All doors should open for those in traditional Indian wear: Delhi restaurateurs
Raksha Bandhan (or Rakhi) and Independence Day are just round the corner, to be followed soon by the festive season, just the time when everyone brings out their ethnic finery. If you were to go to a mall or a restaurant in traditional Indian wear, would you be denied entry?
Absurd as it may sound, the question comes up because of two recent incidents: filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak stopped at a Kolkata mall entrance for wearing dhoti-kurta; and a Khasi woman, a dinner guest, asked to leave Delhi Golf Club because the club management thought her traditional jainsem was a maid’s dress. Three years ago, a Madras High Court judge and two advocates were denied entry in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association office for wearing dhotis. And in 1982, writer and politician Shashi Tharoor was not allowed entry at his own sister’s wedding at Madras Gymkhana, because he wore a silk kurta that had no collar.
Recalling his experience, Ashish Avikunthak wrote in a column for Scroll:
“On Saturday, I was denied entry into Kolkata’s Quest Mall because I was wearing a dhoti and kurta. This was not the first time I have been stopped from entering a place because of my clothes. In the past 26 years that I have been wearing a dhoti and kurta as a political statement, there have been a number of times I have been discriminated against and profiled because of my attire. I have been denied entry in neo-colonial clubs in Kolkata as well as restaurants and upmarket gated apartment complexes in Mumbai. Over the years, I have refused to go to places that discriminate on the basis of clothes. This is an intolerant practice and reeks of cultural and social apartheid.”
Seventy years after Independence, is India still unable to accept its traditional wear? A clear pattern of discrimination has emerged and Delhi- based hospitality professionals believe it’s time to reverse this trend. “Dhoti is our national dress, be it at a mall or restaurant. One should be allowed to enter anywhere wearing a national dress, and everyone should be aware of this,” says chef and restaurateur Sabyasachi Gorai. “I would not stop anyone from entering my restaurant on the basis of their clothes. In countries like Ireland or New Zealand, various people wear their national dress and are allowed entry everywhere.”
Sumit Goel, owner of Gastronomica, is of the same view. He says, “Whatever the dress code of a restaurant, if someone is wearing our national dress or is dressed in traditional Indian attire, they should be allowed everywhere. I remember, a few years ago, my friends and I had gone to Elevate, Noida, where we were refused entry because we were wearing traditional Indian wear. But an African tourist, who was wearing her traditional dress, was allowed entry.”
However, some say that if a restaurant or mall has a dress code in place, then it should not be labelled classist. “If the dress code is [written] outside the front door, for guests to read before entering, then it’s perfectly fine to refuse entry. However, if someone pays at the door and then is told to leave because of clothes, then it’s unfair,” says Vikrant Batra, owner of Café Delhi Heights. “A few of the restaurants like to maintain decorum. I don’t think it’s fair to label them as classist. You don’t go to your workplace dressed in shorts and T-shirts, do you?”
So, when is it justified to bar a guest from a restaurant or a mall? “Only if someone disregards decorum or creates trouble for other guests, should he or she be asked to leave,” says Saurav Sharma, owner of Drinks at MRP. “It’s not up to malls or restaurants to judge anyone on the basis of their clothes or looks. Their job is to serve the guest who pays for the service.”