A controversial order on a dress code for school teachers, by the school Education Department of Tamil Nadu, has led to murmurs among women teachers. The circular sent to various schools, asks teachers to come dressed "in a dignified way, in line with their noble profession and culture." It adds, their outfits "should not promote inequality and temptation among students." Women teachers in Chennai say, it's actually a tacit message for them "to cover themselves up properly" and that they would be held "responsible for the unacceptable behaviour of students, especially boys".
Sujata Vijay, a renowned academician says "as teachers we know what to wear and there is no need for the government to interfere." She says... "senior students in classes IX to XII are sometimes curious, we hear comments, they laugh, but these are fine and has to be tackled and dealt with in a different way if they misbehave. These rules for teachers would only discourage many from becoming teachers; already we face a severe shortage of good teachers."
"Blaming or even suggesting that the outfits of lady teachers induce inappropriate behaviour among male students is unfair, ridiculous and it smacks of male chauvinism" says Usha, another teacher. She adds, students ought to be instead taught to "respect any women for what they are and not for what they wear."
However there are others who welcome these guidelines. Vatsala Bhaskaran, Headmistress of a private school says, "any woman teacher can carry herself well only in a formal wear like a sari. T-shirts and denim trousers are a big no. Students wouldn't respect teachers if they are casually dressed and now a days many teachers are fresh from college; class XII students even make proposals to them."
Although the government circular on dignified dressing is not gender specific, lost in the debate is the dress code for male teachers. Senior officials from the Education Department say this is not an attempt to clamp down on women teachers but a genuine attempt to ensure decorum on campuses. They claim parents have complained of inappropriate dressing by few teachers and this action is to ensure things don't go out of hand.
Experts however say, the state government should not generalise issues like this and instead focus on other crucial issues concerning quality of education in schools. Most institutions in Tamil Nadu they say, don't have enough teachers, library or even hygienic toilets for girls and women teachers. Teachers are poorly paid. And certainly, this is not the way to look at women teachers in a state that boasts of a woman Chief Minister.