This article is an unusual and sharp critique of the Indian Saree as a garment that is intrinsically designed to enhance women’s vulnerability. We realise that some may find this view of the saree controversial and provocative. We welcome your comments and responses. -- Editor
A dress is not merely a simple piece of cloth or a medium for saving oneself from the vagaries of the weather; it connotes much more than that. It is a medium for exercising power and control. It is important to keep this in mind while discussing the saree.
How should we judge any type of dress, or for that matter any other thing, idea or institution? There should be some objective and pragmatic criteria. If we have to judge anything objectively, we have to keep our emotions aside (but keep in mind that the “Personal is Political”) and judge on the basis of pragmatic criteria.
1) For a common person, the first and foremost criterion for judging any dress is its economy. This is especially true in a country like India where, as per report of a panel appointed by the Government of India, 77% of India’s population lives cannot afford to spend more than Rs 20 per day per person. The saree fails miserably on this criterion. Wrapping of a saree generally takes 6 meters; 2.5 meters cloth is required for petticoat and minimum one meter for blouse. The total comes to 10.5 meters which is more than cloth used in making two salwar-suits or pant-shirts. Thus, the/a saree is heavy on the already empty purse of the average poor Indian.
2)Clothes are worn to protect us from the vagaries of weather. But a saree does not serve this purpose, especially in case of cold. In the dominant version of the saree, a large portion of the body, including abdomen and arms, remains uncovered. Not only does it not protect the wearer from cold, it is an obstacle in wearing other clothes which may do so.
3) A dress should be made in such a way that any person, including someone who has never worn it before, would know how to wear it - on which part of the body, which part is lower and which is upper. This is true of most daily-use outfits, like salwar, trousers, shorts, shirt, pyjama, etcetera. No one can wear a pyjama on the torso or wear upper side of it below. But can we say the same thing about the saree? Can a lay person tell which is the upper part and which is the lower part of the saree? Can one say from where to start putting it on? Actually it is not worn, it is draped.
4) A dress should be such that one can wear it easily and quickly. During my training as a police officer, there used to be alarm parades. In the dead of night there would be a shrill whistle or loud banging of a metal bell and we would have to wake up, dress fully and correctly and gather in the ground in front of the mess within five minutes. And believe me, almost all of us, except one or two sloths, used to come fully and correctly dressed. Keeping in mind that the dress of a police officer is quite complicated, containing a lot of items ranging from long shoes, socks to cap but also a lot of ornamental things like stars, badges, lanyard, name-plates, etc. However, each and every item has a fixed place where it should be worn, it cannot be put anywhere else and all are easy to wear. Most officers can therefore wear these, otherwise cumbersome-looking dress items in five minutes flat. But there are very few women who can wear a saree perfectly in five minutes.
5) Learning how to wear a dress should not require any special coaching or training. Are there coaching classes to train you to wear pants, trousers, shirts and salwars? When we were 2-3 years old, our mothers simply gave 5-6 demonstrations of locking the buttons and hooks. or tying the nada and thereafter, we would know how to do it ourselves. What type of dress requires that even an adult should need to learn how to wear it for a period of at least one to two months, and even then cannot be sure of wearing it correctly and perfectly? Not only that, more often than not, the wearer has to take the help of another person to wear the saree. In this matter the nearest item of attire to the saree is the tie, but it is not a major item of clothing but an accessory which is not worn everyday but occasionally.
6) Clothes should be such that the wearer wears them and can forget the mechanics. He or she must not have to care about every detail of how the clothes hang on the body. But can this be said about a saree? A woman wearing a saree has to be very careful all the time lest the saree fall get caught or get entangled or even get unwrapped and embarrass her.
7) A dress should be such that it gives the wearer the liberty to do his or her job freely. But instead of being able to work freely, a woman wearing a normal saree cannot even walk with ease. That is why most working women, mainly those engaged in manual labour, have either said goodbye to the saree or have modified it to such an extent that it can hardly be called a saree. In brief, a saree is not a functional dress.
