Opinion Op Ed 15 Jan 2017 Indian attire fine, ...

Indian attire fine, but govt can’t ‘club’ them into submission

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | ASHOK FERNANDES
Published Jan 15, 2017, 1:31 am IST
Updated Jan 15, 2017, 7:05 am IST
(Representational Image)
 (Representational Image)

Should Indian attire be banned in our clubs? The state government is keeping up its tirade against institutions that don't allow formal attire and I must say I agree with their stand. We can't cling to the past forever. Yes, we maintain a certain sense of propriety toward our history — removing the Queen Victoria statue from M.G. Road would be a shame! Even so, we can only take this so far. Times are changing and it's upto us to keep pace.

Let's look at the club's history.  It was founded by three officers employed in the British army and was named the United Services Club. Any army officer posted in Bengaluru became a member. As we neared Independence, they slowly opened their doors to Indian members - the club had been exclusively British until this point. Today, it's run entirely by Indians. It appears things have changed a great deal already!

Bangalore Club is the finest in the city and I'm a proud member. This comes with its own rules and regulations, which I believe we ought to respect. It still has a men's bar where women cannot enter. This caused a bit of a flurry, which the club responded to by opening a mixed bar. Men want a place they can call their own and they continue to have it. Also, children below the age of 18 are not allowed after 9 pm. The other day, my son, who is 17, was turned back from a function we were all attending, but those are the rules. They’re put there in good faith to maintain the decorum for which the club is known.

Now, we come to the problem. You have Chidambaram who wears his lungi to Parliament and even to meet the Prime Minister. He won't be allowed to set foot in Bangalore Club, though! A similar case took place in Chennai, when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister. A politician was turned away for wearing a lungi and she ordered its closing the very next day (there is a good deal of autocracy in this, but that’s another matter entirely). The management issued an apology and allows formal Indian attire on their premises.

The question we need to ask ourselves is if anybody wearing recognised, formal, national attire should be allowed to enter clubs.  I don't see why not, as long as they are people of a certain stature, who fit in with the philosophy of the club.

A great point of contention for our ministers is the fact that they are not granted access to these clubs. Officers of a certain rank in the army, Navy and the Air Force can be temporary members for as long as they are posted here. The Commissioner of Income Tax, the Deputy Commissioner and the Additional Commissioner can all be members during their tenure. The Finance Minister, however, to whom they all report, cannot.

I have been reliably led to believe that 150 memberships were demanded for the political class. The most recent reports, on the committee's progress, however, focus more on the dress code than life memberships for politicians! The trouble with this is, first, that a member of parliament, who remains in office for five years unless he is re-elected, is being granted lifetime access. Second - and this is more pressing - an important minister comes with a coterie of about 15 people, which bothers everybody else present. The whole purpose of a club, after all, is to get away from the stresses of regular life!

There are things in favour of the state committee's stand and those that require amendment. As far as the dress code is concerned, however, any formal dress, whether it's national or otherwise, should be allowed. As for everything else - clubs are associations of persons and don't come under the Societies Act. We are allowed to make our own rules within the institution, which apply only to us.

Allowing the government to take such a decisive stand (and who knows what else their report might contain) will set a precedent. If a verdict is pronounced here, High Courts in other states will rule in keeping with it. Clubs have their constitutions and will act in accordance with them, but if the government wants to get you, there are a multitude of ways in which it can! Perhaps this is their way of attempting to save face - their attempt to grant politicians full access to clubs simply didn’t hold any water and they don’t want to walk away empty-handed. 

— The writer is a prominent Bengalurean and a civic activist

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