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She describes herself as very much a “denim person, paired with flats and t-shirts”, but at the same time she is adept at handling the various folds and layers of the Jainsem — the traditional attire worn by women of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. Meet Sabina Parvez Warjri, 40, the current Mrs South Asia. She bagged the title at a beauty pageant held in April in Delhi and is now preparing to represent India at the Mrs Universal pageant to be held in September in London.
What caught the attention of the judges and also made her stand out at the contest in Delhi was the traditional Jainsem she wore. “I am a Khasi, and Jainsem is a proud motif for us. I have been wearing the Jainsem since school — when I was 14 or 15 years old. I wear it for every function since then. Even when I started modelling in 1993, I wore it very proudly at every stage show,” says the mother of two. The Jainsem recently grabbed national headlines when a woman wearing it was asked to leave the premises of the elite Delhi Golf Club, as the employees of the club thought the attire resembles that of “a maid”.
“This incident reminds me of Gandhiji, and his experience in South Africa, where he was asked to leave the first class compartment of a train. He was discriminated on the basis of his skin colour, and here the woman had to suffer because of her tradition,” says Warjri. The Jainsem, unlike the sari and other traditional attires like the ghaghra, has not been relegated to the status of ‘festive and traditional’ attire. It is part of everyday clothing in the Northeast.
“I see so many young people wearing it, they wear it to work and do their daily errands. Many youngsters even wear it during the Sunday service. Many designers also offer Jainsems. You can’t wear silk, with the Muga, everyday, but there are simpler ones in different materials with embroidered edges, which is a trademark for Jainsem. You have to pair the Jainsem with a skirt and a blouse. There is a lot that you can experiment with in terms of fashion,” says Warjri. While several people showed an interest in the attire when she wore it in Delhi, she is still to decide if she will wear it during the contest in London. “I will have to wear a national dress of India in London. I am still to decide what that will be,” she adds.