Delhi Restaurant Video: Saree Or Skirt, Women Simply Can’t Escape Dress Policing

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Delhi Restaurant Video: A restaurant in a South Delhi mall allegedly stopped a woman from entering its premises because she was wearing a saree. Apparently, the restaurant only allows people wearing “smart casuals” and saree is not one. This might just be one of the most outrageous ways of cultural gatekeeping.

Journalist Anita Chaudhary uploaded a video on social media in which she is heard asking the restaurant staff why she is not allowed inside the restaurant. To which the staff replies, ” Ma’am we allow only smart casuals and saree is not a smart casual, that’s it.” To think that this statement came from a place in the national capital of India, a country that has women from every religion, caste and class wearing saree, is just bizarre and disrespectful.

Chaudhary said, “I am married. I was married in a saree. I have two daughters and my family and I love it when I wear saree. I am a saree-loving person. I love Indian attires, I love Indian culture. I believe saree is a most elegant, fashionable and pretty attire.”

Indian women have walked the red carpet, attended international conferences, office meetings and done pretty much everything draped in seven yards. That is how versatile the traditional outfit is. It can transform into a party attire to an office formal to leisurewear with not much effort. How can saree not be a smart outfit when it allows people enough room to perform pretty much any activity they want. Some women have felt confident to perform martial arts, skate, play hula hoops, play electric guitars and even do cartwheels wearing a saree.

So many South Asian women only wear saree for their entire lives, is the restaurant trying to keep its gates closed to all of them?

As per a report by the Mint, the National Sample Survey Office came out with data that showed that eight out of 10 households in India have purchased at least one saree between 2011-2012. This included women who followed Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Jain Zoroastrian, Buddhist faiths. Even if we consider just urban India, 75 percent of families bought sarees. It is a garment that has withstood the test of time. How can an Indian restaurant not entertain someone just because they are wearing a saree then?

Why does a public place even need to have a dress code anyway? Why do people need to be dressed in a certain way just so they can have fun at a pub, club or restaurant? Some high brow places which usually see the economically well-off crowd in their premises cannot deal with someone looking different. Even though a person wearing shorts or slippers can afford to pay for the meal ordered by a person in a crisp suit, they are not allowed to sit on the table. How fair is it to keep only welcome a certain class and ridicule the rest?

The video also points out how difficult it is for women to escape dress policing in India. Saree of skirts, no matter what you wear, there will be someone who would think that your clothes are not appropriate. They will use your clothes as a label to classify you- smart, homely, bold, easily available, shameless, bashful- the classification just never ends.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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