The Dupatta Speaks!

The Dupatta has many alias': Odhni, Chunari, Chaddar, Laharia, Dhatu, Ghoonghat and Chunni even. Whichever name you choose to call it, it represents the Indian women globally. Strangely the history behind the dupatta is a bit blurred. Supposedly, the idea of wearing a cloth to represent modesty (lajja) came from the Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilizations. These very people did not believe in wearing upper garments and instead used a variation of the dupatta to cover up. This may have been due to the intense heat that people had to face in the desert without any method of staying cool.

They come in different styles, colors, sizes, lengths, fabrics. Traditionally, the dupatta covers the chest, head, shoulders and back of the wearer. They can be simple and cotton or embellished and silk. Historically, the dupatta was (and is) worn to cover the head as a way of respect, when worshipping deities and in front of elders. It was also considered indecent and shameless for women to roam in their homes and outdoors sans a dupatta. As you wander within the sub-continent, the name of the two and a half to three meters of cloth changes and is worn differently ranging in style and significance. And color matters too; red, saffron and yellow for marriage, white for funerals are some mundane examples.

As much as the dupatta represents, it protects too. On a hot summer day, it is the dupatta that helps protect women from the hot scorching sun. And during Monsoon season, that same dupatta will help as much as it can to keep you dry. On a cold Delhi night, the dupatta will keep you warm and provide heat. Over time the dupatta has progressed and modernized, just like the Indian woman.

The dupatta is really a metaphor for the Desi woman. She is as traditional as they get and yet, she has moved on from being just an accessory. No more is she the repressed woman who hid behind her ghoonghat shushing her own views.  Just as the dupatta has moved on while maintaining the tradition, the Indian woman has done just the same. She will teach her daughter to adorn a dupatta when she is amongst elders but simultaneously tell her wear it with a pair of jeans. While she may tell her to speak her opinions, she will tell her daughter to be respectful in doing so. However, still within India, the old dupatta still lurks. The taboos and suppression still exist even after the dupatta has modernized.

Behind the Dupatta brings about these very ideas and stories that the women behind the dupatta have previously and currently face too. The secrets behind dupatta will be lifted and an out-pour of unknown tales will flow. As we move on into the future, it is important to bring these issues to the forefront and tackle them head-on. What the dupatta faced historically will not be accepted now. No, we are not against the dupatta; its significance is beyond beautiful. However, it is important for the Indian to wear the dupatta however she wants, still holding its meaning intact, and yet be able to be treated equally irrespective of her social status. We are not a feminist group, in fact we believe that the progression in the past and in the future, needs to be fueled and assisted by the modern Indian man. We are merely telling stories that are unheard of, untold and simultaneously honoring the women behind the dupatta. Their stories and accomplishments, trials and tribulations need to be told and heard; Behind the Dupatta is that outlet.

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