Tossing The Robes, Donning The Ethnic

Tossing The Robes, Donning The Ethnic

Nov 21, 2017 | Swaha Swayamsiddha Deepak Kumar

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Convocation is an event which is special to every graduate in many aspects. It’s a celebration of one’s achievements across time in the institute. It, thus, is a time which gets engraved into one’s memory. NITR hosts it’s annual convocation in the month of January where the degree recipients, donned in black gowns and capes are felicitated.  It came as quite a surprise to many students of NITR when the authorities decided to do away with the existing gown culture and replaced it with a traditional attire.

Until last year, the institute followed a dress-code which required all students taking part in the convocation ceremony to wear a gown and a mortarboard. This was scrapped this year in favor of more traditional- Sambalpuri attire. The male students now have to don Sambalpuri printed kurta-pajamas while the female students have to mandatorily put on Sarees.

The tradition of wearing an academic dress to graduation or convocation is followed worldwide. Indian institutes and universities too had seamlessly inculcated the graduation cap and gown custom in their convocation ceremonies. However, to get rid of such a colonial practice, institutes closer home are shedding this off and opting for an Indian look in their academic functions and ceremonies. Last year IIT, Bombay decided to abandon the western robes and don khadi garments instead. This year IIT, Kanpur adopted an Indian outfit as well, with graduates wearing kurta-pajamas accompanied by a stole. IIT, BHU was the first to do away with the British style gowns back in 2013 and had the students wear off-white saris and kurtas or tunics and sport a stole known as an uttariya. Other universities and institutes are also following the trend or kick-starting it.

With such developments in place, Prof. Animesh Biswas, Director, NIT, Rourkela, too considered doing away with the foreign culture of donning caps and robes for graduation. He came up with an idea of having this year’s graduating students, attired in saris and kurta-pajamas, decked in the Sambalpuri print. On discussing this in the Dean and HODs meeting and deliberating on this with the Board of Governors; all of whom thought this to be a very unique and nice idea; the institute decided to implement this rule. This will give the mass a uniformed, neat and cultured look as well.

The Director and the committee for the organization of the convocation, decided to start with Sambalpuri, given the location of Rourkela and it’s proximity to Sambalpur, and the international name and fame of this indigenous print. As per the present discretion, the attire will remain the same for the years to come; but the prints and patterns on the saris and kurta-pajamas will change, traversing the diversity of India. Next year, instead of Sambalpuri, the committee shall decide on having another pattern, representing yet another region of India, adorning the clothes. However, this hasn’t been finalized and will be seen to in the subsequent years, depending on the response of students, as said by Prof. B K Nanda, PIC of the XVth Convocation.

Instead of returning their attires; as they did with the gowns and caps, the former students will be allowed to retain the Convocation dress as mementos. However, the dress will be paid for in part by the student and in part, by the institute. This sum and its division hasn’t been finalized but will be notified to the graduates and the students soon after the order has been finalized. The fraction of the money to be paid by students will be deducted from their Caution Fee, however, this decision was taken without the consent of students.

Such a move will even benefit local weavers and traders, conjuring up work and employment for them. The institution or company to which the work will be tendered hasn’t been finalized but the institute is deliberating on tendering this to Utkalika, a government-owned enterprise. The convocation committee has asked for samples from Utkalika which they’ll be providing soon, and if it gets the committee’s approval, they will start mass producing it.

After this notice passed, there was dissent to be seen among the students. Having grown used to the gown culture and farseeing that this procedure can have many snags, the students were concerned about its viability. One of their main points of concern was the matter of regionalism. With a considerable proportion of the students in the institute not having any connection with the assigned dress code, students are hesitant in adopting it. Convocation is a very special event for the graduating batch of students, a moment of exhilarating excitement and happiness which was considerably damped following the announcement.

Former students attending the convocation may also face problems with the dresses and their sizes. Saris aren’t really the nine yards of grace that they seem to be without petticoats and other required accessories. Kurta-pajamas too need an almost equal amount of heed when it comes to stitching and fitting. Students are also skeptical about the material of the cloth to be used, its stitching and other fine detailing. Arranging all these, in the required sizes and patterns will not go smoothly and may mar the occasion for many. Gowns and caps were definitely easier to stitch, don and celebrate in.

In a chat with Prof. B K Nanda, Person in Charge of the XVth Convocation, he said that the dress samples and sizes will be uploaded and shown on the website after its finalization. This will help the students chose the accessories, like petticoats etc., according to their own sizes. This, if done, will help combat the confusion over different sizes and stitchings, especially in the ladies’ attire. He also added that this is a fluid thing, subject to change if it doesn’t work out as expected. The views and opinions of the students will also be taken into account in the subsequent years. Team MM conducted a survey among the present batch of alumni who will be attending the convocation and the results are attached below:

A change which concerns an entire batch of graduate students is, without any doubt, a major change. It still remains to be seen whether or not this change would work out for good, but what is clear though, is that it is essential that whenever a change of this magnitude is sought, the major stakeholders must be consulted. In this case, the major stakeholders were the students and they were not consulted. The director, Prof. Animesh Biswas acknowledged this and assured that from the next year students would be consulted. He added:

The students’ views would be taken into account from next year onwards. This year, the planning for the event was delayed; hence we could not consult them. But it’s saddening to note that a few graduates of the institue have expressed their dissatisfaction over this change, citing regional prejudices. I want to say this to everyone that India is a land of diverse culture and diverse tradition and we should take pride in adopting our culture. Even very few students of Odisha can connect with the Sambalpuri tradition, but it’s a trademark of the place where the institute is located and hence we’ve changed this rule. And it shouldn’t be considered as promoting regional differences. 

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