8) In case of any emergency one’s clothing should be an asset and not a liability or a burden which further increases dangers. But the saree, in case of any emergency, proves to be a heavy stone tied around a woman’s neck. Think about two women, one wearing a saree and another a salwar kameez or pant-shirt, being chased by a ferocious dog or bull? In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, during flood and capsizing of boats, many women wearing a saree, who would otherwise survive, die. They are drowned simply because the saree makes it very difficult to swim or stay afloat.
9) One of the main issues faced by women in this highly patriarchal society is the danger of sexual harassment and rape. In the case of an attack, a saree becomes an obstacle that impedes fleeing the assailant. Not only that, it becomes a tool in the hands of the rapist in facilitating the rape. Most women, especially those in villages, do not wear any under garment. So, the only thing the rapist has to do is to pick the petticoat. More often than not, rapists use the same petticoat to cover the face of the woman so that she cannot easily recognize the culprit. They also often gag her with the pallu (hem) of her saree so that she cannot shout. Though a woman in salwar kameez or pant shirt may also be raped, she is in a better position to put up resistance because she can run away and escape more easily. The rapist has to untie nada (trouser-string) or unhook and unzip the pant of the victim. By the time he does this, there are better chances of someone coming along and rescuing the victim. He has nothing to cover the face of his victim or gag her unless he comes prepared, which often, is not the case. Thus raping a woman in saree is much easier. Rather, it would not be wrong to say that the saree facilitates rape.
10) Besides these emergencies, there is an increase in the occurrence of accidents. A dress should be such that it prevents accidents. But the saree is a dress with maximum capabilities and chances of accidents. Every day, there is news of sarees catching fire and women getting burnt. Cases of women falling due to the saree they’re wearing, especially while boarding a bus or a train or climbing stairs.There are a lot of cases of accidental strangulations especially those of pillion riders on two-wheelers. In year 2008 Kerala High Court advised the State government to impose a ban on women wearing sarees riding pillion on the back of motor bikes. The Centre was asked to see if it could amend the Motor Vehicles Act in this regard. Both?? the governments had to reply to the court within six weeks. A division bench comprising Justice CN Ramachandran Nair and Justice VK Mohanan, while hearing an appeal for higher compensation by an accident victim, Susamma Thomas from Kollam, observed that women pillion riders who sit sideways are more prone to falls when the two-wheelers twisted and turned on pothole-infested roads. This posture increases the risk of accidents. Here it is the saree which is preventing women to sit properly on two wheelers.
11) The washing, ironing, even folding and keeping in ward-robe of sarees is much more complicated in comparison to most other clothes like pants, shirt, salwar, kameez, shorts, jeans etc.
12) Clothes should be body-friendly and should save us from diseases. But the case is just opposite with a saree. Not only is the saree unfriendly to the body, especially skin, but it also gives rise to many diseases. According to a study conducted by Dr. Shabana and Dr.Anandan, Department of Dermatology and STD, Sri Ramchandra Medical College and Research Institute, Chennai, it is debatable whether the saree is an ideal outfit for Indian climate. To make matters worse, women wear a skirt underneath fastened securely to the waist by a cord. Various dermatoses like allergic and non-allergic contact dermatitis and dermatophytosisare more common in body folds especially when associated with increased sweating. These tight garments induce various dermatoses along the waist in females. This is often aggravated by the hot and humid climate of certain areas. The presence of skin lesions along the waistline in 140 female patients was recorded. Surprisingly, they found that most of them had some lesions over the waist, but only few of them accepted the fact. They have accepted these skin diseases as ‘normal’. This risk increases when the sarees are made of synthetic material or silk.
13) Clothes should be a means of increasing a woman’s freedom and not her restrictions and bondage. But patriarchy uses the saree for restricting the movement of women. To quote an observation from a study conducted by Susan Seymour:“... Only as they approached puberty and were encouraged to wear a saree did their behaviour begin to change. The saree tends to inhibit running around and childishantics and simultaneously symbolizes adulthood.”
14) Lastly, one of the main reasons why people wear clothes is to protect their modesty. The saree fails abysmally in doing that. The Saree in its most popular forms reveals more than it covers. So called supporters of Indian culture and staunch opponents of the skirt need to recall that the skirt only shows the legs while a saree shows the second most private parts - belly and navel.
