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A ‘Dress Code’ Is A Flimsy Cover For Classism, But Most Of Us Play Along

Our outrage is rather selective.

30/06/2017 2:07 PM IST | Updated 30/06/2017 2:07 PM IST
TAILIN LYNGDOH. NIVEDITA BARTHAKUR FACEBOOK PAGE.

The incident at the Delhi Golf Club on June 26 where Tailin Lyngdoh was denied service due to the way she dressed has again sparked debates about our classist society. The woman, a Meghalaya native, was wearing a traditional Khasi dress known as a jainsem and she was told to leave the premises because she looked like a "maid."

This incident, of course is hardly isolated. In 2016, for example, a restaurant in Kolkata, Mocambo, refused to serve the driver of a more "acceptable" patron, claiming he was "dirtily dressed."

I've often seen families walk in to eat at a restaurant while the help/driver waits in the car or goes to eat at a nearby streetside place.

In both cases—Mocambo and the Delhi Golf Club—there was much outrage on social media about the "racism" demonstrated by these establishments. These, of course, are just stories that made it to the news. It's actually a daily occurrence for so-called high-class restaurants to refuse to serve domestic workers. I've often seen families walk in to eat at a restaurant while the help/driver waits in the car or goes to eat at a nearby streetside place.

It's not as if the more privileged among us get a clear pass always either, especially in places that follow a dress code. Last July, for instance, I tried to enter the Park Hotel in Kolkata wearing rather respectable jeans and a shirt. However, the guard at the security gate stopped me on account of me not wearing covered shoes, which are mandated by the dress code.

Now there are two aspects to this. While some may argue that these restaurants and hotels operate with a massive class bias, others contend that a dress code exists independently of such considerations.

This last argument is perhaps rather disingenuous since not everyone has the wherewithal to meet a "dress code." India is very diverse nation. Different cultures, food habits, religions, ethnicities and dresses. The question is why do the "dress codes" of the establishments not take into account this diversity? Places like the Delhi Gold Club and Mocambo pride themselves in catering to people who generally belong to the upper tiers of society. They believe that if they let someone like Tailin Lyngdoh enter through their doors, they are compromising their elite status.

When we go for dinner to a Taj or a Maurya Sheraton, the whole family dresses well... Such behaviour is so normal that we often do not notice what these practices mean.

I am not saying that such institutions should not exist at all, but can't they be more flexible in accommodating people from various backgrounds? Must a person look a very particular way to get a plate of food?

On most occasions we give in to these predetermined codes of conduct. When we go for dinner to a Taj or a Maurya Sheraton, the whole family dresses well in order to prepare for the occasion. Such behaviour is so normal that we often do not notice what these practices mean. The Mocambo incident and the Tailin Lyngdoh case are some examples which we should look at and try to restructure societal standards and make them more accommodating and unbiased.

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