When Jeans are an Act of Defiance

Posted on Jul 7, 2018 | 0 comments

By Kim Burnett, Shadhika President and CEO

 

Working at Shadhika, I am continually reminded of the freedom I enjoy and the things I take for granted. 

Even the most mundane acts, like being able to walk where and when I want to or knowing I have access to a toilet pretty much whenever I need to, are privileges not shared by the young women we support. For them, coming and going from their homes is often a point of negotiation with their parents and they can often go a whole day without being able to access a toilet. 

But when I read this year’s Shadhika Scholars college essays, I was taken by surprise to learn that just wearing jeans could be a revolutionary act.

In two separate student essays, I read of the longing our students have to be allowed the freedom to dress however they choose and how, for them, being allowed to wear jeans was the greatest symbol of that freedom.

For these young women, the Shadhika scholarship has allowed them an unimaginable opportunity – to attend college in the city. There they are mixing with many upper middle-class students, many of whom wear western clothes. Coming from poor communities, these girls are anxious to also wear western clothing and fit in. But more often than not, their parents will not allow it, preferring their daughters wear the modest, traditional Indian tunic, scarf, and pants outfit known as the salwar kameez.

So, being the strong leaders and girls’ rights advocates that they are, I read how these young women were fighting for their right to wear jeans.

Sabah, a third-year banking and finance student, wrote how, with support from VACHA, Shadhika’s partner in Mumbai, she built up her confidence to convince her conservative, Muslim parents to allow her to wear jeans. It took her two years to successfully argue this point with her parents. Finally, this past year, they gave her permission. She triumphantly wore jeans to her college’s annual festival.

In another essay, Radha, also a third-year Shadhika scholarship recipient, shared how she and a group of friends came to the aid of another friend who wanted the freedom to wear jeans. Because her parents would not allow it, Radha and her friends decided to pool their pocket money and gift the girl a pair of jeans for her birthday. Since it was a birthday gift, the girl’s parents could not reject the present but had to allow her to wear jeans.

As I read these letters, I recalled the site-seeing trip we had to Elephanta Caves last January with a group of donors and scholarship students from VACHA (see photo below). How all of the girls were dressed in jeans and western tops and tee-shirts. How naively unaware I was that I was witnessing a revolutionary act.

And how, in so many ways, every day, these brave young women are revolutionaries, fighting for their right to be seen and heard.

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