Surprisingly, the strongest point in favor of the saree, as reported mainly by men but women as well, is that a woman in a saree looks more attractive, presentable and beautiful. More often than not, -- in place of falling into these ‘niceties’ men often straightforwardly say ‘SEXY’ .Thus in a saree, a woman is an object of desire, a thing to be presented seductively to men. But even this perception of women looking sexy in a saree is only a half truth. In a saree a woman looks older than her actual age. It is also clear from the label of ‘Girlish’ given to women wearing a trouser-shirt, jeans,T-shirt and salwar kameez on the one hand and ‘Womanish’ to those wearing a saree on other. And who can deny how obscene even a slightly over-weight woman looks in a saree? Patriarchy not only subordinates women, it creates and upholds a whole structure for sustenance of that structure. As mentioned earlier, this subordination takes various shapes - discrimination, violence, oppression, exploitation, control and insult. And strangely the saree contains all these elements of subordination in varying degree, some in lesser and some in greater quantity. Thus the saree is one of the most perfect and successful tools of patriarchy. Michel Foucault once said that the ultimate form of power is exercised when the one upon whom the power is being used does not even realize it. It seems that in the act of wearing the saree, this has happened with women in India.
i find the topic very important from the perspective of women, who want to live an autonomous and independe3nt life. i have always felt that though i did not look pleasing to many who appreciated me in a saree, saying i look so nice etc., i preffered wearing salwar kameez and pants nevertheless. i felt i did not always want to appear beautiful at the cost of my freedom to move. sometimes when i am in a relaxed mood and have time to wear the saree, I enjoy it myself too. but i always feel that the saree inhibits my freedom, my movements and my deep urge to be challanging circumstances rather than being docile. so i totally agree with the spirit of the article, though i find some mistakes in some of the comments: it is not only economics the formost criterion for judging any dress. it is other criteria like aesthetics too. secondly i know many rural women, who can wear a saree in five minutes and feel totally comfortable in tight petticoats and blouses, even while sleeping at night. but whether it is good for their health i too doubt. lastly a saree covers the over weight woman much better tahn any other dress, we have to acknowledge this.
i would suggest that we do not contribute to anti-saree culture per say. i am proud of saree as being an example of our ancient culture and yet i do not want to promote the culture of being forced to wear it always!unfortunately many (rural) girls, after marriage, have to wear it.
asha kachru On Date:
28 Feb 2012
This is such a ridiculous article I don\'t know where to begin. The author seems to be unaware that there are many ways of wearing the sari including tucking it between the legs much like a dhoti. The sari is a version of the men\'s dhoti and as such is one of the most androgynous and versatile garments. If it impeded movement, how could women perform Bharata Natyam, one of the most vigorous dance forms, in a sari?
A practised wearer can put it on in under a minute (I can do this myself). I have run and climbed on to DTC buses in saris with no problem. It\'s also perfectly designed for Indian weather as it allows air to circulate freely between the legs. As for rape, does the author have evidence that fewer women are raped in areas where other dresses are worn, e.g. Africa, the Middle East? As for so-called modesty, every culture exposes some parts of the body and hides others (this is just cultural difference). By the author\'s logic we should all be covered head to toe in a shapeless garment.
I wear many types of dress and I find the sari the most economical. Most saris easily last a lifetime; unlike tailored clothing, they do not cease to fit if one gains or loses weight. This would have been even more the case in pre colonial times when blouses were not worn in many parts of the country. I find trousers extremely cumbersome (always slipping down the waist, needing a belt) or becoming too tight even after a meal, and very warm in summer.
As for accidents, the same is true of any flowing garment, e.g. the dupatta. Ever heard of Isadora Duncan who was strangled by her scarf?
And finally has it occurred to the author that not just men find women in a sari beautiful? Many women like to look attractive and beautiful and also find other women attractive in saris, notwithstanding the author\'s very limited ideas about feminism.
Ruth Vanita On Date:
28 Feb 2012
I posted a comment but it has not appeared.
Also wanted to add that the author's notions of prices are entirely wrong.
