Saree twists and turns

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read about the vigilantes who send a Facebook warning that women who are “inappropriately dressed” at the coming Thaipusam festival will be spray painted.

Really? Don’t these men have anything more manly to do than prey on women’s sarees? I saw some of the pictures of these “inappropriately dressed” women and saw nothing indecent about them. The women were wearing sarees matched with designer blouses that, yes, revealed some warm skin here and there. But, it revealed nothing that shouldn’t be revealed. So, I couldn’t understand what was inappropriate about them.

I don’t know whether these vigilantes are conservative fanatics who want to maintain their traditions or just plain misogynists.I can understand some peoples’ concerns over the erosion of traditions and the “old ways” but to expect people to conform by threatening them, that is totally unacceptable. It is violence and tyranny and should be checked.

It’s one more example of the conservative backlash. As the world gallops into the 21st century and beyond, we are seeing conservative groups rising up not just to be heard, but to impose their will on others to go back to the old ways. Whatever your belief system, religion, culture or lifestyle, the old political system, the old religion, the old lifestyle, the old social norm is under attack. The tendency is to want to reestablish the old order. The election of Trump, the medieval-styled Islamic terrorists like the IS, and Hindu supremacists (in India) are example of conservatism wishing to impose the old world on the rest.

I am not anti-conservative. I respect their beliefs. But, my concern is how do we live in this new world when the old is gone?

My feeling is that we should be prepared for a new world overtaking the old, even in our religious beliefs. God is not trapped by time. He can’t be “outdated”. Belief in God is not a primitive instinct. God is eternal and if He is, He is relevant in any time in human history. In other words, His power can be felt and experienced even in the current, very fluid, evolving modern times.

The question is how do we appropriate an eternal God to our particular timespan? That’s what religious leaders should be teaching their adherents, rather than demanding conformity to an old way.

Religious leaders should be living a life where thoughtful choices are made to live a modern life. Then, they can teach others how to appropriate the power of God into modern reality. We then produce people of faith who can cope with modern life and find their niche in it, holding their own, without insisting on conformity to the old way. Those who insist on the latter usually do so — often in the name of religion — mainly because they can’t cope with modernity.

In the aforementioned “saree case”,  the women found a modern way to wear a traditional outfit. While very modern, it wasn’t revealing. True, some women can make the saree a very sexy fit, with an exposed foot-long midriff and skimpy revealing blouse. But, that is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the times, everything is discreetly wrapped over to be opened up in the right context! Like a gift-wrap, Bollywood-style!

I’m glad that the Indian community leaders didn’t stop the women from wearing their fashion choice. They just advised them to dress appropriately and said that they don’t condone the actions of the spray painters. That’s how it should be. The women should be free to express their modern fashion sense with their community embracing it while cautioning not to step out line. It’s a good example of handling a sensitive religious and cultural issue in the modern context.

It’s the same way with living the life of faith, whatever our religious beliefs. When we learn how to live in this modern world without losing our faith and without harking back to a dying world, we live better. We may not completely belong, but we’ll cope better with modern life and still keep the faith.

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