A Pheran it was

Rajeev Kumar Nagotra
Decades ago during the days of B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharata, a shopkeeper in the Kacchi Chhawni area of old Jammu city had turned his TV screen towards the road and a motley group of labourers, morning walkers, young cricketers and Gujjars had gathered outside the shop to watch the episode of the extremely popular TV serial. The country was ruled by the Congress party and the term “Bhakts” had not been coined yet but that is what they would have been called today. Soon a tourist bus arrives and stops by the group. A man, a muffler holding his chin and head together, emerges at the door of the bus and asks rather excitedly, “Bhaiyya, where can we find the apple trees here?” The “Bhakts” seemed disturbed, but only briefly, and turned their heads back towards the TV, their chins lifted up. The muffler man repeats his question trying to engage at least someone from the group. A Gujjar finally turns back and says, “Go to Kashmir. We don’t have apple trees here.” Those were the days of B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharata when people had neither”divyadrishti” nor internet.It was common to come across people who could not tell Jammu from Kashmir. Today there is internet. In fact the rest of India has 4G compared to our 2G. Someone must be too ignorant to realize that there are no apple trees in Kachi Chhawni or that a Pheran does not epitomize the cultural heritage of Jammu.
Politicians have often given proof of their bias against Jammu by painting it with the colours left over on their brush reserved for Kashmir. But politicians they are, after all, and they have their own agendas and vested interests. But what’s with the academicians? Why would they impose Kashmiri hegemony, political or cultural, on the land of Jammu? Why should the students of IIT Jammu be forced to receive their degrees wearing a Kashmiri Pheran? Does the administration of IIT Jammu have a political agenda or is it sheer ignorance? If it is the former, then it needs be nipped in the bud. If latter, then those at the helm of affairs must open their eyes and take a ride downtown and learn a thing or two about the local culture, traditions and ethos.
An IIT draws its students and faculty from all over the country. Although it does not have to be so, an IITusually, and proudly, lacks connect with the community surrounding its campus. It should be empathetic towards the local culture as well as contribute to the local economic landscape by making more meaningful contributions than merely helping a few restaurants and PGs thrive. Jammu had to agitate for the IIT as well as the AIIMS. AIIMS, once it comes up and becomes functional, is certainly going to serve the local community but IIT does not have any such obligation unless it chooses to step out of its MHRD-approved brief and takes Jammu in its folds of research and technological advancement. In the western countries, universities hold industrial conclaves in which the research grads exhibit their problem-solving skills and local entrepreneurs bring to the table their technological bottlenecks. Both the research institute and the local industry benefit from each other’s presence on such platforms. In absence of any such initiatives, the minimum the IIT Jammu can do is remain apolitical. By making the graduating students adorn Pherans in Jammu, the IIT has taken a side and made a bad start. It shows that either those running the roost are ignorant, as was the man with his chin and head held together by a muffler, or they are a bunch of political scientists trying to establish that J+K = K.
Sensing that the idea of Pheran will ruffle the local sensitivities the MoS PMO Dr. Jitendra Singh intervened soon after the press conference by the organizing committee. The Director of IITJ, Prof Gaur, responded by assuring him that it will only be “conventional” Convocation Gown. No other attire and No cap. Apparently, the professor failed. He failed to keep his word and to do the course correction. And, if one goes by the defense put up on the institute’s twitter handle, it seems that he is not even apologetic about the goof-up. Instead attempt was made to invoke the Central Government’s Unnat Bharat Abhiyan scheme to pretend that they got the 38 odd Pherans stitched to bring about socio-economic empowerment of Jammu villages, that Ghotta Patti used in the robe epitomised the craft of J&K and that the finished product represented the cultural heritage of the country. And, yes, the official statement says that it was not a Pheran. It was a cloak. One wonders how they would have defended the cap which was also a part of the original ensemble.
The official tweet goes further to assert that the choice of the Angavastram, the robe, was in sync with other IITs. Such an assertion can only result from a hasty research. J&K, with its diversity, is unlike any other state/UT of India, and IIT Jammu is set up invery different socio-political surroundings compared to other IITs. Until August 5, 2019, there were three distinct cultures in the state. Post August 5, 2019, there areonly two – one anchored in Jammu and the other in Srinagar. A dispassionate study would immediately reveal that the two are not only distinct but also at odds with each other. So, while the whole of Telangana can relate to the “dhoti” worn at the IIIT Hyderabad convocation, Maharashtra can identify with the white”pajama-kurta” chosen by IIT Bombay, Rajasthan with the “Safa” worn at IIT Jodhpur, and Assam with the “Gamusa” worn in IIT Guwahati, a Kashmir-themed Angavastram cannot be used to drape the entire UT without belittling the rich cultural heritage of Jammu. The administration of IIT Jammu has been around for at least 4 years now. If they had kept themselves aware, they would have understood that the slightest of favour shown to either side of the fulcrum destroys the balance between the two regions and thatJammu has long been dealt with unfairly. The decision to go for the Pheran only reestablishes that our fellow Indians still view us through the prism of Kashmir. One feels sorry for their jaundiced eyes, blurred vision and the appalling lack of awareness.It gets worse when they attempt to present the Pheran to the Jammuites as a secular cloak. It is both deceitful and avoidable.They must understand that Jammu has long stopped acceptingthe proverbial cap and that internet, even though 2G, is still an important means of educating oneself about a region.
(The author is an alumnus of IIT Roorkee)