KJ Yesudas is popular for singing classical and devotional songs (file photo: The Hindu)
“What should be covered must be covered. Women should not trouble others by wearing jeans,” KJ Yesudas declared in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday, setting off a storm of protests from political leaders, women’s groups and the public.
Speaking at the inauguration of the cleanliness campaign on Gandhi’s birth anniversary at the Sri Swathi Thirunal College of Music, the 74-year old singer said, "People would be tempted to pay attention to what's beyond it (the jeans)... Don't do it to attract and make others do the undesirable," drawing applause from a section of the male audience.
Yesudas is popular for singing Indian classical and devotional songs, and has won several prestigious music awards.
While the event went ahead without any protests, women’s groups took out marches later in the city. Women in both Kerala’s ruling Congress party and the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have condemned Yesudas’ comments and asked the singer to withdraw them and apologise.
The Congress party's Bindu Krishna said the singer's comments were "immature" and "vulgar", while CPI(M) MP TN Seema told BBC News, "This is really shocking! If this is the attitude of a cultural icon like him, there's some serious trouble with our society."
“Utterly tasteless and unworthy of such a great cultural artist,” CPI(M) Politburo member Brinda Karat told The Hindu. “A person of his stature should be standing on the side of women in their fight against violence instead of putting his weight behind those justifying the violence and blaming them for the dress they wear,” she said.
The legendary Malayali singer, who always wears a white dhoti and kurta in public, also said that western clothes like jeans were against Indian culture, which valued modesty as the greatest quality of women.
But Yesudas’s comments were criticised on social media, with some users posting photographs of the singer’s daughters-in-law wearing jeans as evidence of his “hypocrisy”.
On Saturday, Chairperson of National Commission for Women, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, said it was unfortunate that such an “unethical” comment was made by a respected singer.
“It is unfortunate that such a statement has been made by a man who has been so much in public life, whatever may be his personal view …There is nothing illegal in it but it was unethical,” Kumaramangalam told reporters.
Kerala’s society is conservative, with sizeable Christian and Muslim comunities. His comments were probably aimed at that niche audience, particularly since his comments were applauded by a section of the men present at the event.
When Hindustan Times tried to contact Yesudas for a comment, his manager said that the singer has left for America.
News agencies later quoted CPI-M politician MA Baby, who is close to the singer, as saying, "Yesudas's wife Prabha told me that he is pained in the manner in which his good intentioned remarks to women in general that they should be modestly dressed was taken out of context."