A video clip of a group of six young women, clad in their work attire—a sky blue kurta with purple suruwal and a thin purple shawl—dancing to the beats of a catchy Bollywood song, Kala Chasma, was uploaded on Tiktok on August 23.
Two days later, the group of health workers in Babai Rural Municipality, Dang, uploaded another video apologising to the audience for “overstepping the line demarcated by society” and promising to “stay within the dignity of our roles.”
The apology, however, did not come out of the will of the health workers. It was followed by a lot of character assassination and verbal abuses hurled at them, directly and indirectly.
“‘You should take them out of their job. How will such women give any services? Make them apologise.’ There were so many pathetic comments like this made on our videos,” says A, one of the health workers who was on the dance video.
“We were asked to apologise to show that we have realised our mistakes, only because our supervisor doctor was persistently receiving calls.”
Similar to the group of health workers, many Nepali women have uploaded enacting the same dance step.
None of this has sat well with the “self-proclaimed messiahs of social norms and sanskaar,” according to gender experts.
Many of those, mostly men, who consider themselves to be the custodians of morality, have not just resorted to character assassination and religious righteousness, but have also issued public threats to cancel Teej, a Hindu festival, in the upcoming years.
Experts say the latest objection is part of the continued efforts to control women’s freedom.
“When women try to create Teej as their own by gathering and dancing, these men want to control women. Surely, women can exercise their freedom but there are rules to exercise it,” says Pallavi Payal, an independent researcher and feminist. “What do they want women to be? A puppet?”
In the viral video, it is one particular hook step of the dance that has outraged social media users, who are “mostly men.”
In the hook step, women, clad in their colourful sarees and some even in their work attires, can be seen dancing and twerking—laying on all fours and thrusting their hips upwards.
Many critics of such dance steps say that it spreads disorder in society and sends the wrong message to future generations.
The choreography enacted by many Nepali social media users and content creators was first uploaded online by TheQuickStyle, a Norwegian hip-hop/urban dance crew. Their videos on Kala Chashma have amassed millions of views on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.
However, the instant women uploaded their dances on TheQuickStyle’s choreography, many have even labelled the dance moves as “bar-like” and anti-national, according to experts and social media users.
It isn’t just the health workers who were consistently trolled by the ‘moral police’.
After uploading her video as “#teejspecial” of enacting the choreography, the popular model and actress Aliza Gautam was also trolled online.
Gautam’s videos on TheQuickStyle’s choreography, albeit available online on her accounts, are no longer available for the public to comment on, as opposed to her other posts.
Uploading a compilation video of various such dances performed by women as a celebration of Teej, a Facebook user writes, “Talking about festivals and culture will have a bad effect on future generations and wrong things will be perpetuated. Please do not spread disorder in society. Looking at the activity of the past few years, there might come a situation where we have to stop celebrating this festival called Teej in the next few years.”
Gender experts, however, say it’s an excuse made by those who call themselves the vanguards of social order to ensure their control over women. In addition, moral policing is further magnified during festivals, when women are told how they should celebrate. According to them, women’s dancing has become a threat to society.
“They have objections to women dancing and they have a problem with the hook step. Had it been a Teej song which was all sad and melancholic, praising men—I don’t think they would have any problem with it,” says Payal.
“Women dancing has hurt men’s sentiments. Who has given these men the right to determine what is socially acceptable and what is not?” she asks.
Not just gender experts but also health workers find society’s outlook on this dance hypocritical. Reflecting on their days of service during Covid surges, health workers wonder how dancing then made them more competent at their jobs, but this dance makes them incompetent.
“When we danced during Covid times, they encouraged us. They said—wow, look at them taking such good care of their patients. Today, when we are having fun and enjoying ourselves, they question our ability to do our jobs?” asks A, who has requested anonymity.
“Is there any official rule about what is a dignified dance and what is not?”