Cotton and synthetic saris are available at very low prices in any city or village market. Generally much cheaper than a full salwar kamiz suit
Ruth Vanita On Date:
28 Feb 2012
After reading this insightful piece by Police Officer Poonia, I have a small question. Was poor Rajbala dressed in a saree as policemen like Shri Poonia chased her around Ramlila Maidan while bashing her to death?
Bapa Rao On Date:
28 Feb 2012
It is said ‘Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder’. It is pathetic that the author of the article does not recognize the finer nuances and style quotient of the Indian dress ‘the SAREE’. I strongly disagree with his comments for the following reasons:
1. To start with, which other dress can stand in front of the vibrant hues of a ‘saree’? How boring the limited shades of the ‘so called’ western apparels ?
2. Even Mrs. Indira Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCO, looks much more elegant in a saree rather than in her ‘corporate’ attire.
3. The late Mrs. Indira Gandighi, Former Prime Minister of India, gave a new definition to the elegance of the saree. Her impeccable way of wrapping the saree aroused applauds across the globe.
4. As regards the ‘sex appeal’ of the saree, one can cite the example of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress – a foreigner, indianized over the years, looks ‘dignity personified’ in the neatly folded saree with a long blouse. Amidst her whole day rallying, she never gets cluttered in handling her saree. Thus, it is up to the person as to how to ‘carry’ oneself in a given dress.
5. With regard to time taken in wearing a saree, Ms. Deepiaka Padukone, the Bollywood Acress, well known for her very good dress sense, says that she can wrap a saree in just ‘30 seconds’. Thus, it is a matter of getting attuned and it comes over a period of time.
6. While dealing on the subject, it reminds the ‘malfunctions’ that occur with short dresses on the ramp show much to the embarrassment of the models and the hype of the media. The various channels of the television churn out such incidents throughout the day much to the amusement of the viewers. How one can forget the awkwardness of Ms. Carol Gracias in one such incident ?
7. It is hilarious to read about ‘raping of a woman in saree’. In fact, it is those girls/women abysmally ill clad in short dresses provoke such incidents. There are many ‘Poonam Pandeys’ to tickle the adrenalin of the youth.
8. Accidents do not take place only with women in sarees as pillion riders. Even girls in Salwar Kameez with long dupatta face such situations.
I work in a national resource organization well known for its international programmes organized throughout the year with participants across the globe. Whenever these women participants land in India, they capture the magic woven around a saree and its elegance. They invariably end up in purchasing a lot many sarees to carry with them.
Finally, from the article, one gets a feeling that anything can be justified under the sun. However, in my opinion, the author miserably failed in his attempt.
Lalitha Krishnan On Date:
29 Feb 2012
Dear Poonia Sir,
More than a comment, I would call it an intriguing statement...
1. Saree is not a functional Dress:
I would give examples from the experiences in Bihar, The kind of work, women traditionally have been engaging in, did not require the ease for which the elaborations are given in the above article. Cooking on Mitti ka Chulhas, Sex for procreation more than pleasure or Vice versa as I am still not clear on this, bringing up children (breast feeding), other internal house hold chores.
2. Saree facilitates Rape:
No doubt about it, the ease and time-efficient manner, with which it is done can also explain the fact as why saree was chosen as a dress. The rural people in Bihar have different way of locating their sleeping place in the houses in general. Male sleep outside with other male and female will sleep inside the houses with other females except for the initial marriage years. Children of course sleep wherever they wish to sleep before they get married. Therefore, the time that rural people get for sex is usually lesser than normally these days when u have all the time to uncloth the female partner. Unlike, other seductive and entertainment programs, there were very few options available with people in the old times for entertainment,therefore sex turned out to be the one for male and only one for female. Saree would act to accelerate the seduction process to engage in sexual intercourse.
Women Drown Into floods In UP and Bihar:
As I know the fooding habits, agricultural practices, festivals etc have been based on the kind of topography and climate the place has. I would wonder if people did not know about women drowned because of it.
There are various political and economic reasons given as political economy of saree. I would have a different take on it. Patriarchy definitely is reinforced when talked about wearing saree but in terms of controlling the sexuality of women. Women were not allowed to go out alone, everyone knew that they are vulnerable to sexual assualts wearing saree made them more vulnerable therefore requiring men support for security, limiting their mobility and actions/functions.
