Never having to say sari

Dawn Butler
Dawn Butler

by Amit Roy

AN ENGLISH friend of mine who fell ill and could not attend last Friday’s (22) launch of Eastern Eye’s Rich List sent her regrets at having to pull out at the last minute.

She said that she and her husband, who enjoys any excuse for an outing in his vintage Rolls-Royce, “were delighted at the prospect of joining you, meeting fascinating people,
putting on elegant clothes, and enjoying the whole glamorous evening”.

Dressing up for an occasion is one of life’s pleasures. What was noteworthy last week was the number of non-Indian women who wore a sari, none more gracefully – and dramatically – than Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central since 2015 and, before that, member
for Brent South from 2005 to 2010 and currently shadow women and equalities secretary.

She was elegant in her black and silver sari and won my prize for best dressed woman of the evening. She remembered me from an event over three years ago when I attended a
“get to know you” reception hosted by Jeremy Corbyn on becoming Labour party leader.

“Reporter!” said Dawn, who is often to be spotted perched next to Corbyn during TV coverage of parliamentary proceedings. When I suggested she wear her sari to the Commons, Dawn signed: “One day…!”

Maybe she should encourage her leader to don a Nehru jacket, which I don’t think he has ever done – unlike Tony Blair, for example.

Among women in parliament, the one who always wears a sari is Baroness Shreela Flather, which she does when attending the Lords. Maybe someone should set a trend
by wearing a sari to the Commons.

Priti Patel, who was David Cameron’s “diaspora champion”, often wears a sari to Indian functions, but she could revive her chances of becoming a future Tory leader by putting
one on in the Commons. If I have a wish for Elizabeth II, who has not put a foot wrong in the discharge of her duties as Queen of the UK, it is for her to make a political statement by wearing a sari in public.

The state opening of parliament might be a suitable occasion. I know that the Duchess of Cornwall was gifted a sari on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Charles by the
dabbawallahs of Mumbai, but this had not had a public outing so far.

Meghan Markle wore one during a visit to India in 2017, but she should do so as the Duchess of Sussex.

Say what you like about prime minister Theresa May, but she has an extensive Indian wardrobe and wears a sari effortlessly, as has Samantha Cameron in the past. Western women are afraid they will be accused of “cultural appropriation” if they don
ethnic wear, but in New Zealand, the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, led the way by putting on a black headscarf to express solidarity with the Muslim community following
the massacre in Christchurch.

She has been praised across the world for doing so. Inspired by her example, women all over New Zealand – even armed policewomen – did the same. These were exceptional
and tragic circumstances, but it was the message behind the gesture that counted.

It is often emphasised – even by women in India – that the sari is not suitable for office wear. On my last trip to India, in the age of t-shirt and jeans, I could not see a single woman wearing a sari in my compartment on the Kolkata Metro.

However, there is no apparel more beautiful than the sari – as Dawn Butler demonstrated last week. Incidentally, there is a sari dress at V&A’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition, which has been extended by seven weeks until September 1, 2019.