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First Indian Taliban came for women drinking in pubs, now they have come for nighties

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Instead of trying to police the nightie, it is time the government realised its homespun potential.

There’s a “nightie-mare” happening in a village in Andhra Pradesh.

The media is rumbling about the rise of an Indian Taliban. First they came for the women drinking in a pub. Then they came for young women using mobile phones. Now, they have come for the nightie.

The elders of a village in West Godavari district have announced a nightie-ban from 7 am to 7 pm. There’s a fine of Rs 2,000 for those flouting the ban. And there’s an incentive programme of Rs 1000 for those ratting on the nightie-rebels. Thankfully, there’s an ill health exemption although it’s unclear if a doctor’s certificate will be necessary to wear a nightie during the day.

The village leaders, faced with an onslaught of media enquiries and even a probe from local authorities, have hastened to clarify that it was the elderly women who led the charge because they found it “inconvenient” to see younger women going to public places in nighties.

This is not the first time the nightie-police have sprung into action. A village in Navi Mumbai once imposed a Rs 500 fine on wearing nighties outside the home until a public outcry forced them to back down. Not that long ago, Blossoms school in Bengaluru issued a diktat forbidding parents from dropping their children off while in their nightwear. While carefully crafted as gender-neutral, everyone knew it was about mummies in their nighties. Apparently, men would loiter around the school gate in the morning to see the mummies in nighties. That was crossing a social hemline.

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It’s strange. By now one would think the nightie had been thoroughly desexualised. It is not a nightie in India anymore. It is a morningie, an afternoonie, an eveningie as well. I know women who have grades of nighties – nighties to sleep in, nighties to cook in, nighties to receive guests in, nighties to go to temple in. I know relatives who do not feel they have come home from work until they have changed into a nightie.

Yet, the nightie remains much maligned. Sabyasachi does not embroider it with golden threads. It features in no glossy videos for Incredible India. When Modi ji addresses women entrepreneurs, he talks about Lijjat papad, not the humble nightie. It is true that tossing a dupatta on a nightie does not automatically make it dressy enough to wear to the bazaar. But I think we should just dispense with such niceties.

We must understand what the much-maligned nightie has done. On an NDTV segment Nightie Nation, fashion maven Sathya Saran says, “The nightie’s new takers are largely women from the lower income group. For them, it’s a sign of emancipation. Emancipation from the pallu. Emancipation from the dupatta. Emancipation from the fact that you have to be dressed up.” And in a country as humid as ours an airy nightie is a godsend, easy to wash and quick to dry.

It sounds basically like one-size-fits-all women’s liberation in a bag. It knows no creed, no class, no caste, no age. The daily help wears a nightie. Her mistress wears a nightie. And honestly, there’s not a huge difference between the two. It’s where India meets Bharat.

It is also a Made in India success story that Modi ji could extol if he chose to. When I go to the fancy malls with its designer stores, there is only a smattering of the well-heeled milling and browsing there. But the pavement stores are lined with nightie shops, all doing brisk business every day. Anushka Sharma has never popped up in a nightie ad seducing Virat Kohli. Yet, the mighty nightie sells on. In Kerala, the nightie brand N’Style, which began with savings of Rs 3,000 in 1988, is a Rs 100-crore nightie empire.

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The nightie, like the potato and chilli, is not native to India. It has Victorian origins as the decorous floor-length nightgown. Prasad Bidapa, a fashion stylist in Bengaluru, says, “English ladies in colonial India wore it through the year as sleepwear.” It came to India, he says, with the Fishing Fleet, those “ambitious young women from England who came out in droves to India to find husbands”. In the 1970s and ‘80s, men from Kerala going to work in the Gulf brought back Egyptian cotton maxi-type dresses for their wives. Nighties followed the trade routes just like spices.

But now Indians have made it their own, married the housecoat to the nightgown to the maxi, and created something uniquely sati-savitri, modest and decorous yet feminine. When Sushma Swaraj was asked what she wore when she went for a dip in the holy Ganga, she said, “I always prefer a nightie”. Could the nightie ask for a more wholesome brand ambassador?

Instead of trying to police the nightie, it is time the government realised its homespun potential. It could be part of the women’s ministry. The government could issue guidelines to popularise the nightie.

For example, it could encourage nightie films like the Bengali film Obhishopto Nighty where a nightie carries the curse of a woman unrequited in love. As director Birsa Dasgupta described, it is a “nightie in search of true love”. Less tongue-in-cheekily, in the Malayalam superhit 1983, the lead heroine Srinda Arhaan is seen mostly in a nightie.

Every television soap opera should show housewives squabbling and backstabbing each other while wearing nighties instead of being decked up in saris and jewellery. It would be soap opera vérité.

Before every movie screening, we can show Film Division documentaries on how a nightie gives sab ka saath and ensures ‘sab ka billowing vikas’.  We must embrace the nightie for what it is – one shapelessness that fits all from Punjabi behenjis to Keralaite ammas. There might be many kinds of saris from chanderi to Benarasi to Kota to Tangail, but there is only one kind of nightie. It is our unity in diversity. A nightie film could easily get one of those national integration film awards.

Now that we have got the world record in largest yoga class, we can go for the Guinness record for most people wearing nighties at the same time.

Some gay person’s coming out line in India could be “Mom, dad, I like wearing nighties”.

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The nightie is truly multi-purpose. We must shed our national embarrassment about the nightie and understand the true power of its shapelessness.  Even the West is getting with it. The New York Times did a story on the power of the nightie called “Wear Your Nightie Out”.

Mitron, we should be proud that Indians have long led the way there. Jai ho nightie and let Indians yield to its voluminous charms.

One nightie to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

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  1. It is sickening that Nighties to be related to PM , Taliban what not. Generally, nighties to be used only at night, as a sleep wear even not out of ones Bedroom. But of late the ladies belongs to especially Lower & Middle income from suburbs areas are wearing nighties for shopping, for pickup & drop their children to school especially in the Morning sessions is very common sight. Even go to the schools in Nightie to pay the fees, to meet class teacher etc., It was pathetic sight to see these ladies moving in & around nighties. A couple of years back seeing the Nightie menace a Christian Management school in Mumbai suburb has banned the Ladies to enter their school premises in Nighties.

    Naturally, the elderly women of the village & their leaders has failed to make them understand these ladies the concept of the Nightie, a sleepwear to these younger & middle aged women who are roaming in their nighties they had regulated to curb the menace. We understand that the visual media need something to keep on feeding to telecast… but why print media.. especially, The Print..does they do not have any good writers to come out with substantial stories. Disgusting…. Tx.
    Nagesh Rao

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