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The politics of clothing in postcolonial Indian democracy

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Since colonial times, clothing has had a phenomenal and perhaps complex political implication in Indian politics. The political leaders Mahatma Gandhi, B. R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and others had used their attire to exhibit their politics and ideology. In postcolonial India, the ideological battle between different political parties and the various ideological movements have often used clothing as one of the most effective medium to express their loyalty, identity and differences. However, the politics of clothing, its colours and the style of wearing in the democratic Indian context have received little academic attention. This article attempts to explore some aspects of clothing in postcolonial Indian democracy through an in-depth study. The researcher engages in an ethnographic investigation to understand the ways in which different political ideologies are exhibited through clothing and how it is used to display their political identity in public spaces. The article argues that beyond a system of governance, democracy contributes to shaping people’s imagination of clothing, create meaning for specific colours, style of wearing and pave the way for physical and symbolic forms of violence and conflict.
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Keywords: India; Kerala; Modi; Tamil Nadu; anthropology; democracy; politics; violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Kerala Cultural Museum

Publication date: June 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • We all wear clothes. We are all therefore invested at some level in the production and consumption of clothing. This journal intends to embrace issues and themes that are both universal and personal, addressing [and dressing] us all. Increasingly, as we all become accomplished semioticians, clothing becomes the key signifier in determining social interaction and behaviour, and sartorial norms dictate socio-cultural appropriateness. Following the rise of fashion theory, on an everyday level, we all understand that our clothes 'say' something about us, about our times, nation, system of values. Yet clothing is not fashion; clothing is a term derivative from 'cloth', to cover the body, whereas fashion alludes to the glamorous, the ephemeral and the avant garde. We wear clothes, but imagine fashion-an unattainable ideal.
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