All said in the context of the pre-LPG times. In the modern Era, when thoughts of liberty and freedom have emerged, it has demanded the mobility of women by enforcing the concept of women being the production factor/human resources. Optimising the resources would require women to work, if they work they would require different clothing. If women work, different kind of family concept would emerge. Time, place and space in the men and women relationship would change. Lastly, saree woud be considered as a deflator to economy.
Thanks for bearing with me, I can not be as academically sound as you but logical for sure.
Vivek Anand On Date:
29 Feb 2012
A Saree – Oh! the six meters of femininity, elegance, beauty, grace….is a stupendous discovery by some genius. And, generations after have introduced variety (available in an amazing range of fabric) to suit perhaps every mood of an India woman….naughty, somber, sad, happy, contented, high spirits and many more. It can adapt itself to a funeral with as much ease as it can to a high profile party.
I would call the article ‘the Political Economy of the Saree’, the work of a pseudo intellectual, trying hard to justify his stand with arguments that are shallow and arbitrary.
He begins by saying that ‘a dress is not merely a simple piece of cloth or a medium for saving oneself from the vagaries of the weather, it connotes much more than that. It is a medium of exercising power and control. It is important to keep this in mind while discussing the saree.’ And, thus from here begin a series of contradictions. Immediately in his third point, he says that a saree does not protect a woman from the vagaries of nature and that clothes are worn to protect one from the vagaries of nature. Which piece of cloth does? How many pieces of clothes are designed with that intention? Do skirts protect you? Pants and shirts or our good old salwar kameez perhaps just imparts 2% more protection than a saree. And, may be Mr. Poonia has never seen a saree clad women very sophisticatedly accessorized with a coat, a cardigan or a pullover. See the potential of a saree here- how well it gels with any winter clothing. One cannot definitely wear a formal pant-shirt with an Indian cardigan on it. A saree allows that and keeps the grace factor intact.
The article questions the purchasing power of the 77% of the Indian population, earning Rs. 20/ day/ person, that cannot afford to buy a saree which accounts for a total of 10.5 meters of cloth (6mts + 2.5 mts + 1 mtr). Perhaps he means that they cannot buy a saree but can afford a salwar kurta or similar such dress. My dear, people in that bracket cannot afford to buy any piece of clothing; they primarily depend on donations. As for the 10.5 meters, how many poor have you seen matching their petticoat and blouse with their sarees. Well, it’s easier to mix ‘n’ match in a saree as the petticoat is not visible and a black, maroon or a white blouse practically goes on all sarees, irrespective of the colour, for folks in this bracket. So isn’t it more economical than a salwar kurta, chaniya choli or any other popular Indian women’s outfit. It’s said that a saree is not as easy to wear as a pyjama or a pair of shorts. I really wonder how do I react to this. Who can compare a saree with a pyjama, shorts or even minis, for that matter. How can these pieces of clothing be our parameter for judging a saree. Haven’t we all seen saree clad rural women and labourers breast feeding their young children with such a lot of ease and looking so very endearing. That’s the beauty of a saree. It has its grace and elegance precisely because of the potential that it holds. Why should a man decide whether it’s easy or cumbersome to wear. Please leave it for the women to decide. All you can remember is the potential that a saree holds – it can be draped in as many styles as there are states in India. And, that’s not easy. And, why should it be? Can a pant – shirt, shorts or minis be worn in so many different styles. Also, it does not take one to two months to learn how to drape a saree. If that’s happening with someone, I am sorry to say, the person is a slow learner and even two months would not suffice. Barring a few highly irregular ones, the rest do so in 3 to 4 minutes flat without help. (On a lighter note) even if help is required in some cases, it’s so nice because it brings down the men on their feet – it’s normally the husbands who do so. The point to note here is that it takes the same time, if not less, than what a man takes to wear his pant and shirt. A woman wears it and does forget the mechanics because there are some tricks of the trade which every woman knows and doesn’t feel the need to share. She can be just as comfortable, running, sitting or walking in a saree as in any other attire. And, yes on being chased by a ferocious dog, a woman in a saree would be just as comfortable running as a woman in any other attire and more than the one in minis or skirt. It doesn’t come in the way at all. Also, how many times do such incidents happen. It’s illogical to demean a saree on the basis of such childish imaginary situations. Also, how many women who have unfortunately been raped were in sarees. When a woman resists such an act, she doesn’t care about which way her attire is going. All she does is to protect herself. It’s a baseless argument and again an evolution of the very creative mind of the writer. Till now, the moral policemen of the country had been advising women not to dress up provocatively and what they meant by this was may be the western styles of dressing, so as to avoid miscreants. Now here’s an argument that tells woman not to wear sarees as they would be making it easier for the rapists. It’s another question that the author has no idea about the ferocious mindset of a rapist but the question that bothers me is what should a women then wear? Self defense and taking preventive measures to avoid untoward situations is alright but then deciding your daily dressing with factors such as rape and all in mind, does call for some introspection on the part of the author. It shows a very chauvinistic male attitude.
