To Wear Sari Or Not: Only Women Have The Power To Decide

Mysore Silk saree with golden Zari border Picture By: Wikipedia

Be damned if you wear it. Be damned if you don’t. Ask our dazzling mascot in Hollywood Priyanka Chopra who got trolled for wearing a “blouse-less” sari and lately Disha Patni for her sari in the song ‘Slow Motion’ from the film Bharat. For the rest, a whole generation of Indian women has been condemned to a life of utter shame for not knowing how to tie this convoluted symbol of narrow “nationalism”!

The sari controversy just keeps getting multi-folds, kind of like its own drape. But before I come to the interesting saga per se, I’d like to try and understand what gives the world and a whole bunch of misinformed Indians (unfortunately) the idea that the sari is Indian-ness personified. Who told you that? I want a name because that person needs to completely re-learn his/her history and geography to begin with, before moving on to Indian philosophy, anthropology, social science, GK and the basics of fashion.

Clarification: this is not an anti-sari piece in case you are frothing at the mouth already and have not understood the underlying context in your hurry to start trolling. It’s putting across a woman’s prerogative to “make her own decisions” and not to have shallow opinions forced on her against her own free will on such mundane matters as her dress code in a secular democracy.

Also Read: Whose saree is it? Analogy of Indian morality and loathing of western wear

As a hardcore Indian and an out-of-the-box Hindu woman, the thing I am most proud of is the fact that our country and our unique culture is inherently one of a kind when it comes wholeheartedly embracing diversity. And boy do we have diversity, from the Assamese Mekhela Chador to the Kashmiri Phiran, from the Haryanavi Ghagari to the Maharashtrian Nauvari, from the Himachali Chola to the Punjabi Salwar Kameez! The sari therefore, elegant as it may be, is NOT the generalized pan-India traditional dress so to speak. In my own community the Kumaonis, the sari is just another garment of choice, like the skirt or the pants. None of that binding traditional “thappa” on it. Also breaking news: the blouse-less sari is very much part of Indian culture! Do your googling please, before the ogling!

So let’s not just blabber out the first un-researched quote that comes out of our mouth for the sake of “likes” or “views” because I think that is what all this is about and has absolutely nothing to do with the garment phobia as such.

Look at it this way, you get up one morning and find yourself buried deep in the social media quagmire, so deep that you are invisible. What do you do? Sari shame of course! Easiest mantra to get back the eye balls. Because by now it’s quite clear that there is absolutely no connection between a woman’s Indian-ness and her sari wearing or not. Indian-ness is about tolerance, inclusiveness, broadminded self expression and complete freedom from dogmas.

This has been proven time and again and what better example than ace designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee apologizing for his insensitive “sari” comment at the Harvard India Conference.

His exact words, the ones that he regretted immediately were: “I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a saree, I would say shame on you. It’s a part of your culture, (you) need stand up for it.”

Admitting later that he was hit hard, Sabyasachi wrote, “I am sorry that I used the word ‘shame’ in reference to some women’s inability to wear a sari. I truly regret that the way in which I tried to make a point about the sari enabled it to be interpreted as misogynistic, patriarchal, and non-inclusive – this was certainly not my intention.”

Let’s get the facts right here – part of our culture is respecting another person’s freedom and I’ll definitely stand up for it!

Also Read: Weaving Entrepreneurship In Every Saree- Chitralekha Das, Sujatra Sarees

Those who made a misplaced bid to drape Indian feminism in a sari were also forced to do an immediate re-think. Among them a National Award-winning actress for example, who once quipped, “If you’re an Indian woman, you should know how to drape a saree. It’s a racket out there with people who only want to shame others in the name of propagating their culture and identity.”

Okay, I seriously didn’t get the second half of that sentence but sari to say it looks like a section has come up with a very unscientific and baseless idea of female shaming when nothing else works. Look back and see there’s no major controversy ever about kurta-payjama or dhoti wearing among Indian men. No shaming there. No off the cuff statements questioning men’s Indian-ness based on sartorial nationalism.

So what is with this sari state of affairs? Are the pseudo patriarchal purists hiding behind nine yards of cloth to provoke misplaced misogyny?

Twitter apparently “seethed” when the NYT “politicized” the sari, why hasn’t all this “poorly researched and ill-informed” sari-shaming triggered a proportional upheaval that ends such nonsense once and for all?

Can’t we all see the crass commercialization zealously hidden behind the “pallu” of parochial patriotism?

It all comes down to the freedom of choice then. Especially for women. Especially in modern India. To wear or not to wear, she and only she has the power to decide that. She does not owe any explanation to anyone for her choices. And no one, especially in today’s India, can raise questions, eyebrows or fingers at her for choosing not to wear a sari. My life, my choice. That’s that.

She deserved it for wearing revealing clothes.

She’s not sanskari enough in jeans.

She’s asking for trouble in that skirt.

She’s a slut for wearing shorts.

She’s “too old” for that neckline.

What kind of a mom is she, wearing THAT!

Shame on her for not knowing how to wear a sari!!!

This blind obsession with female clothing has to stop. NOW. Such regressive thinking has to be reigned in, Because “if men will be men” then I am not at all sari to say “women will be women” – fun, fearless, female!

Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing: Alicia Keys

Picture By: Wiki

Gunjan Pant Pande speaks her mind in her short stories, blogs, opinion pieces and poems. When not on mom duty she reads, writes, travels, watches re-runs of stand-ups, photographs, paints, knits, chats up her girl gang and cooks soul food with her twist! The views expressed are the author’s own.