Against Delhi Golf Club, a PIL to redeem the Jainsem

The two pieces of fabric are embroidered (festooned) at the bottom and made to size. The Jainsem is worn over a skirt/petticoat and blouse. Some women wear it ankle length; others wear it just below their knees.

Written by Patricia Mukhim | Published:July 4, 2017 1:02 am
Meghalaya racism, khasi cloth, meghalaya khasi cloth, delhi golf club, india news Tailin Lyngdoh, wearing a traditional Khasi jainsem, is photographed on June 27 before she flew out from New Delhi to Assam. Tashi Tobgyal

On June 25, Tailin Lyngdoh was asked to leave the upper crust Delhi Golf Club (DGC) where she had gone for lunch with her employer, Dr Nivedita Barthakur Sondhi and family. They were all guests of octogenarian Pam Goyal, a club member. Tailin, a Khasi, was wearing the only dress that Khasi ladies know – the Jainsem.

By now everyone knows this story. They know that the Jainsem is made of two pieces of silk fabric, the length of which depends on the wearer’s height while the breadth is 36 cm. The two pieces of fabric are embroidered (festooned) at the bottom and made to size. The Jainsem is worn over a skirt/petticoat and blouse. Some women wear it ankle length; others wear it just below their knees. The two pieces are fastened by a pin on each side of the shoulder (near the collar bone region). It’s one of the most comfortable and modest dresses allowing free movement, and unlike other so-called ‘formal’ Indian dresses does not expose the midriff, the back or allow for cleavage.

Now those who run the DGC would hardly be aware of the above niceties. They try and fit people into slots of “Indian” or “Western”. For them “Indian” is — sari, salwar kameez, lehenga, while “Western” clothing is trousers, skirts and dresses for women. It’s a strictly cut-and-dried label.

Tailin in her Jainsem was incongruous. She stood out. Her looks didn’t fit the ‘Aryan’ profile, but are more Tibeto-Burman or Mon Khmer if you like. That’s the racial genesis of the people of North East India. And no apologies for looking the way we do!

But no, we are not all “Nepali.” We are Khasi, Jaintia, Garo, Naga, Mizo, Hmar, Darlong, Karbi, Dimasa, Kuki and many more. For the information of fellow Indians, the North Eastern periphery of India comprises 238 ethnic groups and counting. BG Verghese’s book, “India’s North East Resurgent,” would be a good primer for the educated illiterate. In fact, this book should be kept in all these elite club libraries, but of course that would only help provided these people have time to read such gems.

Tailin failed to qualify for sitting at the high table of the DGC on two counts. She was wearing an unknown dress. She looked Nepali, hence she was a maid servant – a term that tribals abhor. Hence she had to leave! Thankfully, Nivedita Barthakur stood her ground! She insisted that Tailin be served lunch along with them or they would all leave in protest. The Club’s lackeys were insistent that Tailin could not be served lunch at that table!

Much has happened since that ignominious Sunday of June 25. Tailin herself has spoken out against the discrimination on national television; others have joined in the chorus. Nivedita Barthakur has been garnering support for this case and refuses to accept the faux apology which the Club tendered, mainly to save face. The enquiry committee set up by the Club and headed by a retired judge is also a vain attempt at whitewashing its gross misdemeanor.

Neither Tailin nor Nivedita are ready to consider these half-hearted attempts at appeasement. It’s just the kind of tactic adopted by the powerful to mollify the underdog! And Nivedita is no underdog. She is a doctor-entrepreneur who has lived and worked in the UK and Tailin has been her son Raghav’s governess for over nine years. At least in the West governesses are not maid servants, excuse me!

Recently Tailin and a visibly upset Nivedita were in Shillong to seek the intervention of the Meghalaya State Commission for Women, State Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and other activists like Roshmi Goswami, founder-member of North East Network and previously with Ford Foundation, and this writer-editor. We are soon filing a PIL in the Delhi High Court. The case brief is being prepared by leading lawyer and women’s rights activist Vrinda Grover.

