Updated: Jul 24, 2020
A commentary on the question must a traditional dress code be a necessary criteria for us all in the 21st century. 1st posted on 16/09/2018
September 16, 2018
The other day I saw a meme of a certain Head of Executive of a State which ended on a short clip by another politician saying, “Hum karein bhi toh karein kya, jayein bhi toh kahan jayein?” This is the exact condition of Bodo women in an event of an imposition of a dress code. Dress codes and identity are pretty much linked in many societies. Ours is no different. Dress codes are not bad in itself. Different cultural organizations, professional groups maintain a dress code for specific occasions. Dress codes by itself are not much of a big deal in the event of a social gathering, cultural function, etc. However, not conforming to the dress code usually provoke whispers, disapproval and ‘tch-tch’ portraying a touch of elitism. Having said that, does the code apply equally to the genders? I do not think so; while women will be specifically decreed to wear a certain type of dress, men often (read every time) get away with an unflattering ‘any decent wear’. To impose a dress code on a diverse population with diverse socio-economic backgrounds will spawn different sets of problems .
The reason for writing this short snippet is due to the recent calling out of artistes of the community (of course in the social media, but still relevant) for wearing a certain type of Dokhona described as ‘unoriginal’, ‘dokhona in danger’, ‘akin to tablecloth’, etc. The articulation of such arguments in itself exhibit a case of momentary activism amalgamated with nationalism. My arguments will be two pronged; a.) Dokhona is not in danger due to these ‘unoriginal’ dokhona; b.) the issue which is created is gender biased.
Dokhona should theoretically have been in danger if the Dokhona wearers are less in number. However, Dokhona is already very popular. The fact that there are product variation in the market of the same item, Dokhona, shows the immense popularity and market for that item and also goes to show the variety of its consumers (also the fact that manufacturers from outside the area vie for the same market shows that there is profit to be made in this market).
Dokhona is not in danger when a different material/design/colour is used to weave it. Our dresses have changed over the years. Our marriages has changed and so has the material in the attire that is used. The drape, at least, in the way the phali or rigirigang is draped has changed. The raw material used to weave Dokhona is itself imported. Society has by default accepted that. There's a difference in the colour of dokhona not only in marriages but also in the 'so-called' original version. Pictorial descriptions from the colonial era portray women as wearing no blouses, but now they do. Was Aronai always part of Bodo culture? How did the colour yellow get more credence than green for example? Gamsa is also made in polyester (I've worn that before, not good if you want quick soaking). Patterns in Gamsa have changed, for instance, and instead of green colour various colours are weaved, even striped ones. Instead of calling out the wearers or the consumers it is better to look at the various lags of the traditional handloom industry and try to bring solutions to it. It must be recognized that there have been various trends in Bodo traditional attire over these years but the ‘purest’ form of Dokhona still gains acceptance and respect from all.
It is a myth to believe that artistes from among the community are promoting these ‘fake’ Dokhona which is going to lead to young generation following these trends, thereby, influencing negatively the preference for original Dokhona. The presence of Bodo entertainment right now is thriving not only through the video-sharing platform Youtube but also through mobile theatres, video film screening in the rural areas and various other formats. However, the popular form right now is through the internet and especially the Youtube. It is refreshing to find hundreds of thousands of Bodo music videos and other contents in the platform. Among the top most-viewed (above 1 million views) music videos that I came across, are Gwrbw-Khonayao Ma Dong, Fwidw Haai, Sajan Sajan, Jahang Jahang, Dwisa barnai, Fagun Fagun and other Bwisagu songs. These videos generously portray women wearing the traditional attire (barring only Dwisa Barnai and Fagun Fagun where net dokhona possibly is worn. However, the screen space given for this Net Dokhona is only a few seconds while the female artiste wears other kind of Dokhonas in the rest of the playing time in both the videos). If some of the most popular videos on Youtube are actually promoting the wearing of acceptable forms of Dokhonas then there is no point of saying that artistes are promoting Net/fake Dokhonas. It is yet another issue whether the wearing of dokhonas by artistes merely portray the larger trend in the society and not that of artistes intentionally influencing trends. The fact that traditional themed music videos garner more views than other genres, goes to show the immense demand for 'local' genres which instead inadvertently compel video producers/directors to include 'genuinely local sensibilities' into their videos debunking the idea of artistes from the community influencing the masses.
On the contrary, we don’t call out the video Sajan Sajan for its multilingual content. Does using a different language in a major festival song, not promote other ‘alien’ culture? Is it because the video has a male lead? The male artiste even wears a departmental uniform or a pathani kurta on his upper body throughout the 5 minute 16 seconds video. Guess what, these aren’t alien apparently! We tend to ignore these facts but focus more on how women are dressing and its consequences.
Bodo youth of the present generation are smart and well informed. If we analyse our cultural functions, social functions, educational functions, gatherings are replete with young generation wearing traditional dresses (except males, even the older generation males tend to brush off calls to wear Bodo traditional attire even in social, political functions, forget about whether the dresses are either proper or not; wearing only the aronai scarf as consolation). It is a different matter whether Bodo artistes influence Bodo masses (and youth) enough to want them to change the way they dress. The paparazzi culture if not non-existent is minimal to say the least.
Secondly, the problem with the issue that is created is that, discussion of traditional attire is especially done targeting a specific gender and not the other. For example women's attire being politicised and made an identity issue (partly a by-product of the simmering Nationalism) while men's attire is not a matter of identity at all? There are claims of the other communities cold-shouldering Bodo women due to their traditional attire some decades ago. However, the issue is about being able to wear whatever one wants to wear and while doing so if one wants to represent a community, let it be.
Do we want each and every day of our lives to be dictated by dress codes? There are multitude of challenges in women’s traditional dresses. It restricts fast paced movements or while driving a scooty or a car the rigi-rigang may be the cause for an accident, or it might be fatal while descending a train or a platform, etc. Two female teenage girls had actually faced this issue when during the Puja pandal visits in the evening the traditional dupatta of the pillion rider on the cycle had accidentally knotted the wheel without warning. Some helpful people helped them from an impending danger. If girls are unsafe even in the manually run cycle imagine about machines and their mismatch with traditional clothing. Such issues also need consideration. We already have so many dress codes and if we put ourselves under such codes we are actually encouraging elitism whereby conforming to a given socio-cultural more is valued greater than mere social participation (in addition to various other psychological and sociological problems; precedents such as when calls to dress only in traditional dresses had led to forcibly cutting dresses with sharp objects in public, in broad daylight, of non-conforming females). We lament on why the newer generation is not into culture, but our arbitrariness in dealing with this issue will push them further away from culture; we need to allow them to experiment and create their own identity, of course with caution and guidance, while also respecting their individuality and personal space and freedom. Even if we seek dress codes, these codes may be maintained for certain specific traditional occasions without any form of consequences (in the event of the inability to conform). These decrees may come from respective community groups instead of a Centralist top-down approach in order to create a more democratic order, taking into account the diversity within the Bodo community each taking such stands depending on their specific needs through discussion. On the other hand, (Central) Cultural Organizations may do more to promote traditional culture and spread information on Agors and the different types of traditional attire for all the genders, etc. (such authorities taking only a prescriptive role rather than a proscriptive one). However, enforcing a dress code on any of the groups may be avoided. For example, entertainment community may be allowed to use their own dress codes without any interference from other cultural or social organizations. To caution groups of the differences between hand-crafted and industrial products may also be agreeable.