Trouble with bare essentials
The latest regime to engage in this Sisyphean pursuit is the Assam government, which has issued sartorial guidance for teachers rather than pupils, who are more often the targets.
NEW DELHI: Not long after a conservative regime comes into power, it will bring in a dress code in some department or the other, usually those dealing with young people. The codes invariably fail, as any diktats to the young should, or are soon forgotten, but one supposes that the satisfaction to the authorities is in the attempting rather than achieving the purpose. The latest regime to engage in this Sisyphean pursuit is the Assam government, which has issued sartorial guidance for teachers rather than pupils, who are more often the targets.
Typically for dress codes, the notification issued by the state’s Department of School Education takes recourse to circumlocutions about phantoms like ‘public decency’ and ‘acceptability’ before spelling out what exactly offends it: t-shirts and jeans if worn by both male and female teachers, and leggings by female teachers.
Now of all the usual suspects targeted by BJP encyclicals, the t-shirt and the jeans get the shortest shrift. They are denied entry into temples and Parliament, frowned upon at marriages and banned on campuses. The unkindest cut of all is the proscription of denim at the altar of work. Denim was designed for work, so to deny it a status at the workplace is to repudiate its very raison d’etre.
What sin have the tee and the jeans committed that they should be barred from all manner of temples—of education, work, worship and democracy? It cannot be because they have no ‘public acceptance’, as the Assam diktat wrongly states. Aside from the saree and the loincloth, the jeans and the tee have the widest popularity among modern vestments. They are also the most democratic: they are worn by the rich desirous of appearing poor, and the poor desirous of being fashionable. They are worn by the golf pro craving to be cool and the ragamuffin wanting to be rebellious. No fabric bridges the classes quite like denim.
It is inconceivable also why the authorities should find fault with denim on the count of decency. Both jeans and tees are mostly not worn skimpy and therefore should be quite safe on most not-safe-for-work (NSFW) indices. So if the skin quotient is not the problem, then what is irking these priests, principals and moral policemen?
The truth is that the opprobrium of denim and tees owes more to the fact that they are seen as western garments, products of a capitalist civilisation that lorded over us for about, well, 90 years. Indeed, denim became the work wear of sailors of Genoa and travelled thence to the American west, where the justly revered Levi Strauss and a Nevadan tailor punched copper rivets into the pocket corners and made it famous as the sturdy blue jeans we know today.
But how did the jeans become blue? What the dress code commissars don’t know is that the blue dye that gave jeans its signature colour came from the indigo farmers of India. Had they known that denim was a product stolen from our sages by the colonisers, would they be so trigger-happy to keep it out of our temples? Instead of venerating denim alongside pushpak vimana, nuclear fusion, anaesthesia and such like, we are banishing it. Everybody can wear it. Nothing improves the wearer’s body positivity, both of men as well as women, as much as a pair of jeans. It’s a fabric with a work ethic woven into it. In fact, denim can be the democratic fabric of India that at once celebrates the toil of the farmer and the worker, and enjoins the rich and the snooty to participate in something truly imbued with India.