Dress code divides Nepal

August 26th, 2011 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 26 (IANS) Three years ago, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, the leader of Nepal’s 10-year communist revolution, re-appeared in parliament as the nation’s first Maoist prime minister, he wore a sober suit.

However, had he done it today, he could have been barred from appearing in the house: not because the civil war killed over 17,000 people but because he was not following the official dress code.

In a surprise move this week, Nepal’s Supreme Court has ruled that the multi-cultural republic, where over 59 communities live, has to have a single official attire: the daura suruwal - tight trousers and a long shirt - capped by a traditional Nepali topi or cap.

The court decision revives the past dispute that saw Nepal’s Vice-President Paramananda Jha almost lose his position for having taken the oath of office in Hindi while dressed in dhoti and kurta, the attire preferred by southern Nepal.

Protests have begun to erupt against the dress code. Parliament Thursday asked the government to resolve the row after MPs from the Terai plains threatened to burn the official attire in public and block the house.

The other indigenous communities are also opposing the decision fiercely.

“Nepal is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural nation and all clothes worn by its many people should be recognised as the official attire of Nepalis,” said Ang Kaji Shrestha, general secretary of Nepal Adivasi Janajati Mahasangh, an umbrella organisation of indigenous communities.

“Almost 37.8 percent of Nepal population comprises indigenous communities who have their own clothes. The dress code denies their identity and continues the domination exercised by one community for 250 years when Nepal was a Hindu state.”

Raj Kumar Lekhi, chief of the federation, says at a time Nepal is writing a new constitution to provide for a federal government, the dress code smacks of a conspiracy to derail federalism.

“It is an echo of the move by the court 14 years ago to deny the mother tongues of indigenous communities,” Lekhi said.

In the past, Nepal had started using Maithili and Newari, the two languages spoken by a large number of people, in local government offices. But the court banned it, saying Nepali alone was the official language.

The indigenous communities still observe Jeth 18 (around June 1), the day when the verdict was delivered, as a black day.

“It is also extremely impractical,” Lekhi says. “If you wear the daura suruwal to an official programme in the mountains, you will freeze to death. If you wear it in the scorching plains where people are sweating even when they have just a piece of cloth tied around their waists, they will die of heat stroke.”

The two largest communities from the Terai, the Tharus and the Madhesis, are also opposing the dress code.

The Tharus, regarded as the descendants of the Buddha, wear the kachhar and kameez - a cloth wrapped around the waist with a loose shirt.

An underground Tharu organisation, the Tharuhat Terai Party Nepal, has called a general strike Sep 1-2.

Ironically, the dress code comes even as Nepal is playing host to thousands of Bhutanese refugees who were forced to leave Bhutan because of their ethnic roots.

The crackdown in Bhutan enforced a national dress and banned Nepali-origin citizens from wearing the clothes of their forefathers and using the Nepali language in official places.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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