RSS’ family counselling programme, that will run till 2019 general elections, will instruct people on what to eat, how to conduct themselves, how to celebrate birthdays, and also what to wear. Their pan-India campaign is promoting sari as the “proper attire” for women. While the sari is a favourite of most Indian women from all walks of life, many are aghast at the concept of being told what to wear. They find this an infringement on their element of choice, and also curbing of their self-expression through attire.
Shalini Thackeray, General Secretary of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, feels the sari doesn’t need any added boost since it already is the ‘national attire’ of Indian women. “That is why we have so many variations of sari in our diverse culture. This does not mean you take away women’s right to exercise their choice. RSS should concentrate on more important issues impacting women and pertaining to health and hygiene. Making sanitary napkins an essential commodity so that it is affordable to women is one such major issue,” she says.
Designer Nida Mahmood, who loves experimenting with sari designs and drapes, finds this disturbing and a matter of controlling people and their choices. She says, “Nobody can force someone to wear a sari or jeans or whatever. We live in a democratic country. We have the right to choose what we eat or wear. This is ridiculous. Such unnecessary forced rules and ideas give reasons to the fanatical segments of the society to spread hate. Why are issues like security of women, or hunger and poverty not important to them?”
On the other hand, Sapna Khandelwal, founder of India Saree Challenge, does not agree that this is a control tactic. “If you request someone to wear a sari since it is a quintessential Indian attire, it would be very different from controlling someone. I work with an organisation that promotes wearing saris. It is such a beautiful, ancient and timeless garment. It has been talked about in the Vedas too. You obviously can’t shove it down someone’s throat but you can be a role model, so people start emulating you,” she says.