I Am Sorry I Used the Word 'Shame': Sabyasachi Mukherjee

The celebrity designer apologised on Instagram for hurting sentiments with his speech at the Harvard India Conference.

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"I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a saree, I would say shame on you. It's a part of your culture, (you) need stand up for it," Sabyasachi had told Indian students at the Harvard India Conference, held on 10th February.

What was expressed as a response to the act of Indians all over the world becoming "socially insecure", went ahead to become a major headline and the celebrity designer couldn't have imagined to receive such backlash for his words.

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According to a report by PTI, his remark met with a thundering applause from the audience, but was severely criticised by the Twitterverse. The designer who was responding to a question on the difficulties women face in draping a saree, said, the saree is the most wonderful dress in the world and people across the globe admire it, and identify Indian women with it.

"They are becoming socially insecure," he said. "Women and men are trying very hard to be something that they are not. Your clothing should be a part of who you are and connect you to your roots," he added.

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But the word "shame" did not strike the right chord with people on social media, and offended many, being termed as patriarchal and anti-feminist.

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To clear the air, the acclaimed designer posted an open letter on his Instagram, saying he regretted using the word "shame", and the intention was majorly misconstrued as "misogynistic, patriarchal, and non-inclusive."

Here's the open letter Sabyasachi posted online:

Now I have worked with the sari for 16 years. During this time, I have had countless open dialogues in various forums pan-India with women of all age groups and income brackets about the constant barrage of negativity surrounding it. Yet another question of ageism and the sari at Harvard triggered a lot of pent-up frustration that I have accrued for that segment of our society which constantly expresses disdain for this piece of Indian heritage. It is this frustration that I unfortunately generalised to Indian women in response to the question, when I now see that I should have framed it as a call to stop shaming the sari and whomever chooses to wear it. I am passionate about textiles and our heritage, and I am sorry that in the heat of that moment, I allowed this passion to be misplaced. I take full responsibility for this. On the topic of the sari, I ask you today: how many times have you or someone you know encountered this issue? Body shaming, attaching connotations of ‘Auntie Ji’, calling them sloppy; these are all ways that some men and women alike belittle the sari (and, more accurately, the wearer of the sari). These comments are laced with sarcasm and connotations of cultural repression and backwardness. Many women, young and old, are scared to have an outing in a sari because it is shrouded in so many layers of taboo and controversy, often citing inability to correctly drape a sari as an exit point. We are a celebrity-obsessed country, and yes, it does affect consumption patterns and social behaviour at-large. Some consumers are being conditioned to believe that the sari ages women, and you will see the evidence of that clearly documented by so many social media trolls targeting celebrities online. Isn’t that shaming, or shall we call it cyber-bullying? Yet we are often complicit in this, which may even be welcomed by some to encourage more traffic to a website/blog. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

Let’s also talk about another subject that has arisen out of the fervent discussions occurring about me and my brand, and one that has always been a big topic on gender inequality and the patriarchy (which, according to some of you, I am ardently supporting): the pay gap. It is humiliating to have to defend yourself in public but sometimes a bitter medicine needs to be swallowed to drive home a hidden truth. I would like to bring to your notice, that the majority of my staff at Sabyasachi Couture are women. From pattern makers, to seamstresses, to designers, to publicists, to IT consultants, department heads, store managers, and core of management; women comprise the top earners on my payroll – and it is not because they are women, but because they’ve earned it by their merit. And every Friday, men and women alike at Sabyasachi wear Indian clothing to celebrate our love for textiles, with zero enforcement. Mine is a women-oriented brand and I owe my complete success to them. I have always, and will continue to love and respect women irrespective of the labels recently assigned to me. It was in this spirit that I started my brand, and that is how it shall remain till the day we decide to shut its doors. I once again apologise for the distress caused by the words I used, but not for the intent, which often takes a back seat when slammed by controversy. My intent was to call out those women who proudly proclaim that they don’t wear saris and simultaneously shame others who wear saris by saying it makes them look older, backward, or culturally repressed. My social media team takes extreme care that not a single negative comment written by you is censored, so that the world can make their own judgments and have a transparent view of the brand. Tomorrow, you can shame me further on twitter, make provocative headlines out of this letter, or choose to blacklist us as consumers. It is absolutely fair and understandable because it is your prerogative. For us, for better or for worse, it will be business as usual. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

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