The blouse over sari conundrum
Taslima Nasrin

The return of Taslima Nasrin

  •  
  •  

In a Bangladeshi Lux Channel I Superstar Competition, a girl wore a blouse over her sari. Girls, these days, usually wear the sari over the blouse. I quite liked the idea. I'm curious as to exactly who came up with it – was it the girl or the fashion designer?

Wearing  the petticoat over the sari might look nice as well, or maybe even tying the petticoat over the bust while wearing the sari as a skirt, keeping the blouse as bajubandh (armlet).

Clothes can be worn in a number of different ways, the trend of wearing a petticoat itself is quite new, as is the trend of wearing a sari with a kuchi (pleat).

When exactly did the sari arrive in our region? There was a time when both men and women used to wear the dhuti. Women used to wear the lungi like the men in South India. In ancient India, women didn't cover their chests at all, or when they did, they would use a scarf or a brassiere.

The pieces of clothing would be unstitched, as was the tradition among Hindus back then. I don't know exactly why but stitched clothes were considered unholy. The sari gradually emerged from the dhuti. Back then the term sari was not used, it was called a sattika. The sanskrit word sattika gave way to sati, sati to sadi, and finally sadi became sari.

In the 17th century, Odisha saw the emergence of the fishtail style which went something like this: the legs were wrapped in a dhuti and the end was draped over the shoulder like a fishtail, the tail was the aanchal (area). The dhuti for women slowly evolved into the sari.

The blouse and petticoat came about after the arrival of the British. The Muslims had brought the ghagra, and the petticoat was inspired from this ghagra. Our history of the sari is in fact India's history of the sari. The Hindus were our preceding men and women. We were not born as a Bangali race in 1971; this Bangalee race has been around for millenia. Those who know of the evolution of the sari should have no qualms about any succeeding alterations in this attire.

The predecessors of our preceding women used to go naked or cover themselves with  bark or animal skin, after which they started wearing clothes. Us women from this day and age are wearing the aanchal over the blouse, but that does not mean it is going to be a permanent stand for the attire, this too will pass and a new style will emerge.

People have always and will continue to come up with new and innovative ideas. If women are wearing the blouse over the sari that's fine, if you don't like it, you do not have to wear it just like I am not going to. I would have if I was slimmer. I have never conformed to contemporary fashion. My preference in fashion can be phrased as “whatever I like,” – the pinnacle of casual wear.

I rarely iron my clothes and tend to put on anything I find close at hand, shirts, pants, shorts, t-shirts or saris, but mostly cotton saris. These days I stay away from salwar kameez and skirts, I don't care for feminine clothes much. I don't find the sari “feminine” at all, instead I feel salwar kameez and skirts are much more feminine.

The sari does not even slow me down; I maintain the same pace wearing a sari as when I'm wearing shirts, pants and shoes. A sari is feminine you say? I ask, did men appear feminine when they wore dhutis? The categorisation and subsequent discrimination of the masculine and the feminine are inventions of sexists.

In ancient Greece when men with extremely masculine personalities used to wear the toga much like a sari, did they appear feminine at all? If, starting today, men start wearing the sari and women shirts and pants, then soon enough people will say the sari is quite masculine while shirts and pants are feminine. There's nothing wrong with being masculine or feminine. It all goes wrong when something masculine is considered superior to something feminine.

No form of attire is obscene, even a complete lack of clothing is not obscene. In the Amazon jungle or the Andaman islands, when the natives walk around naked, does it appear obscene? We created the definition of obscenity; the definition is obscene, the ugly minds of people are obscene. The mind that thinks women who do not wear clothes according to the preference of men are devoid of character, is obscene.

The mind that thinks wearing short clothes is an acquiescence for rape is obscene. The mind that thinks men should wear whatever they want, but women must not, is obscene. The mind that thinks women are sexual objects, but men are not, so men should decide what women should wear, is obscene.

We all know that if someone gets naked in the midst of clothed people, that person will appear obscene. At the same time, clothes often become the cause of much obscenity. A few years ago, I spent the summer in Berlin. On an afternoon I had set out to take a swim in a nearby lake. On reaching a field adjacent to the lake right by the road side, I was shocked to witness hundreds of men, women and children sitting or lying around naked.

They were all getting a tan and taking a dip in the lake every now and then. They had brought food and water for the entire day and were eating right there as a family. I stood amongst them, clothed head to toe; everyone was staring at me wide eyed in wonder and amusement. Some eyes hinted at annoyance. Even I could tell I looked obscene.

I lowered my head ashamed of having clothes on. Just like a naked woman tries to cover her nudity with her hands, I found myself trying to hide my clothes with my hands.

Soon one by one I took off all my clothes save for my under garments. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn't take them off; some form of inner resistance held me back. It's not as if I knew someone in that field and yet I couldn't get naked in front of a field full of naked people. I had hoped I too would get a tan, and take a dip in the lake but the fact that I couldn't get naked compelled me to leave that area.

Those hundreds of naked men and women did not seem obscene to me, instead I felt obscene myself. It had nothing to do with clothes. Obscenity can emerge from clothes as much as from the lack thereof.

Personally, I believe no form of attire can be obscene. But the kind of clothes that are designed and imposed on women, burying their liberty and spontaneity  in order to remove obscenity, such as the burka and the hijab, I find extremely obscene.

Sometimes I don't understand why women should cover their chests at all: wear a bra, put on a blouse over it, a sari on top of that, or wear a dress, wrap a scarf over it and a burka on top of that. It's as if to make it so that people can't tell that women have breasts. If one can tell that a woman has breasts underneath her clothes why is it so disastrous? Noticing it, a heterosexual male might get sexually aroused. Well, let them, it's only natural, just like it is perfectly natural for women to get sexually aroused on seeing men.

But we cannot forget that in a civilised society we have rules, such as: you cannot jump on a woman just because you're aroused, you must have consent from the woman in order to engage in anything sexual. Instead of following this rule, women are forced to wear the burka. They're being marginalised in society. A human being is getting turned into a walking talking prison cell.

A man who gets aroused will get aroused whether a woman is wearing a burka or not and one who does not get aroused will not do so even if the woman is walking naked. The civilised man knows how to control desire. The uncivilised need to be made civilised. Imposing a burka on a woman denies the need for uncivilised men to be made civilised.

The society of Bangladesh still resides in darkness. Enormous bungalows, expensive cars, towering shopping malls – we have it all; all that is missing is a healthy mindset. So whenever a woman wears a blouse over a sari a heated discussion ensues. Inspite of numerous schools, colleges and universities, very few of us are actually educated. Studying in universities people become either uneducated degree holders or fundamentalist terrorists. Universities do not educate people in the true sense of the term. One must become educated through one's own efforts, using one's own intellect.

We were born in a tiny planet among billions of planets suspended in empty space. Through billions of years of evolution we have emerged from single celled organisms. Some day, we too will become extinct, much like countless other species. The universe is not concerned with the clothes on our backs; the only ones concerned are a few women-hating, despicable people.

Only obscene men find obscenity in the bodies of women. Society is riddled with people who invent obscenity in women's laughter, words, actions and behaviour. These men are undoubtedly obscene. I want obscenity to be made illegal. I want the obscenity present in the minds of obscene men to be made illegal. I want to rid the country of the ugly conspiracy to stifle the rights and liberty of women.

Print Friendly and PDF