Salwar Politics

The sari is, after all, an Indian dress, and the effort of Pakistan, ever since its birth, has been to show that it is religiously and culturally a nation different from India. In the early days after partition attempts were made to popularise the ‘garara’, — a pyjama-like contraption – long shirt and ‘chunni’ as the national dress for Pakistani women. The initiative in the matter was taken by certain former U P families led by Begum Liaquat Ali Khan. The attempted national fashion, however did not catch on and remained confined to a small elitist coterie. Meanwhile the sari retained its pre-eminent position in a woman’s wardrobe. In fact Pakistani women visitors to India continued to shop for saris to take home with them. The salwar and kameez – an elegant combination by itself – were also worn with attractive variations. President Zia-ul-Haque, determined to ensure Islamic way of life (as he saw it) did not wish to give to the sari the status which it enjoyed prior to 1947 and retained thereafter. If salwar and kameez are a better working dress for women, the Pakistanis are welcome to it. They (men and women) are also welcome to wear this dress if it makes them better Muslims.

(From DOWN WITH THE SARI by Prem Bhatia published January 9, 1982 in The Tribune on the perennial controversy between sari and salwar as the suitable dress for Pakistani women)