There have been reports that the RSS is considering a change in its dress code. Such a contemplation typically happens internally, and it is unlikely that external inputs are sought or considered. Updates about the decision to change and the progress towards the decision are usually not communicated to the media or to the public. However, many who are sympathetic or supportive of the organization would volunteer to provide suggestions unsolicited. Here is one such suggestion from a traditional perspective.
What are the requirements for the uniform of a cultural organization such as RSS?
1. The uniform should reflect the Hindu culture. At least, it should have the elements, look and feel, and the spirit of Indian ethos.
2. The uniform should be helpful in fostering unity, discipline, and invoke a sense of cultural nationalism.
3. It should be simple, flexible, cost effective, and widely available.
Strictly speaking, the present Khaki shorts and full-sleeved white shirt may not have some of the above features. Similar is the case of the shoes and the belt. While some of them may not have an Indian origin, components of the uniform such as the Sangh cap are truly Indian. After decades of use, however, all components of the uniform have become elements of Brand Hindutva. The uniform does not generate an alien feeling, but is seen as very much Indian.
However, if a decision is taken to change the uniform, then it is necessary to ensure that the new uniform meets more of the requirements listed above.
Firstly, it should be noted that the very concept of a uniform inevitably dismisses diversity. The Indian ethos includes a multitude of attires and dress codes – all in harmony with diverse lifestyles, and some even in tune with ancient values. One uniform for all means some people having to give up their own clothing style and adopt a different one. But trying to accommodate diversity results in the dilution of the uniform and the discipline of RSS could become a casualty. The point here is not take the argument to an extreme, but to buttress a subtle point – related uniquely to the Sangh.
There is no doubt that traditional attire in an Indian’s daily (and especially professional) life is a thing of the distant past. At first glance, this seems to be a pan-cultural and ubiquitous scenario that can be owed to westernization. The Arab world and even some non-Muslim countries of Asia and Europe, however, seem to tell a different story. The prevalence of Islamic traditional attire is only increasing among Muslims in both their private and public lives. This observation is not for comparison or competition, but to communicate that a retention of tradition is possible in the 21st century.
It is possible to argue that there is no need to accommodate traditional substitutes in the RSS uniform, as after a decade or so, whatever is chosen would carry the Brand Hindutva again. It may be true, but such an argument is also a reflection of the prevalent public discourse and may not stand the test of time.
Any uniform – existing or new, brings with it possibilities of reinforcing westernization or destroying diversity. RSS, whose purpose statement includes addressing these two problems, therefore needs to take precautions. The first precaution to be taken is to include an escape mechanism from these two traps of deviation from Indian ethos and not accommodating diversity.
Is it possible? Is it required?
Those who are familiar with the concept of a uniform and impressed by its advantages may find it difficult to accommodate an option of not wearing one – perhaps even term it as a route towards indiscipline and one that sows the seeds of division. But those who have understood the strength of the Hindu society vouch for the genuine diversity that is inherent in our society. The concept of diversity is matured in its fullest form in India and is a strong basis for true freedom and true equality that is taught by Hinduism. A lifestyle that integrates daily conduct and the conceptual framework is the corner stone of Hindutva. Prescribed good conduct is person, context, time, and space dependent, among other things. It pervades everything – attire included. That means, survival (or revival) of Hinduism is dependent on the ability of an individual to follow and align with the prescribed good conduct. A uniform, in its conventional sense, excludes those who are willing to follow, or unknowingly following the prescribed conduct.
While it may be true that such people are in minuscule numbers, and such a population may not be following the prescribed conduct in a consistent way, such excuses for not incorporating traditional substitutes in the uniform is indicative of an approach that is not elegant.
The crux of the suggestion – working of a proposed uniform
The uniform can be decided in the same way the old uniform was. Khaki can be replaced by green, shorts by pants, shirts by t-shirts, etc. But an option that accommodates Indian diversity should be provided along with the new uniform. An optional list of attires such as dhoti, different headgear, and traditional substitutes of shirts may be listed – not as an exhaustive, but as a enlargeable list. Guidelines can be provided to participants as to who should be taking the option of alternative attires. Those who wear alternate attires can participate in programs as separate units, sit in a group, and form one column of a route march. All scenarios are to be listed and details of participation of traditional substitutes should be worked out.
This would be a new, superior and elegant model for ensuring discipline and unity without comprising on diversity and without imposing uniformity. The new model would be a testimony to the RSS commitment to bring a much needed Hindu perspective in Indian public affairs.