Raveena Tandon's sari tweet: Why politicise a garment that's so inclusive?

Neerja Deodhar

Jun 10, 2017 18:10:35 IST

Saris are an extremely personal aspect of the lives of Indians, whether you wear them frequently or only on occasions. Irrespective of whether you tried one on as a child or much later on in life, you are bound to cherish the experience of wearing one for the first time. Attached to them are connotations of several kinds — the gentleness of a grandmother, the comfort exuded by a mother, the grace of a lover, the respect that a police woman commands, or the dignity of a teacher. This is what makes them special even for those who do not wear them; the memories of the people close to us also include the memories we have of them wearing this nine-yard long piece of clothing.

While considered sensual, saris are also considered "formal" and "proper", with several bureaucrats and women in politics establishing a disposition of power by wearing them. Saris are a symbol of protest too, and are donned to question gender norms and to catch the attention of heads of states. In the context of the kind of politics that surrounds this cloth, Raveena Tandon has chosen to air her views about it:

Raveena says that she may be branded communal, a Sanghi, a bhakt, or even Hindutva icon for openly displaying her love for saris. This perhaps stems from the assumption that taking pride in anything Bhartiya — from cows, to the army, to our villages, and even customs and traditions — makes you a "bhakt" or "Sanghi". Perhaps she has faced such discrimination in the past, for airing her views on these subjects.

Tandon's interpretation of how people will react seems forced, as if it was meant to illicit a reaction from people who disagree with her politically. There's also an implication that only Hindu women wear saris.

Mother Teresa wore saris. She was a Christian missionary. Indian Jewish women don this outfit during holy days and in synagogues. My cook, a practising Muslim and South Indian who has said her prayers in our home, also wears saris.

Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar wear saris, and I hardly think anyone would label them 'bhakts'.

I agree with Raveena on one count, though: We do live in times when snap judgments are made about individuals based on a single tweet or picture. We also live in an era where wearing a sari allows women whose idea of equal rights is not linked to the ability to wear "short" clothes to be feminists. It empowers those who are born male to be at ease with an identity that they feel more comfortable with. It makes scores of women feel sexy about themselves, irrespective of whether they're a size 0 or size 8.

At such a time, in such a politically charged world, Tandon's remark smacks of self-victimisation and unnecessary politicisation. Why reduce such a dynamic piece of clothing, which is so inclusive, to a means to garner attention (in the form of hate and trolling) you would receive for 24 hours?

Women and men are striving hard to fight against people's tendency and urge to correct and slut-shame individuals for their choice of clothing, whether it is Fatima Sana Shaikh wearing a bikini during Ramzan or Priyanka Chopra picking a knee-length dress for a visit with Narendra Modi. Why would you want to undo the good that they have managed to achieve when it comes to this narrative?

The sari can mean what you want it to, and that is what makes it such an iconic garment. It so sad, Raveena, that you even thought that wearing one would imply this.

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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2017 18:52:00 IST