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KUALA LUMPUR: Sarees worn by Indian women with the midriff and back exposed should be viewed as respectable traditional attire and not sexy outfits.

Hindu Sangam Religious Advisory Board member Dr K. Thilagawathi said the symbolism of Indian femininity has evolved over the years and the slight exposure of the midriff and back was to keep the skin cooler.

 “The pleats enable the wearer to walk and move comfortably,” she said, when commenting on the saree flurry by a group that threatened to track down women “dressed inappropriately” during Thaipusam and spray paint their bodies.

Dr Thilagawathi said the saree catered to the tropical climate and was worn in a manner that exposed certain parts of the body.

She urged women to dress appropriately and be mindful of their safety and not instigate those who lacked values.

Sarees and Stories blog and Instagram curator Sumitra Selvaraj, who writes daily on sarees, said the attire was not at fault for the lack of understanding and poor societal behaviour.

“The saree is one of the oldest surviving unstitched garments, which is still popular today because of its versatility.

“Although it is tied closely to Indian heritage, it is still just a piece of clothing.

“How you behave and treat people around you speaks volumes about your character; that should be the focus and not the type of clothing that you wear.

“I wear a saree to work every day at a tele­vision studio, and then afterwards may go grocery shopping or catch a movie or dine out.

“No one comes up to me and says you should not be wearing a saree or a certain type of blouse here,” said Sumitra.

Lawyer Kunjari Sambanthan said: “There is no law to say that if you dress a certain way you will be denied entry into the temple but there is always appropriate dressing for certain occasions.

“Still, we see boys dressed in Bermuda shorts at the temple, so it isn’t just girls who need to be decorously dressed.

“As a community, we can and should wear the appropriate attire at the different houses of worship out of respect,” she said.

A tailor from Subang Jaya, N. Amutha, said saree blouse trends this year were “boat neck” and three-quarter sleeves and none of her clients requested for low backs.

“This year, saree blouse designs have most of the back covered. I think it is appropriate and modest,” she said.

A tailor from Bangsar said a modest measurement would be about eight inches from the top of the back to the midpoint of the back.

The tailor, who did not want to be named, said some clients did request for very low backs but she added that it was not appropriate when worn to the temple.

“Sometimes the girls request for just an inch of strap at the back, and I think this is unsuitable.

“I personally feel that if you are going to a place of worship, you should dress modestly,” she said.


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