This is absurd.
Whether the news is true or not, whether the alleged fatwa is justified or not, is secondary. What intrigues me is the bit about 'salwars' being Tamil gear... Tamil? Since when?
It's really quite intriguing - this mad scramble across the sub-continent to claim the unobstrusive salwar as 'traditionally ours' and hang it round women's pelvises.
I ran a search on the genesis of shalwaar (also of salwar), and found little historical information, though I did find several idiotic claims that it was of 'Indian' or 'Pakistani', 'Punjabi' or 'Muslim', origin. Much marketing of this piece of baggy sackage (there's no other apt term for it, really); while some speak of it's in-betweenness, others hint at it's genesis and the journey thus far.
Now, I'm no authority on traditional garments (though, we really should stop writing 'salwar-kameez' because it is pronounced 'shalwaar' and 'qameez', as in 'qatl' and 'qayamat'), but I do know that shalwaar-qameez is about as 'Indian' or as 'Muslim', as aeroplanes or T-shirts.
Let's go back a little. Let's go back 20 years.
I'm in primary school. I'm wearing a blue-green shalwaar (churidaar, actually) and it's my birthday. This is rural Rajasthan. Everyone is gawking. NOBODY wears shalwaars here. Not our teachers (all wear sarees) and not the students (all the girls wear skirts or frocks or, if the family's daring, pants).
This is the first time I'm spending any length of time in the costume either. My mother tells me, after school-hours, she found me wandering about with the kurta tucked inside the churidaar, pant-shirt-style.
Fast-forward 15 years.
I'm in high school. Everyone wears shalwaars - the Mallu Bio teacher, the Rajput kindergarten teacher, the Tamil Maths teacher, the Gujjar Socio teacher. they're not calling it 'shalwar-qameez' anymore. They're calling it 'suit'.
Fast-forward 5 years.
I'm in college. We're wearing 'suits' for formal functions, 'suits' for photo-sessions, 'suits' for karate practice (some girls wore shalwaars topped with with T-shirts), 'suits' for shopping.
The college administration approved. The hostel warden approved. Jeans were barely tolerated. Skirts (with shorts underneath) were acceptable only on the sports' field.
A year later, in Bombay, I attend a Bajrang-Dal-organised workshop for young girls. They talk of the 'outsider race' (read Muslim). They talk of denigration of women's status in society. They ask the girls to wear bindi or tika, as a symbol of their 'Indian' identity. All the girls are in shalwaars. ALL. Most of them are Maharashtrian or Gujarati.
I ask, casually - why?
The girls look surprised. "It's 'our' dress. What else will we wear?"
This dress of 'Muslim' origin, they say. This dress of 'Indian' origin, they say. This dress of 'Pakistani' origin, they say. This 'punjabi' dress, they say.... even (allegedly) this dress of Tamil origin, they say?
Go back 50 years.
My grandmother is not in shalwaar-qameez. She's in a gharara. She is wound into sareescape by my grandfather, with his nationalistic fervour - one India, secular India, free India... and one national dress - the saree.
Fast-forward 50 years.
My grandmother wears nothing but shalwaar-qameez. My aunts too. My neighbours too. And (wonder of wonders, she who wouldn't be caught dead in the garment, 5 years ago) my ultra-hip mother too!
Go back 60 years.
Who's wearing a shalwaar?
A punjabi woman, on both sides of undivided India. Of both communities.
And oh yes, the Punjabi men too! Of both communities. They called it a shalwaar for men as well, until it became unfashionable and we started calling them simply pyjama.
[I have to interject - pyjama is not correct. It is silly to call everything 'pyjama' when men wear it. They can choose between shalwaar, churidaar AND pyjamas of various cuts and shapes.]
What they're wearing is very similar to what Afghani, or Pathan, men wore. The costume today is sometimes referred to as a 'pathan suit'.
Go to Saudi Arabia. Go to Egypt. Go to Morocco.
Shalwaars, no. Muslims, yes. T-shirts... maybe. In Iran, pants, head-scarves and T-shirts are more common than shalwaars. Even in Saudi Arabia, underneath the abayas, you won't find too many shalwaars.
Go back 100 years.
Who's wearing a shalwaar?
We don't know. Possibly the Pathans. Possibly the Turks, though their version is more like 'harem-pants'.
Go back 1000 years.
Who's wearing a shalwaar?
We don't know. Probably not us. Probably nobody.
Go back 2000 years.
Go back to ancient India.
Go back to Harappa.
Go anywhere in the world.
There are no shalwaars.
There are no aeroplanes either.
Nor any T-shirts.
Fast-forward to now.
My domestic help does not wear shalwaars.
"People laugh... They look at me like I was wearing something odd. Nobody in the family wears it." This one is from Rajasthan. The last domestic help lady wore only shalwaars. She was Haryanvi.
What makes a shalwaar Indian?
What does the wearing of a shalwaar-qameez make us? Good 'Indian' girls?
How did it get to be this way? How did the shalwaar worm it's way into the moral good books of an entire nation?
Correction. An entire sub-continent.
By being what it is - comfortable? Even, cyclically trendy?
I don't think so.
It isn't just about comfort. It is also about being covered up.
It's about a drawstrung modesty.
Sarees are alright, sort of. But try wearing a saree 'sexily'. Wear it with a strappy blouse, or without one altogether. See how many 'Indians' approve.
Shalwaars are acceptable because they're non-threatening. And that's how we like our women, don't we?
Not slavish. Just non-threatening. Not disembodied, just non-physical. Not invisible, just non-visible.
Non-out-there. Non-this-is-how-I-am. Non-look-if-you-want-like-I-care.
Oh, yes, we like our shalwaars.
Lucknow, 2 years ago.
My mother cuts up her transparent sarees to make shalwaar-kameezes for me. Now, I'm still wearing shalwaars, only they don't quite hide my body away.
My aunt refuses to take me out to the market. "Are you out of your mind? What do you think? This isn't Bombay... ".
I used to wonder, in fact... why did Bombay's young women not take to shalwaars with as much enthusiasm? (IMHO, the shalwaar-related fashions were a disaster over there.)
Now, I think I know why.