Despite differences in physical appearance, language, and other ethnological features, the people of South Asia share to a considerable degree a common cultural heritage. Sanskrit and Prakrit, the languages of the region’s most ancient texts, the Mahabharataand Ramayana, great epics dating from ca. 500-300 B.C.E., reinforce cultural links and a sense of shared tradition throughout the region.
South Asia preferred the use of draped garments, regional variations occur throughout the areas. These are influenced by geo-climatic conditions, and socio-cultural environment. religious rituals and classical learning. Wrapped and draped garments appear to be the oldest form of attire in South Asia. Nevertheless, awls found at archaeological sites of the Harappan civilization, in the Indus Valley in present day Pakistan (third millennium B.C.E.) indicate that leather stitching and embroidery were practised there. Stitched garments entered the region with ancient migrations of people from Central Asia.
The assumption made by some European scholars that Muslims introduced tailoring to South Asia is baseless and incorrect. For the earliest local literature preserves words for the needle (suchi), the thimble (pratigraha), scissors (sathaka), and even for the sewing bag, showing that tailoring was practised in ancient times.
South Asia has the distinctive characteristic that women have maintained their traditional way of dress. The elite younger generation does wear Western dress and the universal jeans, but for special occasions many would prefer to mark the occasion in a local dress. The debate is always open for discussing the clothing for women in the region as a way of compliance and subversion of women into the stereotypical South Asian women that is based on the our way of dressing.
However, south asian women are very strongly aware of these notions and this has led to the discursive positioning that we maintain. Therefore, our use of traditional dressing does not necessarily imply compliance, but on the contrary it is a statement against oppression and existing patriarchy. As noted very intuitively by South Asia’s Dr. Shaminder Takhar in her book Gender, Ethnicity and Political Agency: South Asian Women Organizing.
Those of us, who are feminists have always used one form or other of traditional dresses to make profound statements on women rights, status and equality struggles. Women’s bodies have throughout time been a tool on which societies carry out their agendas (mostly anti-women friendly) but before dismissing me, or my strong, suave south Asian sisters, please remember that “there is more to us” then just our modest and bright colourful dresses.
Because when I or countless others wear any traditional local dress, we are usually making a strong statement that we are not ashamed to carry forward our traditions and neither ashamed to set right society’s shenanigans.
After all, we are the carriers of strength that comes into forms of resilience, rebellion and retributions.
Featured Writer Post: South East Asia News
Date: November 23 2014