Last week, Nagaland-based Chakhesang Women Welfare Society (CWWS) sued noted fashion designer Ritu Beri and the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Ltd (TRIFED), which operates under the Ministry Of Tribal Affairs, for infringement of GI tag pertaining to Naga shawls. The Civil suit, filed in the court of the district judge, in Phek, sought damages for “wrongful and illegal action for infringement of registered GI” during a showcase by Beri. This was in collaboration with TRIFED, at the Surajkund Crafts Mela, earlier this year.
On February 7, just before the pandemic had struck the country, Beri had organised a fashion show in association with TRIFED at the annual Surajkund Crafts Mela in Faridabad, Haryana, on the theme ‘Naturally North East: The NagaNarrative’, where the Chakhesang shawls were “allegedly misrepresented”. The collection mixed traditional garments and prints from Nagaland with mini-skirts, leather jackets and tailored western wear pieces. The shawls meant for men were allegedly worn by women, and vice versa – something that has been severely condemned by the CWWS.
According to Naga beliefs, the garment is the most distinctive feature of the Chakhesang Nagas, in terms of appearance as well as symbolism. It is still revered as a symbol of distinguished achievement. The privilege of wearing this shawl had to be earned and most people earned the honour of wearing it after they were past middle age.
The women’s welfare society has claimed that the show has caused “irreparable damage/distorted the identity of the traditional shawls, which are GI registered, wherein the shawls were woven and designed with deep-rooted meanings since time immemorial.” A statement by the CWWS informed that the defendants – Beri and TRIFED – have been given time till October 7 by the court to file their written statement on the matter.
The GI tag implies that without the consent of the registered proprietor, the said shawls/patterns cannot be used by any designer or society, even the government. Talking about the controversy, Beri said, “The matter is sub-judice, and therefore, I cannot comment on the merits of the matter. The legal proceedings will take their own course.”
However, she adds, “The Naga Narrative is a collection inspired by the tribes of Nagaland reflecting the natural beauty of North East India. It was my humble attempt to represent the ethos of Nagaland. I have the utmost respect for the culture of Nagaland and the Naga people. The aforesaid collection highlights the fabrics and designs of Nagaland. I have now come to know that a suit has been filed by some individuals. I am open to hearing their grievances and assuaging their concerns. I regret that a few people have been offended by the collection.”
Last year, Beri came on board the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to promote Indian tribal crafts and culture, as the chief design consultant. In her role, Beri is mandated with mentoring over 1.5 lakh tribal master craftsmen associated with TRIFED to develop globally relevant handlooms and handicrafts. Pravir Krishna, MD, TRIFED, says, “We are in touch with the government of Nagaland and the matter will be sorted out soon.”
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