The plethora of protests unfolding at various places in Tamil Nadu, including the hallowed halls of democracy like courts and state Assembly, ostensibly to condemn a certain perceived disrespect shown to the humble dhoti, may seem to be at best an exercise in much ado about nothing and at worst an attempt at regression.
But one is compelled to welcome the exalted status to which the dhoti, also called veshti, has been raised suddenly in the state that had left the unstitched garment to flutter around the waist of the political class. Having lost its relevance in the corporate world, despite a few rich men draping it with pomp, the traditional attire had no aspirational value or class and invoked only political power. Now it has been yanked out of the mire and sought to be bestowed the status of “state dress”. It has also suddenly dawned on the people that the Tamil Nadu Cricket Club that refused to let a dhoti-clad Madras High Court judge and also a senior advocate pass through its gate, triggering the outrage, has not yet come out of its colonial hangover. So even members of the judiciary are up in arms though they follow a strict dress code in courts.
Overlooking the fact that the guards stopped the dhoti-clad legal luminaries at the gates because the club has a dress code, enshrined in its by-laws, and not because the garment was seen as lowly or as one with a Tamil connection, everyone is angry. Also in the three decades between the latest episode and the turning away of another distinguished Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer at the very same gates for the very same reason, there was not even one occasion to pull up the club for being so “anti-Tamil” in its dress code. Like the dhoti, whose endearment with most of its educated and elite wearers has become occasional, the collective passion to uphold its honour gets evoked only occasionally. But the occasion has come.