A saree has also never been a reason for a woman for falling off a two wheeler. Accidents happen for women clad in other kinds of dresses also. It was amusing to read this argument.
Please note that sarees are very body friendly, they do not lead do allergies in any way. Even a salwar kameez cannot be worn without tying the thread. More than 65% of the male population does that in states like U.P., Bihar and may be some others as well. They are not so used to the idea of ‘Jockeys’ or ‘Lux Cozi’ there. So by that argument well over 90% of the Indian population suffers skin allergy. How comical!!!
How many men would say that a woman is an object of desire in a saree. Indian men are not tuned to consider the midriff as an object of desire, may be because they have grown up seeing their mothers and aunts that way. But yes, a saree can make a woman look very sexy and what’s wrong in that. It’s actually our faulty mentality. For us the definition of an Indian woman is ‘a siddhi saddhi homely girl with no desires and aspiration’. Why can’t an Indian woman want to look sexy. Why can’t she drape her saree artistically or club it with a designer blouse. Let’s stop typecasting the ‘Indian Woman’. It’s some queer thinking that’s made the author derive whatever he does. As alleged, an overweight woman can never look obscene in a saree. The wide range of fabric come to her rescue and an intelligent woman need not be told this. Women enjoy wearing a saree, it makes her feel good, happy and content. Now if a man believes that that’s form of exploitation and discrimination, that’s again one of his misplaced thoughts and so be it….why should women worry about it coz a man would never know how it feels to be in a saree.
julie Shah On Date:
29 Feb 2012
i am really surprised at the reaction of most of the commentators here why have they felt so agitated? it sounds nearly so as when we talk about the burqa. i really feel here is someone unconventional, showing solidarity to us in our vulnerabilities.i still feel it is important to acknowledge how a dress like a saree of which everyone in the world talks only in a positive context, has been exposed as to how it limits us women in our movements. i can not at all agree with the commentator here saying that she feels totally free in a saree. it is a fact that you cannot move as easily in a 6 meter saree as in a punjabi dress. of course the maharashtrian women workers in their 9meter long sarees may be feeling a bit more secure but nevertheless it is a big burden to carry 9 meters of cloth on your body on a hot day which is the norm in india. i have realised it in hot summer days that i prefer to wear very light malmal like covers on summer days and not the long saree. that is just a compensation for not being able to wear a bikini and stay in the swimming pool most of the time as they do in the west in summers. i wish we could afford it here in India too.
as i have mentioned in my earlier comment it is true that some statements made by the author are not totally right e.g. the time required to put on a saree or the price of a saree, but the other point made by him is still valid.
the only thing that is disturbing me now is the question put by one bapa rao in which he calls mr poonia a police officer who has chased rajabala in ramlila grounds (baba ramdev event?)to death. please clarify if it is true.asha
asha kachru On Date:
29 Feb 2012
The saree is set to be a garment of choice for most empowered girls and women and here is why...
Its true a saree is difficult to wear and function in. Thus it is worn twice a month or max three times.
And I love it.
It is a part of my identity as an Indian woman.
I could dress only in pants and other convenient garments.