The plea would be to dismantle these club structures that are poor remnants of an oppressive, bigoted and snooty colonial culture that reeks of apartheid. This culture is antithetical to all that Mahatma Gandhi stood for. It was the British who threw out Gandhi out of a first class compartment of a train at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on account of his colour! And now Indians are throwing out other Indians in a country which Gandhi delivered from the colonialists!

What’s shocking is that the Delhi Golf Club is run on 220 acres of prime real estate leased from the government, for a measly sum of Rs 5.82 lakh per year for a property that is valued at Rs 47,000 crores. Like someone right said, “The powerful club is full of strutting peacocks and patriots nestled amidst 15th Century monuments.”

India is going through a churn, what with lynching of targeted groups that ostensibly eat beef and now the discriminatory attitudes by the well-heeled. Well, the tribals of the North East are beef eaters and have been so, much before their ancestors signed the Instrument of Accession to India in 1948.

Suddenly, there is a sense of foreboding that engulfs us in the region. We wonder why our palate is invaded and why ‘nationalism’ is now equated to worship of the cow. These are issues we are fast learning, need to be questioned and challenged. After all tribals of the region have the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution so that their culture and tradition is protected.

But it seems as if we are stepping into an era where a certain kind of conformism is expected from a country whose people and customs are so hugely diverse. Will this idea of India really hold? Is our diversity now our fatal flaw and our Achilles Heel?

Patricia Mukhim is the editor of Shillong Times, besides being a social activist and writer. She tweets @meipat

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  1. S
    Seshubabu Kilambi
    Jul 4, 2017 at 9:31 pm
    The hegemony of north aryans is controlling the club
    1. C
      Common Man
      Jul 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm
      Congress Minister Kamal Nath extended the lease of Delhi Golf Club. CBI inquiry should be initiated in to this decision. Land belongs to public, should be handed over for public use. Hope PM is feeling the pulse of people
      1. A
        Abu Fitna
        Jul 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm
        The campaign against the obnoxious Delhi Golf Club is laudable. But the conflation of lynching over beef with the golf club incident is disingenuous. By doing so you are blaming the NDA govt. for two sins the golf club was inherited by the Indians from the British and its elitism was consolidated by the same ecosystem that existed in India from 1947 to 2014. So please try to disassociate the incidents.
        1. A
          Jul 4, 2017 at 1:14 pm
          If Ms. Lyngdoh was a maid, her employer ought to have saved her the embarrassment. Clubs - even restaurants say Right of Admission Reserved - have clear rules, which members and their guests should observe. I am certainly not a snob, but the DGC was not wrong. They are now simply being bullied. Creating a faux sense of outrage plays well into a 24 / 7 news cycle.
          1. S
            Jul 4, 2017 at 5:10 pm
            You are an id!ot of first degree, right o admission reserved, based on a how a person dresses, looks like you too ar member of this elite DGC, who frown upon people from lower strata, All Indians have the right to enter any premises, if not then I am not sure why the govt should not cancel the license and shove it their as ses.
          2. H
            Jul 4, 2017 at 10:37 am
            what is your problem, the lady should be allowed then say it loudly that being a human being and capable of paying bill and being there as per rules of the club, she must be allowed. Take this position and file FIR against the person who stopped her and if some rules stopped then challange the rules in the court? Why we think that we become important when we raise issue about caste and discrimination against a group. You mentioned Nepali so what if he is nepali and llok like maid and even maid so what? Why to bring in that govt land is given to them ? what is your problem , government land is not given to you? And if govt land is an issue , you make a different article that rich people should not be given land for sports/leisure/party in costly place? If we donot like someone , even on justified reasons, we should avoid throwing all kind of mud on them. If the lady was allowed , would you still raise the issue of govt land at cheap rates, if yes , donot make case of discrimination
            1. I
              Jul 4, 2017 at 8:37 am
              Private clubs are formed and run at the cost of public exchequer. They are centres of vanity, and power-mongering. While the clubs are not illegal, the club members should realise that they are neither a necessity nor are they adding value to the society at large.
              1. D
                Dr. P. B. M. Basaiawmoit
                Jul 4, 2017 at 8:33 am
                Good move. The incident of 25 June cannot be swept under the carpet or brushed off into oblivion. Singularity cannot be accepted.
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