Sari, not sorry: drapes that go beyond gender and caste

Karnataka’s women cops have been told to wear khaki shirts and pants in place of saris.

Published: 05th November 2018 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2018 07:55 AM   |  A+A-

Nikaytaa Mehrotra drapes saris for people across genders and sexuality

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Karnataka’s women cops have been told to wear khaki shirts and pants in place of saris. They say the rule has been introduced as some concerns were raised about the ability of women personnel in being able to chase criminals or respond quickly when dressed in a sari. Women police officers in the city are divided over the new order, with most who are above the age of 40 uncomfortable with the idea. Sari researcher Nikaytaa Mehrotra talks to CE about the different ways in which the traditional garment can be worn.

Nikaytaa Mehrotra running a
marathon in sari shorts;
(left) an improvised sari
dress drape
 Baishampayan Ghose

Though she agrees that the way in which the sari is draped by police officials may be inefficient, she says there are other ways in which the garment can be used. “Indian policewomen wear the sari in the Nivi drape. This drape is a full-length skirt with pleats and a scarf across the chest. On the basis of only functionality, the Nivi drape is inefficient. The sari is an unstitched garment and depending on the function, it can change form. In the police’s case, the functions are agility and this cannot be achieved in the Nivi drape.”

She cites the example of Rani Lakshmibai, who rode a horse to fight the British army, all while dressed in a sari. “The Nivi drape is a recent addition to the sari trousseau, introduced to make the sari modest. However, to dismiss the sari due to one inefficient drape would be to discard all possibilities of the sari and freedom. It would be wise to allow the sari to be part of the police’s uniform in a way that serves them well and efficiently,” she adds.

Draping around age, gender, sexuality and caste

Nikayataa explains that her research helped her understand how the sari is entrenched in the politics of gender, caste and age. She says, “A year and a half ago, I got introduced to saris. It opened my eyes to how restrictive we see the garment to be. Usually, you are trying to fit into your clothes. The thought that functions most is that clothes are not going to adapt for you.”Nikayataa has come up with multiple ways of draping a sari so that it can be worn by any individual,irrespective of their gender and sexuality. She also points out how clothing has been colonised over the years. “I’ve also understood that a part of modesty has come from colonisation. Segregating people in terms of two genders is also a result of that. It’s not just about gender, but also about how open you are to discovering yourself.”

Talking about her experience introducing the garment to people across genders, she says, “I’ve draped people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay and bisexual. What I gathered was what is normal for me as a heterosexual woman, may not be normal for someone who identifies themselves differently.”
“I’ve had a range of reactions, with all kinds of comments coming my way. On social media, I’ve got reactions of people saying that the sari is a traditional garment, with some even saying that wearing it in a different way is not a part of our custom,” she says, adding that the younger generation has been more accepting. “The older generation must keep in mind that if the sari has to live on, we must allow it to live as a fluid fabric. Otherwise, it will die out eventually.”A talk and draping demonstration will be conducted by Nikaytaa Mehrotra at Lahe Lahe in Indiranagar on November 24. For more details, contact 98862-94444.

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  • Niketa Malhotra

    Thank you for the well-written article on the work I do! The name is Nikaytaa Malhotra not Mehrotra.
    6 months ago reply
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