Blacklist the black gowns! Voices in Panjab University

By Alkesh Sharma, IANS
Saturday, February 12, 2011

CHANDIGARH - Black gowns at convocation ceremonies are back in the news with a Panjab University syndicate member, supported by some faculty members and students, appealing to end the “colonial practice” of wearing them.

These voices can be heard again as the university heads for its 60th annual convocation Feb 14.

Panjab University syndicate member Dharinder Tayal had moved a proposal before the authorities in June last year to do away with the convention. A committee was also constituted to look into the matter, but no concrete decision has been taken.

“Black is not an auspicious colour and wearing black gowns during convocation is a colonial practice,” Tayal told IANS.

“This shows that we have still not come out of the influence of British rule. We have to adopt a progressive outlook by breaking the age- old shackles of the British,” he said.

The university syndicate is the highest decision-making body whose 16 members include some faculty and PU alumni.

“I had moved this proposal around eight months ago, but the authorities kept sitting on the matter and no decision has been taken. They are unnecessarily delaying the issue,” Tayal said.

“There are many institutions like Mumbai University, IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, Anand) and Visva Bharati University that have already stopped this barbaric practice,” he pointed out.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil will be chief guests at the university’s 60th annual convocation.

“Panjab University has its own department of fashion technology. They can design a dress that depicts the spirit of nationalism,” Tayal said.

“Like Visva Bharati University has adopted the practice of wearing an ‘uttorio’ (angavastram), we can also look for some similar alternative,” Tayal said.

Senior leaders like Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had also raised their voice to end the practice of wearing black gowns during convocations, he said.

To show his resentment, Tayal has decided to avoid wearing a gown at the convocation function this time. A few students are also expected to join him in the protest.

Manjit Singh, former president of the Panjab University Teachers Association (PUTA) and faculty member in the sociology department, said: “We are totally against wearing black gowns during convocations.”

“On one side, we talk about development and globalisation and on the other we are following rules that were forced upon us,” he added.

“We want the university authorities to evolve a dress code that depicts the culture and tradition of India.”

Many students have welcomed the initiative.

“We are happy that one of the syndicate members has shown courage by mooting this proposal,” said Shreya Sehgal, a law student.

“They should evolve something that is more comfortable and smart. We want this rule to be implemented in all affiliated colleges in Punjab,” she added.

Atul Malhotra, an engineering student at the university, said: “Many colleges have their convocations in summer and wearing clumsy black gowns at that time is really uncomfortable. We strongly support the initiative to do away with black gowns.”

Over 10,000 students, over 70 percent of them girls, study in around 70 research and teaching departments of Panjab University. Its campus is spread over 553 acres in Sectors 14 and 25 here.

Panjab University is also the alma mater of many senior bureaucrats and senior politicians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at

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