More Than Just a Dress

Urmila Chanam
Posted March 22, 2021 from India
More than just a dress (1/1)

I love wearing ethnic clothes since when I was a toddler. Saree was my all time favourite which hasn't changed with time. Western clothes never grabbed my attention. I have also received few gifts in the form of garments from indigenous communities and they are priceless to me. 

A very funny incident happened two years ago when I wore a tribal community's traditional handloom sarong/phanek, a gift again, to a national event in New Delhi and my picture was published in the local newspaper where the tribal community lives. Few friends from the community expressed their joy but I received some hate as well from people not known to me. One asked me what right do I have to wear their dress. I was amused and understood the insecurity, suspicion and from where he was coming (the background of inter community strife and conflict). 

I ask(ed) if they had the permission from English people and western countries for the clothes (pants, shirts, skirts) they adorn everyday and from Punjabis for the salwar suit the women wore in their profile pictures. When somebody from outside your community wears your clothes, adopts your food, drinks, festivals and beliefs, it is a form of advancement for the community and it can never be bad, never! In modern langauge, its "free advertisment". 

This thought popped up in my mind after long on seeing an old picture from when I was 16 in Armtreng, Karbi Anglong district in Assam, with local Karbi friends who shared their dress (Karbi pini-pekok) with me happily. How was that experience relevant in my life? I have always nurtured a soft corner for that community and always succeeded in bonding with people I come across who hail from there. 

Cultural awareness about a community cannot happen at governance level until people are willing to share their culture freely with others and not erect walls and permits. 

Comments 1

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Jill Langhus
Mar 24
Mar 24

Hello Urmila,

How are you doing? Thanks for sharing your post and bringing more awareness to the customs in your area and country. I would've never guessed that you would get hate mail for wearing such a beautiful garment. I would think more that you were celebrating it. I do love your photo, too:-)