Misplaced politics of robe

Kaumudi Kashikar Gurjar
Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Savitribai Phule Pune University’s (SPPU) 114th convocation ceremony witnessed a minor disturbance following the management council’s suggestion that the meritorious students should wear the traditional Indian attire during the function.

The Savitribai Phule Pune University’s (SPPU) 114th convocation ceremony witnessed a minor disturbance following the management council’s suggestion that the meritorious students should wear the traditional Indian attire during the function.

On the D-Day, three students belonging to the National Students Union of India (NSUI) protested against the use of Puneri Pagadi, a symbol of wisdom, which is interpreted by so-called progressive thinkers as hailing the Brahminical supremacy.

However, these single-digit members of the students union failed to draw support from over a lakh students, who graduated from the world-renowned educational institution on Thursday. Against this backdrop, the student leaders, who are now dreaming of shaping their political career on the university turf, can quickly amend their future discourse after this eye-opener.

The students, who have larger challenges ahead of them, one of them to secure steady jobs, are in no way ready to succumb to politics of emotional appeals through the symbolism of a bygone era.

Particularly when the latest official data states that there will be 18.9 million jobless people in India this year, as compared to 18.6 million in 2018. More importantly, if student leaders attack the symbolism of the colonial era or the supremacy of one class, they have to answer a pertinent question as to why they are raising this issue now. For instance, the use of ‘Pagadi’ by the members of the management council or by the meritorious students has been going on for the past 70 years since the inception of the University of Pune in 1949.

In a highly polarised world today, insisting on the use of particular attire is bound to get unnecessary attention. No wonder, even after stating that it is merely a suggestion and a compulsion, some may allege it to be an attempt to colour the world in the saffron hue.

If we review such incidents from past questioning the relevance of the convocation robe, we find that the very idea of introduction of an Indian attire as the convocation robe is nothing new.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has been following the dress code of Indian kurta for several years. However, the convocation robe became a dear issue for ambitious student leaders in 2015 after the University Grants Commission (UGC) sent a letter to vice-chancellors that students should wear the Indian attire for the convocation.

The UGC claimed that this move would revive the Indian handloom industry. This letter was opposed by a section of students dubbing it as an attempt of saffronisation. This move was opposed by many students at the University of Hyderabad.

Earlier, in 2013, students had protested against the convocation robe at Benaras Hindu University, which they said was reminiscent of colonialisation. Similarly, the students of the Sampuranand Sanskrit University in Varanasi also opposed the custom of wearing the colonial robe for the convocation.

All this indicates that the choice of robe has remained an interesting ploy for those who want to divert people’s attention from larger issues such as unemployment or lack of jobs. A recent World Bank report highlighted that India needs to create at least 8.1 million jobs a year to match up to the employment rate of the country. As this is clearly an uphill task, we will continue to witness such occasional eruptions challenging the colonial or historical baggage.

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