Over the past few days, newspapers and the electronic media have been highlighting an incident that would've seemed frivolous, had it not been for the stark exposure of the medieval minds that make for the majority in our society. The issue: a teacher at a school in the southern fringes of this city choosing to wear a salwar-kameez instead of a saree. She had been commuting to school wearing a salwar these past few months and changing into a saree after reaching school, changing back into the salwar-kameez after finishing her classes and returning home in that attire—a process that she rightly deemed too cumbersome and decided to do away with. Wearing a saree or a salwar ought to be a matter of individual choice for any person, but the school authorities and some guardians—an orthodox and regressive lot at best—objected and insisted she stick to the saree. Kasturi Sen, the young, courageous lady, defied the directive.
This has generated a debate with many people, including a prominent educationist who was also the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University, arguing that schools can have dress codes for teachers. This is not the first time such an issue has cropped up—many years ago, a college principal who went on to become the VC of a state university banned his girl students from wearing anything but a saree to college. A saree, feel most Bengalis, is the best attire for a woman and all women MUST cocoon themselves only in the six yards of cloth.
The silver lining is that a section of the guardians and most of the students have stood up for the teacher. The authorities of this school, and all those who advocate a dress code for teachers, would do well to direct their attention to improving the standard of education in our institutions. What a teacher wears is not important, how she teaches is.
Matter Of Perception
Is a saree more decent than a salwar-kameez? The answer to this will vary from person to person. But the moot question is what is 'decency'? Is a saree worn with a cleavage-revealing blouse with spaghetti straps more decent than a salwar-kameez? Would the advocates of the saree also lay down the standards for the accompanying blouse so that it doesn't start too late and end too early? The saree, to be frank, reveals or can reveal much more than any salwar-kameez. And those Bengali men who want all their women to wear sarees, shouldn't they be wearing dhoti-kurtas as well? And then, is the show of a man's calves and thighs (while in a dhoti) to be considered decent? Why then can't women expose their legs? Who is to decide what is decent and what is not? These are pertinent questions we must all ask. And as for those men and women who object to school teachers wearing a salwar-kameez to work, most would happily send their daughters to the reality shows where micro-minis, or worse, seem to be the standard attire. They dream of their daughters becoming air hostesses—nothing wrong at all with the profession, but it involves wearing skirts, doesn't it? I've seen many women wearing sarees and exposing flesh; I'm yet to come across a salwar-kameez that can reveal the navel. A saree, to me, is sensuous attire, a salwar-kameez staid and dowdy. Is that why those men in school managing committees would rather that teachers wear sarees?
A unique feature of all localities in every town, city and suburb across Bengal is the plethora of 'clubs'. These 'clubs'—most are little more than a meeting place for long 'adda' sessions—all play a notorious role in controlling and regulating the lives of the residents of their respective localities. They, or their members (a motley mix of the local unemployed and unemployable and lower-level employees in government offices) interfere in the affairs of every household, mediate in disputes and even lay down norms for social behaviour and interactions. For this notoriety, the clubs are actively wooed by political parties and politicians. Young members of these clubs often act as musclemen and frequently make the ranks of local goons. They organise various Pujas and social festivals, extort a lot of money from hapless residents and use a large portion of these 'donations' for their own merry-making.
Nearly all these clubs, or the structures that house them, are built on government or private land or even on footpaths and, hence, are illegal. Once in a while, they organise some unnecessary blood donation camps or undertake some such project to establish their 'social worker' credentials, but most of the time, the only activities are idle gossip, back-biting and petty politics. It is high time these dens of idlers or shirkers (the hard and conscientious workers in government or private establishments don't definitely have the time to waste in these clubs) are demolished and banned. These clubs are giving Bengal a bad name and represent the degeneration of the state and society at large; taking them out would form a critical part in the process of social rejuvenation of Bengal. But there are exceptions, like the ones who do a lot of good work for the community and comprise do-gooders, and not hoodlums, of a locality. It is necessary to carry out an audit of all the clubs and root out the evil ones.
Pubs, bars and restaurants of this city would be better places to down a drink or dig into one's favourite dishes from next month. That's because customers won't be able to light up inside. The unhealthy and toxic haze inside each eatery and watering hole in this city will soon be a thing of the past. This ban ought to have been imposed a long time ago, but better late than never. There is no reason why non-smokers should suffer the suicidal habits of a section of people and put their own lives at risk for the pleasure of this group. The owners of all these joints have complained that they'll lose many customers. That fear will prove to be unfounded in the long run. No matter how much addicted a person is to tobacco, he or she will definitely not stop going to a bar for a drink or a restaurant for a nice meal.
Yes, for the first few weeks, smokers may avoid the bars/restaurants, but they can't avoid them for long. They'll simply have to learn to have a bite or a drink without the accompanying cancer stick. After the announcement of the ban, many Kolkatans, including some celebrities, have gone on record to denounce the ban. They've expressed horror at what they call suppression of their liberties and rights. I say, right to what? To force non-smokers become passive smokers and endanger their lives? Smokers in enclosed public spaces are nothing less than murderers and ought to be treated and penalised as such. The issue is not liberty or individual freedom, but a downright disgusting and dangerous habit that smokers themselves ought to give up. Like I did three years ago. And I'm a healthier, happier and more prosperous person for that.
Nearly 800 junior doctors at Kolkata's two premier government teaching hospitals struck work for three days to force the government to hike their moderate stipends. A junior doc—a house staff or intern—is paid just Rs 8800 a month now and, to be fair, that's a pittance compared to the years of hard work that a young boy or girl has to put in to earn an MBBS degree and, after that, the toil as a junior doctor. Compared to the astronomical entry-level salaries that management and even engineering graduates command, the inequity would seem monumental. In fact, Rs 8800 a month is what a door-to-door salesman earns, and less than what, ironically, a medical representative would get. There can thus be no argument against giving the junior docs a hefty hike, even much more than the modest Rs 10,000 increase they've asked for.
But having said this, there can also be no justification for what the junior docs have done. They've violated their inviolable oath to serve the sick. Thousands of critically ill patients had to seek more expensive treatment at private clinics and hospitals after being turned away from the Calcutta Medical College & Hospital and the SSKM earlier this week. All the 800-odd young men and women knew what they were in for when they signed up for their MBBS courses many years ago. They knew fully well that they'd get a miserable 8800 Rupees a month as interns. However unjust it may seem, they tacitly accepted the stipend when they joined a medical college. They also know that immediately after their internships, their earnings would go up substantially and many of them would be earning in lakhs of Rupees every month. They would also have been aware of how much taxpayers' money goes into the making of a doctor from a government medical college.
But even after knowing all this, they preferred to keep away from their duties and turned their backs on thousands of hapless patients. That was a grossly criminal and unpardonable act, and for which they ought to have been penalised by the government. Junior docs at AIIMS scurried back to work when the Supreme Court ordered deduction of their salaries; had the government threatened to suspend the licences of these rogue docs, they'd have abandoned their strike at once. Docs routinely administer wrong treatment to patients. Now, they had chosen not to treat them at all. No wonder they're viewed with such distrust and looked down upon as mercenaries. No wonder they get beaten up so frequently.