Kashmiri Pheran: Why Ban It for Commoners When CMs Can Wear It?
A Kashmiri man walks through a snow-covered road in Anantanag. Archival image used for representational purposes.
A Kashmiri man walks through a snow-covered road in Anantanag. Archival image used for representational purposes.(Photo: IANS) 

Kashmiri Pheran: Why Ban It for Commoners When CMs Can Wear It?

The J&K government has imposed a ban on wearing the pheran in the Civil Secretariat at Srinagar. Commoners visiting the administrative departments have to take off the traditional Kashmiri garment at the main gate before entering the offices. The Civil Secretariat security staff have put pherans on the barred items category.

A Versatile Garment

The pheran, a unisex garment, is part of Kashmiri culture and identity. I have proudly worn the pheran both in Kashmir and abroad. Any attempt to restrict the wearing of the pheran is ill-advised.

The school education department has also banned the traditional Kashmiri attire at its zonal offices in the Valley.

Following this move, the Zonal Education Officer of Langate in Kupwara district issued an order last week, banning every official visiting the office from wearing the pheran.

The order issued by the Zonal Officer reads, “All the officials visiting this office are advised to visit in proper dress code (sic) during any official visit. It is recommended that no official will visit this office wearing the pheran, traditional trousers and sleepers/plastic shoes (sic).”

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A ‘Cultural Onslaught’

News reports in the Valley say these orders are being issued following verbal orders issued by the Chief Education Officers.

The move is being decried in Kashmiri newspapers as interference with the indigenous Kashmiri dress, and a cultural onslaught on the Kashmiri people.

The move has also elicited surprise, since former Chief Minister and National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah is often seen wearing the pheran. The question being raised in the Valley is that why do commoners have to face this discrimination.

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Kashmiri politicians have uniformly been wearing the pheran publicly. This was also adopted as the right attire to keep alive the emotional appeal among the local populace.

The pheran has been so popular among the political class that former chief ministers and top ministers were seen attending Cabinet meetings and other major political engagements within and outside the Valley wearing it. Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti too used to wear the pheran frequently as chief minister. People are resenting the decision that commoners visiting the Srinagar civil secretariat have to hang their traditional attire on iron poles outside the Secretariat premises.

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Even Bollywood Likes the Pheran

It is being discussed in the Valley that in 2014, Omar Abdullah had asked the Srinagar-based 15 Corps of the Army to withdraw its order asking the journalist fraternity to refrain from wearing the pheran to its official functions.

“If the Army has in fact told journalists not to wear a pheran to Corps HQ events, that is unacceptable, and the order should be withdrawn (sic),” Omar tweeted in 2014. He had also said, “People wear their pheran with pride. It's part of our identity aside from the best way to stay warm in the cold. Can't ban pherans.”

Later, the Army retracted the order, saying the guideline was “inadvertent”.

During the filming of diverse Bollywood movies, film stars Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor frequently wore the pheran during and after shoots.

This was appreciated by the local youth, and enhanced the popularity of the traditional Kashmiri garment. #SayNoToPheranBan, #dontbanourpheran, #LovePheran, #pheranlove, #pheran are currently trending onTwitter and other social media platforms. Many Kashmiris are sharing their photographs proudly wearing the pheran.

Ex Chief Ministers Also Wear the Pheran!

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has tweeted saying, “I fail to understand why pherans should be banned! This is a regressive order that makes no sense at all. Pherans are a very practical way of keeping warm during the cold winter aside from being part of our identity. This order should be withdrawn.”

He also said, “My father & I have worn pherans to official functions many times over the years & will continue to do so, silly government orders not withstanding.”

It is believed that about 700 years ago, the pheran was brought to the Valley from Central Asia. Reports say that the pheran was used as a cloak and was called by the Persian name ‘Pairahan’. The Central Asian pairahan was adopted by the English, who called it the ‘apron’. Now, it is donned by doctors and chefs the world over.

In Kashmir, tweed is usually the chosen fabric for pherans. Women who get glamourous pherans made may opt for velvet or more stylish fabrics. Tailors in Srinagar have added the style element to pherans for men, by blending the traditional design with the English coat designs.

With attractive motifs, the popularity of designer pherans is high in Kashmir, and its demand has crossed geographical boundaries. The garment has been used by Kashmiris for centuries as protection against the harsh winter in the Valley. Locals carry the kangri, the traditional fire pot, within the folds of the pheran in order to stay warm.

(The writer is a social activist from Jammu and Kashmir and can be reached at @AfanYesvi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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