IIT Controversy: Why Ignore Dogras’ Cultural Identity?

K B Jandial The maiden convocation of IIT, nationally reputed and Jammu’s latest addition to prideful educational institutions, was marred by an unsavory controversy on use of a particular convocation robe which many dubbed it as “cultural aggression on Jammu”. It all started with the claim of the Chairman, Board of Governors, IIT Jammu Sharad Kumar Saraf & Director IIT Jammu, Manoj Kumar Gaur during a presser at Jammu that “the design of the ceremony has been inspired by the art and culture of Jammu and Kashmir due to which, the traditional convocation robes have been replaced with Pheran and Pakols”. Being held at Dogra heartland first time in post Article 370 period, this announcement upset Jammu which sharply reacted on social media platform and got immediate intervention of Dr. Jitender Singh, himself a proud Dogra, who promptly spoke to Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha and senior functionaries of HRD. The IIT Director assured him that it would only be conventional gown with no other attire and cap. But this relief was short lived as picture posted of the Convocation was contrary to the assurance to the Minister.


The B.Tech passed outs were donning Pheran. Yes, the Pakol cap was withdrawn. Convocation of any university or institution, more so the maiden one, is always a prestigious occasion for which the students keenly wait. They make it a memorable event of their lives by throwing the caps up in groups and then catch these in pictures for lifelong memory. But when the occasion is marred by controversy, its sheen goes off besides leaving behind unpleasantness and public debate on non-academic issue. That is what has happened to the maiden convocation of IIT Jammu. The tradition of academic dress originated in the West. It dates back to the 12th century when universities were taking form. The dress worn by them was of the cleric. The University of Coimbra, Portugal and other colleges issued statues in the 14th Century that forbade “excess in apparel” and prescribed that all “Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors” wear gowns. In England too, half long gown was prescribed. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge first began prescribing a definite academic dress. It was late 19th Century in America that the attire and colour for scholars were standardized. Different colours of the dress were prescribed for different disciplines: green of medieval herbs for medicine, olive that is close to green for pharmacy, golden yellow for sciences, white for arts and letters, red, one of the traditional colors of the church, for theology. In 1932, the American Council on Education set up a committee “to determine whether revision and completion of the academic code adopted by the Conference of the Colleges and Universities in 1895 was desirable at this time…” The committee reviewed the situation and approved a code for academic costumes that remained in vogue for long. Again in 1959, the Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies in 1959 reviewed the costume code and made some changes in academic ceremony guide. As Indians started setting up their own institutions of higher education, they thought of indianising the academic dress. In 1919 at the first convocation of Banaras Hindu University the graduates looked smart in their gowns of mauve with yellow border and large light green turbans. Instead of standard Latin, the language used for the ceremony was Sanskrit. Vishwabharati too followed Indian style and simplicity. In 1957, as per the Times of India report, the Chancellor, Prime Minister Nehru, giving away degrees “and the recipients wore yellow scarves in place of the traditional academic gowns. The period of 1960s saw some protests against Western gowns and in 1968 Marathwada University dropped them entirely, instead opted for white Nehru shirts and pyjamas. Back home, at the first postIndependence convocation of Jammu & Kashmir University held at Srinagar on September, 24, 1949 Sheikh Mohd Abdullah and all others dignitaries with the exception of the Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had donned black gown with pagri on the head. Pt. Nehru wore his own brand, Nehru cap. Modi Govt gradually rolled out its plan to induct ‘desi’ attire for convocation in its first term and in June 2019, finally pushed out traditional colonial robes and brought in local and regional traditional attire made of Indian handloom. The UGC issued a circular to all public and private universities under it, asking them to go traditional during their convocation ceremonies. It believed that with changing times, everything should change. Indian universities had been carrying on the British style of wearing a robe during convocations and now it was time to change the tradition and localized it. While no convocation was organised by Jammu University, the Central University held its convocation with local traditional Dogra attire of kurtapajama for male and kurta- churidaar pyjami for female passed outs. But Jammu’s IIT had its own ideas. Picking up Kashmir’s most popular costume and identity, pheran, IIT bosses went overboard to placate certain elements and added Pakol cap to the convocation dress and very proudly announced it as “regional attire” without realising that Pakol cap (a Pakhtoon cap) is not of Kashmir but