A reputed mall in Kolkata allegedly denies entry to a man simply because he was dressed in dhoti; a post on this goes viral and becomes national news. This reminds me of a very similar episode that happened about a year ago, which, of course, did not get even half as much attention, except a few angry emoticons and shares – my father was denied entry into a niche club of the city because he was dressed in kurta pyjama, for whatever reasons considered to be a violation of the club rules! I’m also reminded of hundred other such episodes that happen every other day, with different people in different situations in different ways. But, what is the common thread? It happens only in India (pun intended!)
Let’s travel back in time a little and revisit some historical events! Over 150 years ago, a certain Englishman named Lord Macaulay declared – “We must[,] at present do our best to form a class[,] who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” And, he did it precisely by introducing English as the medium of instruction for higher education in India. Interestingly, Wikipedia also identifies ‘Macaulayism’ as a term, defining it as ‘the conscious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system.’ Good Lord! Macaulay was to the Indians what Hitler was to the Jews. While the latter killed bodies, the former murdered our spirit. What else explains the continuous disrespect of Indian cultural elements by Indians themselves! Language, dress-code, lifestyle, and sometimes even values; there is a sense of rebellious pride in negating and demeaning that which is an integral part of our national identity. Of these, I find the disrespect of Indian attire one of the most absurd and illogical act. It lacks even basic intellect. Historically, not allowing Indians in some clubs and similar places was a deliberate decision by our ‘rulers’. Well, why not! The British wanted to maintain their superiority! But even decades after being free from the British clutches and years after being nurtured by Indians, these places abide by rules, which advocate discriminatory colonial mentality.
Some places mention the ‘proper’ dress code, which makes it convenient for them to later plead ‘not guilty’ of any ethical violation, since the rule is ‘clearly mentioned’. But, is it really about just the violation of a rule? Doesn’t something sound terribly wrong with the very fundamental logic, its relevance and the context behind the rule? A rule made by corrigible humans is not nature’s law and hence, is not beyond the periphery of being challenged. A lot changes over time, shouldn’t even degrading rules change?
Some clubs take the plea that dress code ‘maintains decorum of a modern club!’ How logical it is to assume that a formal Indian traditional wear can never qualify as something ‘modern’, ain’t it? Note that we’ve been served several interesting definitions of ‘modern’ by so many capitalist consumerist platforms and the idea being advocated, when people are denied entry in traditional Indian formal wear, is that people dressed as such are not sophisticated, well-behaved, educated, or cultured enough and hence, unfit for such places! Hilarious, isn’t it? So, people like my father and that gentleman, who was denied mall entry, who are perhaps more comfortable in Indian outfits, should know that they are ‘not entitled’ to the recreation these places offer unless they change the way they dress. Unlike my father, this gentleman knew the English language and that saved him! Yes, the issue is deeper than just following the Brits. It is about the cultural associations we have created. Like, a certain dress or language is cooler or smarter than the other.
The episode involving my father, a septuagenarian, happened on the eve of the 70th Independence Day! The one in the mall happened exactly a month before the momentous day! We may hoist the Tricolour, play ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ on a loop, shout ‘Vande Matram’, take selfies with the Tricolour painted faces; but it is mere tokenism. None of this helps us fight the slavery that we face (and sometimes advocate too), which is deeply embedded in our society.
By- Supriya Baid, The writer is an advertising professional, a trained Odissi dancer, a stage anchor and a former Radio Jockey from Kolkata. Juggling with multiple fields of creativity, she loves to express on social-cultural-psychological subjects, sometimes on stage, sometimes on paper.