It is the most talked about dress code in India this weekend.
India’s largest and most strident Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is changing. No, not its core beliefs of Hindu supremacist pride. But its dress code.
Members of this 91-year old group of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is part, traditionally wore loose khaki shorts, high socks and white shirts. The group conducts military-style drills, bamboo stick fights and sings hymns to the Indian motherland in small neighborhood parks across India at dawn.
But now the khaki shorts, the signature look of a member, is going to be replaced with brown pants.
“We have decided to replace khaki shorts with brown-colored full pants,” said Bhaiyyaji Joshi, one of the top leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. “Full pants are more common in normal life, so we have accepted it now. We are a group that moves with the times.”
RSS’s critics in India often lampoon its trademark wide shorts and derisively call its members “chaddi” or shorts. They routinely post awkward photographs of its overweight members in the loose shorts.
The RSS, which is Hindi for National Volunteer Corps, seeks to unite Hindus and restore national pride after centuries of Muslim invasions and foreign rule. But its belligerent rhetoric has often spurred Hindu-Muslim tensions and violence in this officially secular but predominantly Hindu country of 1.2 billion people.
Modi’s election victory in 2014 has pitched the RSS into national spotlight again. Many critics say that the growing popularity of RSS's ideology is changing the secular and liberal character of India’s multi-religious society.
On Twitter, many welcomed the long-awaited change as a sign of a modernity.
And it has finally happened. Not a day too soon. https://t.co/J7VT1NIEFU
— HindolSengupta (@HindolSengupta) March 13, 2016
Change in the uniform of RSS is a decisive change, a vibrant organisation keep changing external features remaining firm on ideology — Dr Rakesh Sinha (@RakeshSinha01) March 13, 2016
But critics mocked the change by using a Hindi hashtag that meant “change your thoughts not shorts.”
The problem is not what they wear, it is their divisive agenda that will not change. #ChaddiNahiSochBadlo
— Rahul Pandey (@Rahul_Pandey_1) March 12, 2016
Changed half Chaddi to full, but does it cover narrow mindsets also #ChaddiNahiSochBadlo
— Bitter Pills (@kadavasach1) March 12, 2016
The change in dress code did not come suddenly. It has been in the works for some years now. Some suggested blue sweat pants, others blue trousers in the past two years, but there was no consensus.
In the last few years, the RSS has relaxed many of its strict traditions in an effort to upgrade its image for the 21st century and recruit India’s urban professional youth. Instead of early morning drills, it allowed flexible timings for new members. Many who did not wish to wear shorts were allowed to wear jogging suits to the drills.
The group also announced this weekend that it now supports the entry of women into some Hindu temples that ban them.
But somehow, this did not get the same traction on social media as the passing of the loose RSS shorts.