25 May 2024 12:19 AM


Vappala Balachandran | 21 MAY, 2015

What is in a Dress? Or is it All in a Dress? Rules and a Whim

The wrong dress code?

I am not aware whether we still have a strict “Dress code” prescribed in the “All India Services Conduct Rules” for officers working in the field while receiving high dignitaries like the Prime Minister. My reaction is to a report in the media that Bastar District Collector Amit Kataria was pulled up by the Chhattisgarh government for not wearing formal clothes like “Bandhgala” (Closed collar coat) while receiving the Prime Minister recently. The Collector is reported to have circulated in social media that it is difficult to wear such clothes at 40 degree Celsius.

When I joined the Indian police service in 1959 we had strict colonial dress code. We had to wear a Khaki woolen ceremonial tunic over shirt and a necktie with cross belt and sword while calling on senior officers or while receiving high dignitaries. For formal service dinners or evening ceremonial functions we had to wear “Mess Dress” with dark woolen or white cotton closed collar suits with black Wellington leather riding boots and spurs. Those who do not ride horses may not know that spurs are used along with reins to direct a horse towards which direction we want it to go-forward or laterally. It is like the steering wheel of a car. Imagine us getting into a car and going for formal functions as though we were participating in a film shoot. No wonder all pompous Bollywood actor- police officers wear such dresses on the screen while screaming at others. But the problem for us was that each of these formal dresses cost us more than a month’s salary. I find from the internet that Wellington leather riding boots with spurs now cost Br.Pounds 255. Both these dresses arrived late while we were under training and hardly used. The Mess dress was worn only once when we had Vice-President Dr.S. Radhakrishnan for our passing out parade dinner.

In the early 1960 no questions were asked by the media or others why we were wearing such outlandish clothes with riding boots and spurs which were used by colonial officers who used to travel riding horses. I remember I had to squeeze myself into a small Fiat taxi struggling to fit in my sword in the sweltering Bombay towards the end of 1960 when I came to the State to report to the police Chief in full official regalia. My official call lasted only five minutes and he dismissed me in no time. When the Governor of Maharashtra came to my district in 1965 I was mistaken for a Navy officer in my white uniform when I received him for a formal evening reception hosted by the collector. His Naval ADC was eyeing me as though I was an imposter wearing his type of uniform.

But the most hilarious experience was that of my friend and batch mate, who unfortunately is not with us anymore. Before he joined the service he was friendly with some diplomats in New Delhi, since his brother was in the diplomatic service. Midway through our training he tried to impress the diplomatic families by wearing his formal uniform with sword (Quite incorrectly) while calling on them at home. But he was in for a shock when a small child of a Canadian Diplomat called out to his father saying that “XXX uncle” had come wearing “Chowkidar’s” uniform. In those days all private guards in Delhi used to wear the typical Khaki Gurkha dress with cross belts and Kukris slung on their sides.

It was the practical wisdom and keen eye of the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri who ordered immediate scrapping of this ridiculous dress worn by Indian Police Service officers. Shastri who attended an evening function, found the police officers wearing this colonial mess attire. He reminded them that we were a civilian department and not a military force although our origins might have been the Sind Police created in 1843 by Sir Charles Napier on the Irish Constabulary pattern which itself was on a military model to crush disorder.

In the mid Seventies safari dress was considered as accepted civilian dress in warm weather cities like Bombay or even in Delhi during summer. That was also admissible when high political dignitaries visited the districts. Even when the Prime Minister visited a district to inspect relief work, we were not expected to dress up in suffocating formal clothes. One could wear that dress even for conferences although a suit or buttoned up coat was insisted upon for formal inauguration of conferences by the Prime Minister or President. However casual dress, T shirts or jeans were never permitted. Sun glasses were never permitted either in uniform or in civilian dress. In fact sun glasses are not ordinarily permitted in any country while wearing uniform or official dress unless they are for health reasons or for eye protection in deserts or icy mountains. US Army however permits sunglasses unless they are “trendy” or with designs or initials. The idea is not “to draw attention”.

However in actual practice, it is the personal opinion or whim of a senior political leader which will be the determining factor to decide what apparel should be worn by civilian officers, whatever might be the official or non-official dress code. During the Nehru era, officials imitated him by wearing Nehru jackets for private functions. The same thing happened during the Rajiv Gandhi era. Now we have officials and non-officials imitating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s waist coat type jackets. During the middle 1970s Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankar Rao Chavan had an illogical prejudice against persons wearing Safari suits. I had worked closely with him for about 2 years. He told me that those who wore safaris were smugglers or black marketeers. One day he suddenly removed his personal assistant who had worked with him for 15 years when he found him walking in to the Chief Minister residence (Sahyadri) accompanied by a Safari clad stranger! After that Safari suits were not seen in the government secretariat!