of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This cap is also worn by the Dards of Gilgit, Baltistan, Gurez but is also broadly identified with terrorists and their leaders like Usama Bin Laden, LeT chief Hafiz Sayeed and their likes. Pheran is not an alien dress and is very popular costume in Kashmir and even some people in Jammu too don it in the winter. None has any problem with it. But the issue is why not Dogra attire for Convocation of Jammu institution that it is being held in the Dogra heartland? Do Saraf and Gaur have any convincing answer for it? Getting the pheran stitched from a local Self Help Group with gotta patti embroidery doesn’t make it Jammu’s cholla. President Dogra Saddar Sabha, Gulchain Singh Charak had offered to provide over hundred Dogra pagris and in the alternative, depute experts for tying Dogra pagri on spot. The Dogra Saddar Sabha, many Civil Societies and several groups on social media like Jammu Heritage Group, Citizens’ Forum for Public Concerns were genuinely outraged at this cultural onslaught on Dogras. The IIT’s top brass couldn’t fool the people of Jammu. Perhaps, they don’t believe that Jammu is worthy of its distinct culture and separate regional identity. Jammu is not subsumed in Kashmir’s identity. It is this mindset which Jammu craves to change and seek due respect and recognition to its identity and aspirations. The Jammu civil society’s outrage was very regretfully painted as “the outcome of the unhappy divide between those who love and those who hate Modi” by Gurcharan Das who delivered the Convocation Address at the IIT, Jammu. It is painful for Jammu, which is known for its secular credentials as compared to Kashmir and have always maintained perfect communal harmony, that a celebrated author and columnist believed Dogras’ civilized protest on social media as part of some “uncivil wars” and wrote about it in Times of India in his article “US, India: Stop the uncivil Wars”. He wrote in this piece: “The second incident happened at IITJammu on January 9, where I was giving the convocation address. I was asked to remove a lovely black cap given to me by the organisers to wear on this festive occasion. Hindu nationalists thought it resembled a Kashmiri Muslim cap and found it offensive.” While Gurcharan Das is entitled to have his opinion on this unsavory event, perhaps on the mischievous briefing of the otherwise apologetic IIT top brass, he should have known that at least Pakol cap has neither any linkage with Kashmir nor Kashmiri Muslims. Pakol is handmade soft, round-topped Afghan cap originally made in Chitral situated on the Chitral river in north Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Chitral was a princely state that acceded to Pakistan by its ruler Mehtar (title given to the ruling dynasty) Muzaffar-ul Mulk was a friend of Mohd Ali Jinnah. In 1969, Chitral was fully integrated into Pakistan. This is enough for Gurcharan Das and the top brass of IIT who picked up this headgear for convocation attire and have temerity to call it local & “regional cultural delight”. There is historic reason for Jammu civil society to strongly oppose Pakol cap. It represents a tribe of Chitral who played a dubious role in the Pakistan’s invasion into princely J&K State. Immediately after acceding to Pakistan, Mehtar of Chitral proclaimed Jihad to “liberate” Kashmir from the Dogras. At that time, the Gilgit scouts were retreating and J&K State force of Maharaja Hari Singh had made some gains in the Burzil pass. The Chitral scouts, who replaced Gilgit scouts in Domel and Kamri sectors, moved towards Skardu and laid siege of State forces which ended with the fall of Skardu, surrender of the Dogra force and capture of Baltistan. The Pakol cap is a symbol of this treachery. Unfortunately, Saraf-Guar duo first humiliated Dogras by selecting this cap for convocation attire and then the chief guest eulogized it as “a lovely black cap” which he regretted to remove merely because “Hindu nationalists (Dogras) thought it resembled a Kashmiri Muslim cap”. Are Dogras really opposed to Kashmiri culture? How regrettable is it that Jammu’s cultural aspirations and identity is viewed by the reputed columnist through the prism of “Modi bhakt and Congressia” (to use his words) that divide the people of Jammu & Kashmir. How could Gurcharan Das overlook the fact that Jammu has been accommodating all communities, be in distress or otherwise, and a harmonious shelter home for all including Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. But doesn’t Jammu (or Dogras) has a right to seek recognition and promotion of its culture which has glorious past? After seventy years’ of subjugation of Kashmir, Jammu have woken up and started raising voice whenever any action hurts it. Jammu has decided to accept no discrimination in any sphere or assault on its identity, observations of Gurcharan Das or excuses of Saraf-Gaur notwithstanding. The Jammu Civil Society expects that proud Dogra Dr. Jitendra Singh, Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha and authorities of Education Ministries of the UT and the Centre to get this sordid decision investigated and issue necessary guidelines to universities and technical institutions himself or through HRD to respect the local and regional cultural aspirations in future convocations in true spirit of PM Modi’s idea of ‘desi’ attire for such events. (feedback:kbjandial@gmail.com)