MONA AHUJA | 13 FEBRUARY, 2018
Shame on You Mr. Sabyasachi, For Equating Culture With A Sari! (Btw What About the Price of Your ‘Culture’?)
Sabyasachi said that women who don’t know how to tie a saree should be ashamed.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee said that women who do not know how to tie a saree should be ashamed, linking the garment to ‘standing up’ for ‘your culture.’ "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," Sabyasachi told Indian students at the Harvard India Conference.
“Women and men are trying very hard to be something that they are not. Your clothing should be a part of who you are and connect you to your roots,” the designer said, adding that “It’s a relationship of misunderstanding. It’s easy to wear a sari. Wars have been fought in sari. Grandmothers have slept in sari and have woken up without any folds to it.”
The designer’s comments have led to an uproar on social media, with Sabyasachi only making matters worse by responding to the criticism with a callous “I would take the same stand on men’s national clothing too.” The designer defended his comments, saying “what was intended to be a comment on celebration of our clothing history and heritage became a debate on feminism.”
Umm, no sh*t. A powerful man judging women at large for not dressing in a traditional way, invoking concepts of culture and tradition to defend the argument, reeks of patriarchy and deservedly prompts a debate on feminism.
My first objection to Sabyasachi’s comment is the false equivalence of knowing how to tie a sari with ‘standing up’ for one’s culture. Culture itself is fluid, and an amalgamation of different influences. I have deep seated respect and a fairly thorough understanding of our cultural history, yet I’m by no means a proficient sari tier. Equating my ability to tie a sari with my ability to stand up for my culture is extremely problematic, and promotes a narrow, rigid and regressive understanding of culture. Why can’t I rock a pair of jeans and a tee days on end and yet have the ability to stand up for my culture?
As someone pointed out on Twitter, saying tying a saree is essential to standing up for our culture is the same as saying Gujaratis should know how to make dhoklas or Bengalis should be able to make sandesh -- after all, all that’s part of our culture too!
The other problem with Mr. Sabyasachi’s comment is that it falls squarely within the paradigm of a powerful man telling women what to do, what to wear, what to eat, what to drink (the list goes on). I was equally outraged with Manohar Parrikar made a comment judging women for drinking beer a couple of days ago. Sabyasachi’s offensive statement is very much within the same discourse of patriarchy -- that attempts to judge women through conservative morals and dictate their behaviour.
Additionally, in a country where people have far more real problems than their ability to tie a sari, Sabyasachi’s comments reek of insensitivity and elitism. Putting the onus of the preservation of culture on the country’s women at large fails to look at the fact that far more serious concerns exist for the people of this country -- be it education, jobs, healthcare, food security, marital rape, (the list is really endless).
Why must always the onus of preserving heritage fall on women? Especially when the country fails to recognise things of more essential importance to their daily lives -- be it basic minimum wage or protection against marital rape?
And finally, the hypocrisy is a bit too much to digest. If Sabyasachi feels so strongly about all Indian women having the proficiency to tie a sari, shouldn’t he also ensure that his own creations are affordable for these same women? What’s the point of pricing your sarees upward of Rs. 1 lakh, making them accessible only to the .01% of this country, and then giving us lectures about how ALL Indian women should know how to tie a sari?