Yet I choose to wear a saree when I have the comfort of transport and activity.
Should young girls under 16 in rural areas be compelled to give up a saree in favour of pants or a skirt, which incidentally can be upended when the desire to rape overcomes some innocent man passing by.
I feel naked in a short skirt and only partially clad in a longer skirt. I feel modern and liberated in pants and yes my footwear is more comfortable all the easier to run and walk and dance in.
The saree is set to be a garment of choice for most empowered girls and women. As for those who are compelled to wear it from ill intentions, I am sure this is only one part of the burden they bear.
The author is railing against the saree and has enumerated all the cons. So be it.
To empower women, we must first dress her in garments, so the external becomes a mirror to the internal. Incidentally the girls who wear the saree to work, domestics and all tie it beautifully and wear it with dignity and with flowers in their hair and I think see it as a sign of their status in society.
Many pros & cons to be discussed further.
Bindu Tandon On Date:
01 Mar 2012
Very interesting and apt.
NIkhat On Date:
01 Mar 2012
All Of Six Yards: इसमें तो है सारी बात !
I went for a walk fulminating over an article in which Vidya Balan's wearing of saris during her public appearances was portrayed as a disturbing issue for Bollywood's fashionistas. Of course, Bollywood has popularized the ball gown and the dress and at any given point in time, malls in the metropolis abound with women dressed in frocks. For a lot of women, the frock conceals age, highlights well toned and maintained figures, provides cool comfort and probably meets with M.S.Poonia's requirements of being able to get clothed in under five minutes. M.S. Poonia is the author of a piece "Political Economy of a Saree'', published in Manushi. Nona Walia was probably still unfocused after the Holi haze when she opined that Balan was trapped in a sari, because surely leading ladies in Bollywood aspire to be actresses first and clotheshorses later?
Manushi's editorial decision was definitely influenced by the extended North Indian Winter chill. Manushi's Editorial damage control after reader outbursts is decidedly stranger. It wonders whether the responses to the article would have been as aggressive if MS Poonia had been " a female feminist instead of being a male one." For starters, Poonia doesn't sound like a male feminist. He recalls the Police Officer from the South who opined that women dressing in anything other than sari were inviting rape. The only difference between Poonia and The DG from Andhra is that the former is convinced that saris promote easy access to rape, and are obstacles to escaping pursuit by ferocious animals and death by drowning. What a relief that both these cops are not invested with portfolios to supervise women's dressing because between the two of them they have in effect denuded the female populace of all items of clothing, providing substance to the belief that men constantly undress women in their imagination.
When Shashi Tharoor, of the clipped Stephanian English and Page Three elan wrote an epitaph on the sari as a dying garment, he was forced to withdraw the ill conceived obituary, reeling under the pallu backlash. Many women have their saris and love them too, and the stretch of sari wearing is not to be undone either by suave Tharoors or police officers who are fully dressed in five minutes to mark their attendance at the alarm parade in training school. Which brings on the curious question, " why exactly is there a "get ready in five minutes drill at police academies?' Must be part of some ancient voodoo rite because the average police officer is seldom available at any moment of unprecedented crisis within the half hour?
Take heart, Mr. Poonia. If your mother did not teach you to wear a sari, it was in keeping with heterosexual practice in patriarchal societies where daughters alone are required to learn this skill. So let us assure you that regular sari practitioners wear their saris in under five minutes, even if their mummies have not taught them to do so. No one takes two months to learn to wear a sari, because it does not involve rocket science. Wearing a sari has nothing in common with an alarm parade rehearsal since after having clothed themselves, women, unlike police officers on show, undertake a whole lot of duties most days of the week, whether they run homes, work in the fields, in factories, as manual labour or as skilled trained personnel, in rural and urban areas. And these days enough sites on the net will educate you into the mystery of the different ways of draping a sari,( yes there is more than one way to drape a sari and is region specific) and keeping it in place, which has flummoxed you. For sari-aspirants such as yourself, let us divulge a secret. The safety pin was invented a long time ago. Most sari clad women despite your fantasies do not have wardrobe malfunctions, which occur with moderate regularity in the case of stitched clothing.
