Clothes in the early morning or any time

Clothes have a powerful non-verbal
language that can speak to or communicate with the outside world. Clothes are
closest and essential to humans and have been a part of their identity. One can
know or identify others’ culture as easy as by just seeing the clothes they
wear.

Women and women’s clothes have
always been given great importance in representing one’s culture and tradition.
Having given such importance to these traditional clothes results the clothes
in becoming a part of identity of that particular culture or community. Most
interestingly, it occupies a strong space in the identity of women. ‘Phanek’ is
one of them. It is a wrap around and is a traditional attire of Meitei women. The
Meiteis are a small community majorly resides in the valley of Manipur, which
is in the northeastern region of India.

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The whole idea of ‘Phanek Setpa’
i.e. wearing of Phanek is not merely wearing a traditional cloth. It contains
the way it should be worn by wrapping around the lower body, cover from the
waist till the ankles. As a girl grows, Phanek becomes equally important to her
sex and gender. Once married, it has become non-detachable from her life. While
men are always donned with western clothes except in some occasions, Phanek
becomes daily attire for Meitei women. It is a stigmatized cloth, which is
considered inauspicious and impure for men to touch, even the sight of it at
certain places and time like in front of the house or any open public area in
the early morning or any time is considered inauspicious. It is untouchable to
men. This is an act of demeaning a particular gender, which is here a woman. Meitei
women have a history of active participation in the social, political and
economic movements and it persists still today (Misra & Bhattacharaya, 1986).
Significantly, Phanek has been started to use by many women at the time of
different political protests. Phaneks are hung on streets, which prevent the
police forces (males) to approach the protests site. Young girl students lash
Phanek on male police forces when confronted during protests and this was the
headline on news and social media that girls hit men officers with Phanek. Women
are armed with Phanek and use it as a tool or weapon to fight against or defend
herself when the police forces (males) are armed with guns.

Then, more than being an identity
marker or gender marker, what else does Phanek speak about? What else does it
represent?