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The sari or salwar?

School teachers in Kerala can now wear salwar- kurta to work. But not all non-State schools agree. Shilpa Nair Anand asks them why

Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

Clothes maketh the woman too Teachers are happy to switch over to the salwar kameez from the sari but not all teachers are free to do so

It is the same old dress code thing, and it is to do with teachers and salwar-kurtas. Yes, the government said it’s okay, most schools say it is okay but some schools in the city have put their foot down.

Ask the kids what they have to say about what their teachers wear and it is “I really don’t care what my teacher wears as long as I can understand what is being taught.”

The same goes for the parents, but some schools have stuck to their guns in not changing the dress code for teachers. There is no denying that as far as modesty goes salwar-kurta as an outfit is modest (if not more) as a sari.

There was celebration when the State Government lifted the ban, sound bytes and visuals of jubilant teachers dominated reams of newsprint and air time. While State schools have no choice and teachers wear the salwar, the rule is not binding on other schools affiliated to other bodies like the CBSE. They are free to allow or disallow teachers from wearing anything other than the sari. These schools have their reasons.“Teachers in our school (Rajagiri Public School) have been wearing churidar for a long time, in fact it is such a convenient outfit. Wearing a churidar and rushing to work saves up a lot of time. If there is decorum in the manner in which teachers dress then there should be no problem in what a particular person wears. Even a sari is revealing if not worn properly, in fact a churidar is less revealing when compared to a sari,” says Shini Cyriac, headmistress Rajagiri kindergarten.

Schools runs by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Chinmaya Vidyalaya have a ‘sari for teachers’ code in place. The proffered reason, reasonable enough, is that there have to be strict visual identification markers when it comes to teachers and students.

Says Jaya Jacob, principal Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Elamakkara, “The sari is part of Indian culture. Why this noise about the churidar? The sari has been around for a longer time, and it is a much more dignified dress. Then where does the need to change arise? The dress code is particularly relevant when the teachers teach Plus one and Plus two.

“Since the churidar constitutes the uniform for our students in the senior classes it becomes difficult to distinguish who the teachers and the students are.” Fair enough, but what about the freedom of choice? “Teachers can wear it on campus on days when there are other activities, but definitely not when they are going to teach.”

Says Maya Mohan, principal, Chinmaya Vidyalaya, “There is nothing wrong with the outfit, is my personal opinion. But having said that, I will also say that saris are very dignified. It lends a certain dignity to the person who wears it and dignity is what the teacher-student equation is all about. Teachers and students can be friends but not the backslapping kind of camaraderie. And if teachers are clad in formal attire then decorum is maintained. Plus one and two students would pay attention to what is being taught than to what the teacher’s attire is.”

According to her it is not so much about Indian culture, “Indian culture is not one that is tied to a sari, there is much more to Indian culture than a sari.” Both agree that the decency and decorum of a garment depends on how it is worn. So then what about the blouses? “My teachers prefer to wear blouses with sleeves because they find it easier to teach,” says Ms. Mohan.

“Once we change the dress code, then that creates another set of problems, because we will then have to specify how the churidar should be worn, stitched etc,” Jaya Jacob adds. The kurtas for girls in Bhavans is sans slits, therefore “we will have to do the same for teachers. If the slit is too long then that would not be in keeping with the dress code.” Schools such as Vidyodaya have no such restrictions. “Teachers are free to wear churidar. What is wrong with wearing churidar to school? It is a decent outfit. It all depends on how it is worn,” says Krishna Kumari, principal.

But not everyone agrees.

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