On 19 July, when sticks hit a 17-year-old body hard and non-stop, the body must have cowered from the agony of physical pain, and disbelief too.
Surrounded by hands that she once probably loved, could Neha Paswan imagine that her hopes and dreams to become a police officer are about to be deferred indefinitely, and publicly hang cold from a bridge within hours? Her crime? She wore jeans and 'modern outfit' out of her own volition in Savreji Kharg village in Deoria district, in Uttar Pradesh, India.
On the day of the incident, her father was away for work in town as a day labourer. Her grandparents, uncles and other extended family members mercilessly beat her to death, reported the BBC.
It doesn't always start and end with violence and murder. Depending on the woman's geographic location and background, the art of telling women what to wear and its enforcement vary in texture, colours and style.
From solid sticks to charred murmurs, from black and blue bruises to red flushed faces, from smirks and frowns at the dinner table to 'legal' fines, jail time and court laws - a woman's right to wear what she wants continues to be a universal struggle.
Religion, state and women: To or not to cover up
In the European parts of the world, Muslim women in particular struggle to uphold their religious freedom in clothes they choose to wear. France, the European country with the largest Muslim population, does not want her Muslim women to wear hijab nor 'burkini' - a full body swim suit - at the beach. This is not new, France's stance against Muslim women's attire under the pretext of 'fighting Islamist extremism' has a long history.
Many countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Belgium to name a few, cited security concerns and long banned women wearing burqas and niqabs, which are usually full-face covering garbs worn by Muslim women.
Recently, companies in Europe are considering a ban on hijab at workplaces. The governments' justification in doing so in favour of their practice of secularism vehemently infringes women's rights to wear what they want, while feeding Islamophobic sentiment. So who's winning here really, if not the people (including women) in courts and parliaments who want to tell women what to wear.
The flipside: if one feels outraged about the 'West' regulating women's clothing, one should feel the same kind of outrage when it comes to countries enforcing laws making hijab mandatory or that they dress 'modestly'. This outrage should be unequivocal and equal.
Iran and Saudi Arabia (SA recently changed hijab laws to as long as women are dressed modestly, it's all good) are the front runners in this specific marathon of controlling women's rights. But there's plenty of participants in the Middle East and beyond. Now, who deems what women wear as 'modest clothing' is a topic of contention that probably can be traced back in centuries.
Sports, rules and women: Can women wear what they want in sports?
It was a curious thing when Serena Williams's catsuit in the French Open 2018 raised regulatory eyebrows and subsequently led to a change in dress code in the French tournament which would ban catsuits worn by female tennis players.
Williams was the second woman to do so in the history of the sport. She reportedly said the suit was to help her with blood circulation. But surely not a performance enhancer… I would think. So why is this a problem?
More recently in July this year, the Norwegian women's beach handball team was fined after players opted to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms during a European championship game, reported the CNN. This was a result of the team 'fighting for several years' to change rules and wear what would make them feel comfortable playing the sport. The Norwegian Handball Association (NHF) supported the team's choice.
There continues to be scores of examples where female athletes are told "it's too short" or "it's not short enough" to wear in sports.
The German women's gymnastic team at the Olympics 2021 stuck to their unitard guns. The first time they wore full-length unitards was in April this year at Europeans championships, supported by the German Gymnastics Federation. Unitards do not break any official dress code rules in gymnastics, but the German team's choice to do so broke the standards and norms of female gymnasts wearing leotards with "cut high up their thighs."
"We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear," Germany's Elisabeth Seitz of the Olympics gymnastic team said, "Because, in our opinion, every gymnast should be able to decide in which type of suit she feels most comfortable — and then do gymnastics with it."
This move is meant to be "a statement against sexualisation" in gymnastics, according to the German team.
But what can you do?
While we live in a 'secular' country on paper and religious in heart, and international sporting events or dictatorial state laws (in Europe or Muslim majority countries) do not affect us as much, there are still young girls and women in the cities and villages in Bangladesh succumbing to mental, emotional or physical abuse because what they want to wear do not align with 'culture' or tradition.
Although we cannot influence policies at the state level or international stage overnight, we can start small. If you feel concerned about your female family member's safety when they go out wearing what they choose to wear, do not tell them to cover up. Instead perhaps follow them, go out in the streets, eye down every potential harasser, spur with the harasser - basically do what you think needs to be done to change the male gaze and abuse, not the women's choice in clothes.
You can also hold your friends accountable. You can also speak up and support your female family member when she is being berated for her choice in clothes and asked to change. You can also not shame your friends or family members for covering up too much, for instance, her 'conservative' outfit for a night out or in, is still her rightful choice. You can also ask people to leave when you think they may objectify your female friends or family - or educate them - instead of asking the woman to "change your clothes, I am saying this out of love and concern."
It can be tradition or culture, it can be casual or penalties at sporting events, it can be death or ill treatment, it can be legal actions or religious beliefs, whatever it may be, it is always, undoubtedly, wrong to tell women what to wear.
The art lies in how, since time immemorial, predominantly male-authored or designed doctrines and unspoken codes of what women should wear decorums continue to exist. We have internalised these codes to such an extent that even individuals beyond the male gender attest to it.
For instance, there always has been that aunty who would say "where is your orna" - for me, the incident that stands out like one of the sore thumbs over a bruised body of memories labelled verbal harassment in Dhaka city streets is when some years ago I was standing on the road divider between Westin and Pink city shopping mall at the Gulshan 2 traffic signal.
The divider was already some feet high, in an attempt to discourage pedestrians (and jaywalkers too I hope) to exist in our affluent part of town. It was scorching hot in the afternoon, I was squinting to make sure my wobbly knee made the landing at the right time to safely make the crossing and both my hands were holding on to household things for my mother just bought from the DCC market.
At this moment, a woman's voice expressed her strong disgust and disapproval of what I was wearing. "Ai meye, orna koi?" with an even stronger demand that I make sure to wear one next time. It pales in comparison to other stories I have heard and my own first hand experiences of being told what I ought to wear, but that voice stuck.
Yes indeed, I thought, where is my orna. Somewhere in my house, it must be. Unchosen and unloved for the day because I exercised my right to choose what I wear. Don't be that aunty or random stranger on the street. Do better.
There are so many ways to counter and change our mentality and actions. And there are so many Neha Paswans still out there, who are alone in their stance. What we can do is take our small steps and hope the butterfly effect of our actions can save Neha Paswans, if not today, then at least someday, and soon.