Clothing in Rural India – Single Story

My desire to work in a development sector in any Indian village is being continuously getting crashed with the dilemma of my acknowledgement by the villagers. I realise the significance of staying between them, to best understand the rural issues, analyse the root cause, the possible solutions and the processes. However, would they accept me with my lifestyle: the differences in choices, and foremost, my fondness for western attire?

Soon, as part of a fellowship training module, we got few hours to clear such perceptions that we have had: by visiting the villages and assessing their responses ourselves.

With only Rs.50 in hand (as conditioned in the task), I started for a random village and landed to Talai (Udaipur). In the given three hours’ time window, I interviewed about fifteen villagers: some individually, some in groups, and four males and eleven females. As expected, the villagers were very welcoming.

I learnt, that barring the married women, unmarried women can almost wear everything: suit, trousers etc. – to even go out (not hot-pants, or mini-skirts though). Post marriage, they are only restricted to continue wearing suit, or saree, or kaanchli-kurti-lehenga (traditional inner-blouse-skirt); and definitely not the trousers. Few women are still allowed to wear trousers, but only inside their houses – this was observed in the houses which are either at the proximity to the city, or where the husbands work at the cities. The Daadi Patel community (a kind of Rajputs), however restrict the married women to only wear the kaanchli-kurti-lehenga with which they cover themselves (face, chest and arms) in presence of the elder male members (in-laws). This veiling is patronised as a token of respect, surprisingly not taking into account the behaviour pursued. Despite asking, no one was really bothered to question this custom. There were few (both men and women) who sort of agreed to the lack of logic, yet preferred following it to the T. That being their personal choice of clothing!

On scrutinising their approach of a western-fashion inspired outsider living among them, they uttered no discomfort at all, rather a warm welcome. They attributed this to their awareness of changing time and lifestyle. That coming from a village baffled me for a while. I formally concluded my analysis bidding regards for their cooperation, hospitality and the delicious authentic food: roti (bread) with kathal ka achaar (jack-fruit pickle).

I was regretting to have perceived such narrow-minded stereotype. The bubble of remorse, however, busted really soon. On my way back, I randomly discussed about the clothing dilemma with an outsider Civil Engineering student who came to visit her sister here; followed by a local constable, Hemant Bharti, posted in the Sukher police station for about a year now.

Initially, they too reiterated exactly what other villagers said, until I dug deeper. Both of them, then exclaimed on the apprehension of mingling; and stressed the necessity of developing a sense of relation, by at least dressing alike. Surprisingly, they both assured that the process takes very short time, further which, clothes would not at all be a matter of concern, but the intent and the faith would.

With the mixed responses, I could neither validate nor reinforce my single-story about the conservative nature of Indian villages. However, now when I think of it, I wonder if these fifteen individuals are sufficient to testify the characteristic of the entire rural India. Further, since my questions were quite direct (or perhaps leading), would their responses not contradict to their attitude? Instead, should have I not consulted some NGO to seek their opinion or experience too. The ‘might-haves’ aside, I could clearly see the choice of their clothing being moderated by the desire of their husbands, in-laws and their community. Such is the paradigm of over-sixty years old independent nation.

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