An Indian-American adjunct professor at a California university has sparked a worldwide movement by using social media to dispel negative perceptions of the saree.
Tanya Rawal, 31, who works for the University of California at Riverside, began Instagramming images of herself in stunning sarees back in September this year, and also created the hashtag #SareeNotSorry. At first, the idea was simply a teaching experiment.
‘I wanted to perform the intersection of the multiple social identities and political systems that shape my everyday life,’ Tanya told Buzzfeed.
Showing off: Tanya Rawal, an Indian-American adjunct professor for the University of California at Riverside began posting photos of herself wearing sarees as a teaching experiment in September
Changing perceptions: Tanya’s social media campaign aims to dispel negative feelings about people in American who share her ethnicity
True colors: The young woman lamented that people who look like her are attacked because of the ‘idea that anyone brown is potentially a terrorist’
Citing incidences of violence against Indian Americans such as the 2012 Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the death of Sureshbhai Patel in Alabama, Tanya added: ‘And being a brown woman is definitely a complicated position. Especially since 9/11. And especially with the increasing hatred towards immigrants in the United States.’
‘We are attacked for looking like we don’t belong. And these attacks are justified with this idea that anyone brown is potentially a terrorist,’ she said.
Tanya’s mother helped her collect sarees from friends for her to borrow and also added stitching to them and fixing the blouses.
The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native set up an Instagram account for @saree.not.sorry, and began sharing dozens of images of herself modelling a variety of brightly-colored and beautiful sarees.
Coming together: Tanya’s mother back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, helped her collect the sarees for the project
Putting it out there: Eight weeks ago, Tanya began posting her photos on the Instagram page @saree.not.sorry
Out and about: Some of the photos show Tanya posing for the camera, while others see her going about her work at the University
On her way: Many of the images are taken on the campus of the University where Tanya works
In some of the images she is seen posing for the camera, showing off her garb to full effect, while others show her going about her daily work, interacting with students, walking around campus or studying in the library.
In one photo, she is seen in a brown and gold saree, smiling broadly, and holding a sign reading: ‘I don’t look like a terrorist’.
For Tanya, the garment is the perfect tool for fighting back at the hate against people of her ethnicity. It is beautiful, can be customized to suit the wearer and looks great on every figure. She said, even if people appear uncomfortable around her, the saree always receives a positive reaction.
‘I feel like it is the equivalent of killing your enemy with kindness,’ she said.
Killing with kindness: Tanya believes the saree is the perfect tool for fighting against prejudice, calling it ‘a symbol of grace’
Fashion forward: Tanya explained that even when people seem to be uncomfortable around her, the sarees always receive a positive reaction
Saree party: The campaign has struck a chord with many women on social media, who also shared their own images with the hashtag #SareeNotSorry
Sharing the love: Not all of the women participating in the campaign are Indian-American, but all celebrated the beauty of the versatile garment
In a recent essay for Medium entitled Saree, Not Sorry: My Dreams Are In Hinglish, Tanya called the Saree ‘a symbol of grace’.
‘The sari is selfless: it can always be reconfigured to suit your needs. The sari can teach us how to move through this world with more kindness,’ she added.
Tanya’s reclaimation of the Indian traditional mode of dress has caught on with many like her, with dozens of women sharing their own photos of themselves proudly showing off their sarees and attaching the #SareeNotSorry campaign to their posts.
Many of the women are also Indian-American, some are not, but all are sharing in the beauty of the saree and supporting Tanya’s idea.
Tanya told Mic. ‘I’m going to be looked at and stared at anyway, so I want you to see something that’s going to make you think twice about this fabric that stands between me and you.’