#SareeTwitter: Saree As A Tool Of Revolution, Power & Politics
Shraddha Goled India
July 21st, 2019 / 6:17 PM
New trends are made and broken almost every week on social media. Some insightful and deep, and a few frivolous. No matter the nature of it, several people jump on the bandwagon and make it what it is, a trend.
One of the latest ‘trend’ that has taken social media by storm is #SareeTwitter. A lot of people on Twitter and otherwise have posted their pictures wearing saree.
Saree is one of the most recognisable pieces of clothing in India. A large part of the country wears this elegant piece, albeit in different forms. Saree also holds the distinction of being one of the oldest traditional garments of the sub-continent.
However, saree is to be not mistaken with just any other garment. It has been a strong tool of revolution, empowerment and resistance.
Politics of Saree
The origin of saree can be traced back to somewhere around 1500 BC. Since then it has become a representation of Indian heritage. Interestingly, there are at least 108 traditional wearing styles of this versatile garment.
Saree, as much as it has been representative of the elegance and culture, it has also been a strong political tool. During the independence struggle, the hand-spun saree marked nationalistic fervour, characteristic of that time. Khadi was promoted greatly by Mahatma Gandhi. It represented ‘eco-political independence, psycho-cultural dignity and socio-religious harmony’, as described by Peter Gonsalves in his 2012 book Khadi: Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion.
Women followers and other associates of Gandhi adorned Khadi Sarees which represented self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
One of the most prominent freedom fighters, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, made saree, draped in Maharashtrian Nauvari style, complete with a scarf wrapped around her head, as a symbol of revolt and bravery in her fight against the enemies.
Post-independence, India’s first and the only female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi took to Saree as an attire that exuded power and dominance.
Not just Gandhi, other leaders too have often taken to sarees and made it their signature style. Take for example Jayalalitha, for whom saree was not just a garment, but something that became part of her personality.
The same holds true for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. White sarees with narrow blue borders is a staple wear for Mamata Banerjee.
Saree For Activism
Savitribhai Phule, one of the pioneers of feminism in India, a social reformer, educationalist and poet wore saree a tool of revolt. The Maharashtra-born poet is widely recognised by her portrait in which she can be seen wearing saree in Maharashtrian draping style. She is considered India’s ‘first feminist’ and first female teacher. She fought extensively against atrocities on widows, like being forced to shave their heads, wear a simple white sari and pushed into a life of extreme austerity and celibacy.
She then, along with her husband started first women’s school at Bhide Wada in Pune in 1848 with just eight students from different castes. Considering that the societal setup was extremely regressive at that time, Phule initiative to educate women was met with a lot of opposition, with some even considering it to be a sin. Savitribai Phule would often carry extra saree while going to teach at her school, for a very peculiar reason. The reason was that mud, tomatoes, stones, cow dung and rotten eggs were often thrown at her on her way.
In 2006, an extraordinary women’s movement started at the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. Women from this region, considered one of the poorest districts plagued by patriarchal culture, took things into their own hands and formed the ‘Gulabi Gang’.
Women of this ‘gang’ wear pink saree and wield bamboo sticks. The gang works towards women empowerment and punishes oppressive husbands, fathers and brothers.
Much More than Just A Piece Of Clothing
This is not the first time that a trend of such nature has started. The #100SareePact was started in 2015 by Ahalya Matthan and Anju Maudgal Kadam to dispel the misconception of saree being an impractical, uncomfortable or awkward attire.
While speaking to The Logical Indian, co-starter of the movement, Ahalya Matthan said, “The saree has evolved from nature of the fabric to wearing styles over the history of our nation. The saree has adapted to economic, religious, cultural, industrial and even employment specific situations. The unstitched garment truly transcends and is a ‘piece of clothing’ that is much more than a garment, just from being relevant through it all in India and the sub-continent.”
Matthan said that it was the inclusive nature of saree that makes it so powerful. “The #100sareepact opened doors for The Registry of Sarees to explore the story the saree was born with across different parts of the country through weaving communities. We have so much to learn and grow from the people who bring the saree to life – the power of the saree lies in its sense of community, sustainability and identity. It is this inclusiveness that makes the saree so powerful.”
Written by : Shraddha Goled
Edited by : Shweta Kothari