselves in ripped jeans on social media. Some of the reactions were outrageous in Rawat’s words over gender inequality, character imposition and character judgment. Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra, who sent his past speeches viral on the internet, blamed the Chief Minister’s comment if cine celebrities were allowed to speak their tweeted pictures for them. Not to be outdone, some Dehradun-educated men have pitched to their knees, citing their old school principle, that they should never bend “before malicious force”.
Rawat’s words are not an expression of policy intent and are therefore unworthy of protest, his defenders say. But India is full of people who are ready to play the fashion cops, and any vigilance that promotes sartorial bias will provoke a vigilante tendency. In the final analysis, what this storm reveals about ripped jeans కాదు is not so much a cultural rift in the country — conservatives have long grown up in different social settings in globalization — but the unfortunate failure of many who govern us to appreciate the idea of the individual is an option that strengthens any democratic order. For all family similarities made with politics and population, guaranteeing freedom in personal matters is the only reliable principle we have to rub along with friendship in large numbers. It is one thing for a patriarch to be annoyed at how young people dress, and it is another for an elected leader to make statements that are unconstitutional. Using one’s franchise at the ballot booth is a personal act, as well as wearing what one wants. All it reflects is a free mind, thinking about itself, even if it contrasts with what others think. True, this is an attitude that has led to many innovations in various fields of the world. Let’s celebrate this.