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Compulsory dress code in clubs and other social institutions must be abolished

The message being sent here is that these clubs are exclusive to a few elites and they have no place for citizens belonging to the lower strata of society. Since the land to such clubs is given by the government, it should ensure protection of human rights of the people who visit these clubs

opinion Updated: Jul 04, 2017 12:20 IST
Murlidhar C Bhandare
Murlidhar C Bhandare
Tailin Lyngdoh,Meghalaya,Delhi Golf Club
Tailin Lyngdoh was denied entry. The club said it had nothing to do with her jainsem, a traditional Khasi dress. (Picture courtesy: Nivedita Barthakur/Facebook)

I was shocked to learn that on June 25 Tailin Lyngdoh, a lady from Meghalaya, was asked to leave the table in Delhi Golf Club (DGC), because she was wearing a jainsem and she looked like a maid. I watched the news of her humiliation on television channels. Thanks to our ever vigilant media; the shameful news appeared prominently in almost all newspapers.

I had to hang my head in shame because I regularly visit DGC to play golf six days a week. I am one of the senior most members of the club.

For me, it was an instance of unpardonable discrimination — and the worst of it, racial discrimination — which was at the centre of the controversy. Lyngdoh was one of the eight invitees to lunch hosted by P Thimmayya Goel, a long-time member of the club. She works as a governess to the honorary health adviser to the Assam government. However, the club authorities did not hesitate to humiliate the lady, violate her dignity, crush her human rights and insult the traditional dress. The discrimination was made on the basis of the lady’s dress, her face and her job. For me, it was her dress which was at the root, followed by her face and race.

The colonial hang over of dress code still persists in our elite clubs, although the colonial masters have left the country 70 years ago. In 1988, MF Husain was barred from entering Mumbai’s Willingdon Club for being barefooted. A decade later, West Bengal communist leader Jyoti Basu also met the same fate at the Calcutta Swimming Club for reporting in dhoti. Recently, Justice D Hariparanthaman of the Madras High Court has been turned away from Tamil Nadu Cricket Association for wearing the traditional south Indian dhoti. In Delhi Gymkhana Club, Tsugla Lopen Samten Dorji, Bhutan’s second-highest ranking monk, was barred from dining at the club in 2013, just because he was in sandals and the traditional lama attire.

Women wearing chappals are stopped at the reception counter of Delhi Gymkhana Club and are made to wear sandals provided by the club. The list is long. The end to such discrimination is nowhere in sight.

I am reminded of an experience I had several years ago at Mumbai’s Willingdon Sports Club, where an eminent judge of the Bombay High Court, its acting chief justice and later a judge of the Supreme Court, came to attend a lawyers’ dinner. As he did not come there in a coat, he was not allowed to enter the dining lounge. As a lawyer, I also attended the dinner. I told the club staff that he has left his coat in his car and I would get it. I procured a coat for him which did not fit him. However, he hanged the coat behind his chair and complied with the dress code of the Willingdon Sports Club.

The Lyngdoh episode has three angles: One, dress code and two, her face taking it to her assumed race and perhaps more serious, the use of the word ‘maid’ derogatively. Dress code is a remnant of the British legacy.

India is the largest diverse country and does not have a specific dress form for her citizens. The people of each state, district and village dress differently according to their choice. It is not essential that one would wear shoes to formal occasions; there is no reason why chappals would not be acceptable if one feels comfortable wearing a pair of chappals. The traditional attire of a community is to be given due respect. And there is absolutely no reason why we should not respect the traditional attire of the Khasi community.

It’s time we shed this imperial mindset. All that we need is neat, clean and decent dress. We must remember that Mahatma Gandhi appeared before the king of England wearing a khaddar dhoti, sandals and an ordinary chadar after attending the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931. The simplicity and humility of his dress presented a striking contrast to the vanity and pomp of the royal palace.

Right to clothing is recognised as a human right in international human rights instruments; this, together with the right to food and the right to housing, are parts of the right to an adequate standard of living, as recognised under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to clothing is recognised under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of clothing is part of our freedom of expression, which is the first right of a citizen under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

The more serious part of the allegation is that she was slighted by the club official who took her to be a maid. I do not know if any of the club bylaws debar a woman from entering its premises on the ground that she is a maid. I wonder if this is the way the official understands dignity of labour. The message being sent here is that these clubs are exclusive clubs of a few elites and they have no place for citizens belonging to the lower strata of society.

Article 21 of our Constitution reads: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” This right to life implies life with dignity. Besides fair wages, paid weekly off, healthcare facilities, bonus and other benefits, it includes dignified treatment in all spheres. Things have changed over the years and service providers are considered as partners and not as servants. Our club officials must realise this.

Since the land to such clubs is given by the government, it should ensure protection of human rights to the people who visit the clubs.

Compulsory dress code in clubs and other social institutions must be abolished. Every citizen should have the right to wear the dress which should be neat, clean and decent.

The Club issued a press statement on June 27, saying that it has apologised to the member whose guest Lyngdoh was. An apology only to the host and not to the lady who was insulted and whose dignity was attacked! Liberty and equality are the pillars of our Constitution.

Murlidhar C Bhandare, senior advocate, is former MP, Rajya Sabha and former governor, Odisha

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 04, 2017 12:20 IST