Apparel oft proclaims the man, said Shakespeare in the sixteenth century. The same has sparked a controversy in the twenty first century. Basically the dress is for protecting the body. That is why there are variations of dress among men of one country from another. Cotton dress in tropical lands and woollen suit in cold climate. Gradually the dress became a symbol of respect. Certain persons wearing ceremonial dress alone were permitted before the kings and queens. Seeing a man of authority with a towel on one’s own shoulder was a matter of disrespect. The towel tied around the waist is a symbol of humbleness. In the lowest ebb of such custom, low-caste women in Kerala were not permitted for a long time to wear a bodice or a covering over their blouses. No wonder therefore that a dress code has become a matter of concern among the legal disputants to-day.
A few days before the commencement of a rural festival at Shenbaga Vinayagar Temple at Akkiyampatti Village in Marungapuri Taluk of Trichy District, a writ petition was filed seeking permission for a cultural programme on November 21, 2015. Though it is not clearly known, the single Judge might have feared that this kind of entertainment may result in uncultural behaviour because of inebriated condition of the public as well as the entertainers who sometimes parade obscenity. Hence the single Judge ordered the HR and CE Department not to allow people inside the temples if they wear modern dresses and permit only those attired in traditional dresses, in all the temples administered by the Hindu Religious Endowment Board. This is actually a dress code prescribed by a single Judge, to be implemented from January 1, 2016 onwards.
Against this dress code, the HR & CE Department filed a writ appeal and two more Women’s Organisations (AIDWA) also have contested the order of the single Judge. After hearing these writ appeals, a Bench of Justices V.Ramasubramanian and N.Kirubakaran granted the interim stay against the single Judge order and what they observed on the occasion is worthy of being remembered. This he addressed to a lawyer who supported the dress code in temples.
“When a dress code was imposed in a club, you opposed it. Now you are supporting a dress code in temples. When it came to a club not allowing you inside in a dhoti, you said it is traditional. Therefore the question is who will decide what is traditional and what is not.”
It may be recalled that those who were wearing dhoties were denied entry into Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Club in Chennai.
In the course of the hearing, Justice Ramasubramanian said that most of the saints, including Naga Sadhus spotted during Kumbha Mela, could not enter temples. if the dress code prescribed by the single judge was enforced. Even Ramana Maharishi, if he was alive could not be allowed into temples as per the order of the Judge. Recalling the proverb ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ the Justice said, ‘not only beauty, even obscenity lies in the eyes of the beholder’.
Later the Bench adjourned the hearing on the appeal to enable some lawyers who wanted to argue in support of the dress code. But the counsel for All India Democratic Women’s Association has observed that Indian women are not living in Afghanistan or Pakistan to cover themselves fully before entering the temple. Even women in those countries have been fighting against such restrictions imposed on them.
She wondered how prescription of a dress code even for children could enhance the spiritual ambience in temples as claimed by the single Judge. In fact, the dress code interfered with women’s freedom to choose their attire. One wonders what these people who fight for and against the dress code in temples would say about the obscenity and nudity that are perpetrated in the sculptures installed inside the temples and their towers!