Incidentally, the sari is a preferred mode of dress south of the Vindhyas, which is why your soul mate in the Andhra police wants women to wear them all the time. Saris as an informed observer has pointed out are worn in a variety of ways and without petticoats and blouses, and have a longer shelf life than most stitched garments, and often cost much less. If our grandmothers heard you on the sari's inability to cover the body, they would be baying for your blood, so try to discreetly study how women in real India wear their saris. We realize that your insights come from an overdose of the ramp.
The average sari is a longer-lasting garment and serves as a great multitasking accessory for women. Old saris are used by women as makeshift cradles to allow small infants to sleep. Grandmothers with nine yard saris would use soft fabric not only to wrap babies with, but also to mop up a whole night of baby piddle very hygienically, using fresh sections of the sari each time. Imagine the districts under your patrol without this environment and baby friendly technology. Our streets and drains would choke with disposed-off diapers and Johnson and Johnson would be producing mountains of diaper rash creams with no room to stock any other cosmetics.
Did you know Mr. Poonia that women in Bengal handcraft quilts and bedsheets for infants with old cotton saris, because they are so soft? Are you aware that the exquisite craft of Kantha came into being because women worked with coloured yarn from old saris within households to create aesthetic baby sheets? So the next time you see a dupatta or a kurta with kantha work, stand up and salute the sari. Saris double up as handkerchiefs and sunshades.Sometimes(surely you must have seen hindi films,) pallus are torn up to serve as very efficient instant bandage-strips.
Your doctor friends must also be aware of contact dermatitis that can result from tightly tailored clothing , metal accessories ranging from wrist watches to spectacles , synthetic garments and shoes for example?
Have you all made any comparative study? If not, refrain from unleashing unfounded fears upon an unsuspecting populace with your skewered data from 140 women. You could shelter meanwhile under a jaipuri cotton quilt made from a mul sari or alternately use a traditional double sheet(the dohar) which also devolves from old saris expressly stitched for cool comfort.
And Mr Poonia, overweight and obese people on an an average are that way because of ill health and poor lifestyle choices. Ideally both men and women need to remain fit , not simply to measure up to your aesthetic standards but because of the benefits of great health. For the record, men and women who are fit look better in anything they wear, irrespective of whether it is saris or khakhi uniforms.
There are many terrible things about patriarchy. One of them is that many men still presume to opine authoritatively about what women should wear, and many women rush to defend such men and extol their thinking. However Mr, Poonia, with apologies to Susan Seymour, isn't it unfortunate that there is no garment to measure the development of a male from puberty to adulthood? Or does this never happen? I am confident that Foucault would have intuitively responded to the sari and understood that each weave has its own history, and that each sari tells its own story. We wear sarees Mr. Poonia, because they are there!
Ratna On Date:
11 Mar 2012
Instead of arguing on the points that have been presented in the article, I would say that time will tell if the saree survives as a common mode of dress for Indian women in another 50 years. That ofcourse would not merit or demerit any of the arguments either made by the author or the commentators, it will simply reflect reality.
Nita On Date:
20 Mar 2012
The author is completley unaware of the historical evolution of the sari drape. Historically, it was worn as two price cloth, one for the lower half of the body (more like the modern Lungi worn in south India), with a disjoint second half that covered the breasts of a woman. Over time, it evolved into a lengthy cloth that is woven and draped quite artistically and with a style that varied extensively with the geography. The equivalent of this for men was the popular Dhoti - worn almost with the same complexities of folding and tying. As the country had anglicized more and more, men adopted trousers and shirts earlier than women in order to into to the McCaulite/Brown Sahib tradition -a trend now emulated by women with the same socio-economic constraints as men.
As for the functionality, versatility and beauty of a sari, the limitation is your imagination, as many others have bothered to explain here.
In the national economic context, Gandhiji exhorted everyone to wear Swadeshi and saree fitted well into that ideology. Tailored and factory made clothing were owned by large textile businesses (once in Manchester and later in Bombay and Ahmedabad) and sought to systematically destroy the livelihoods of wonderful artisan communities throuhout India. Even today, this culture and craftsmanship is more evident in the making of sarees than any other good.