Northeastern traditional attire ‘misappropriation’ online draws flak
From creating leopard print on them, to categorising these garments as ‘fancy dresses’, Northeastern traditional wear available on e-commerce websites has received backlash for misrepresentation of culture.Updated: Jul 16, 2020 07:50 IST
Netizens recently took to social media to report that quite a few popular e-commerce websites where selling garments categorised as ‘fancy dress’ costumes inspired by the cultural attires of Northeastern states! Most of the twitterati has criticised this alleged ‘cultural misappropriation’ where sellers have been at the receiving end of negative comments, on these websites, for providing a platform for fancy dresses modelled to take a dig on the authentic Northeastern garments, especially Naga traditional wear.
Recently, it has come to our notice that certain sellers on Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal are selling grossly misrepresenting racist "costumes" as Northeastern traditional attire (Naga, in this case). Continue..— Mayalu Boro (@Mayaluboro) July 8, 2020
#notacommodity #northeast #indigenouspolitics #stopracism #racist pic.twitter.com/eTYH5oyJY5
One of the social media users tweeted: “Putting up and selling someone’s traditional attire as fancy dress is very disrespectful.” Another user tagged the e-commerce platforms in question, and wrote, “Please make an informed decision before letting vendors sell these clothing through your platform which misrepresents the tribes of #NorthEast.”
A Delhi-based research fellow Chichanbeni Kithan, who was among the first ones to mention about such attires available on social media, says, “It was shocking for me to discover this gross misrepresentation of traditional Nagaland, Assamese attires. This is problematic on so many levels. Primarily, it’s the fact that we in Nagaland don’t have anything that remotely resembles the garments shown on these websites. Using these prints and designs simply panders to the stereotypical idea of a tribal community and its way of life,” she says adding that this makes the Naga tribal societies appear “uncivilised and exotic”.
A particular image of the leopard print used in a costume that was meant to represent Nagaland’s tribal attire, has also got the ire of Twitter users who pointed out that this print features nowhere in the traditional wear of the locals. Acceding to the fact, fashion designer Jenjum Gadi says that while Northeastern garments can be “a source of inspiration for many, these representations negate the efforts of communities that are trying to preserve their culture. “We understand that the world is waking up to Northeastern influences and is trying to sell it. But, what matters more is the way they go about selling it. Selling these costumes as authentic, tribal and traditional wear is disrespectful to our culture! It’s akin to selling any deity’s imagery on footwear, which means it’s in bad taste and insults the beliefs of a certain group of people. E-commerce websites and sellers have a responsibility that they cannot shy away from,” says Gadi.
“For most communities in Northeast India, their traditional dresses and ornaments are sacred... The images that have surfaced on the websites show how a community’s feelings have not been taken into consideration.” – G Amarjit Sharma, assistant professor at JNU
After the uproar on social media, some websites took down the products while others altered their descriptions of these attires, to eliminate references to any specific community. “For most communities in Northeast India, their traditional dresses and ornaments are sacred. Indigenous communities are closely associated with their symbols; often each garment takes weeks to make and represents a very specific idea. The images that have surfaced on the websites show how a community’s feelings have not been taken into consideration,” says G Amarjit Sharma, assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Special Centre for the Study of North East India. He is of the opinion that it isn’t just a case of cultural appropriation, but also a violation of a community’s way of life. “E-commerce websites cannot just tap on emerging markets in the Northeast without including the local communities. The onus is definitely on them, and that’s why their credibility has come into question,” adds Sharma.
Author tweets @Bhagat_Mallika