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Empowering Women with Sarees—Sitting Down with Anju Maudgal Kadam

In the grand scheme of things, we are all connected to one another through culture and society. They are an inherent part of our identity, something that brings us together. However, in this fast-paced era of the 21st century, we usually remain disconnected, knowingly or unknowingly, to this fragment of ourselves and forget to relish the old memories. Two women decided not to stay oblivious to this and bring about a change. They came forward on digital platforms to establish the #100SareePact in 2015 wherein they wore a hundred sarees a year to revel in the affiliated associations of the same. We at the MIT Post got a chance to interview Mrs Anju Maudgal Kadam, one of the two women involved in the #100SareePact, on the 19th of July 2020 after her talk, “Building the Community” at The Manipal Conclave 2020.

With the advancement in society, we see a melting pot of cultures everywhere. We have adopted multiple features of different cultures, including clothing. However, we have forgotten them with the rise of telecommunications. Keeping that in mind, how did this pact become a reality?

As life steadily paced on, just like many women working in a professional field, I’d wear practical clothes to do my work. Sarees would only be worn on special occasions of festivals or memorable moments. Back when I was little, I remember how every moment my mother used to work or sleep even, she would be wearing a saree. That ignited a spark in me and I thought about wearing a saree again to check for myself and see if I would be able to work in it. So, I decided that I would give the sarees in my closet that had mostly been eating dust so far another chance, and wear a 100 sarees in a year to relish the kindred memories of each and disclose it on social media. I shared the idea with Ally Matthan, my friend, and co-founder of the pact, and we decided to take a leap of faith and make the pact. That is how the 100 sarees pact was brought to life. It was a pact between the two of us. We would post a photo wearing a saree and narrate a story or a memory related to it. 

By the end of the first week, we knew we were onto something delightful and beautiful; something much bigger than all of us. It brought us so much joy. It enriched our friendships, our bonds, and helped us set a platform where women can come forward and share stories of their lives through the medium of just a mere nine-piece fabric. It became a compelling tool. It was embraced all over the world. With the advent of the release itself, it felt like the people were waiting for something just like this. I believe that we were only just catalysts. It brought out different sentiments in different people: people remembered their mothers, their nation, and refound their pride.

It was all about women finding their true alignment, and it may be—a homemaker, a mother, a professional working woman, or anyone else. I have always asked women to strive to be more for themselves. Thus, the pact became this medium of narrating women-centric stories where the women were the heroes. The movement did gain a lot of attention and received support from men and women even if they chose not to follow the pact.

What pushed you to take this pact forward? Why did you want the world to hear the stories of these women? 

Being a woman myself, and considering the field of work I have been in, I have witnessed and experienced the hardships that women go through. I am a firm believer in women supporting women and feel like it leads to phenomenal things. The pact wasn’t planned, it was something that transpired naturally in my mind. It made me understand how powerful storytelling was for women because history has been majorly written to glorify the patriarchal structure of society. It is very seldom that one gets to listen to women-centric stories. These stories do not have to be of grandeur or of women who have a high status. It could be ordinary women coming forward with the extraordinary moments in their lives. When these stories are brought to light, others around them acknowledge the women that experienced these moments, they feel heard, and they connect with each other. The amalgamation of this whole process, I believe, to some extent, goes a long way towards empowering them.

As you previously mentioned, the pact started garnering attention right from its inception but did the people stay throughout the pact? 

People joined in owing to various reasons: they had a story to share, a history they wanted to reconstruct, or simply because it seemed like a fun thing to do. But they stayed because they were getting something out of it, from simple stories to complicated ones like a woman who walked out of her parents’ house with just five sarees in order to escape a broken marriage. All these stories were being painted on a vast canvas for the world to see. It all came down to answering the question of identity and what matters to them.

It was also shocking to witness the fact that these women were sharing these stories on social media. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their personal stories or their vulnerabilities, but they did. They felt empowered. They stayed to support the pact and to be able to encourage other women to do the same. It was like our very own sisterhood, a support group network built on the foundations of trust. It was a safe space where women could come forward.

Even though the momentum has reduced, to date, I still receive messages from people about how they have networked through this medium, and how that helped them in finding a new friend. It was the pillar of support they had been yearning for till now. That is it. That is why the pact is all about connections, which is why I make use of the hashtag #weareconnected. We find a piece of ourselves in other peoples’ stories. They may not be our stories but even identifying a little bit with someone else’s stories goes a long way and I wholeheartedly feel that is precious.

You have talked about how the pact helped women, from around the globe, through storytelling and how it is a step towards building history through an improved perspective. How do you believe that these two domains interconnect?

Every strong identity in this world has its roots intricately and deeply intertwined with history. The roots of a person is a fusion of culture, language, and environment that their ancestors have previously faced and passed onto them. It is a huge process, like the domino effect. In turn, they are a part of the domino arrangement that will continue the effect. Sarees themselves are a by-product of this domino effect. For example, Persia influences the Parsi Garas, and Ikat sarees are enveloped in powerful imagery of Kalash, which is a Hindu motif, and sarees that have patterns on them tend to be derived from Islamic influence. Every detail, from the style, colour, or the draping of a saree has a unique flavour due to its corresponding history.

The pact can also be considered as a Jenga tower. The sarees are a metaphor for the tower, a formation standing tall owing to the various people contributing to it. In the context of our pact, these people are from around the globe who helped in building up the structure throughout history. If I were to take out a piece and bring it on top, I’m showcasing it for the whole world to be able to view it. I am getting back something that is old and sadly forgotten in this modern era, for the world to connect with the story attached to it for its legacy to continue. The Jenga tower still upholds the layout and design it started with, but it just grows more prominent. The stories and the legacy they carry forward will always remain. 

Speaking of keeping legacies, how has the pandemic affected the pact and the people following it? 

There’s no pact, as of 2020. There was only one in 2015, the one I had made with my friend. You cannot repeat phenomenons like this, but you can carry forward the ideas born from it. From time to time, people share their saree stories with me, and that is what keeps the idea of the phenomenon alive. Thus, one can only undertake specific actions that they believe is the right course of plan to keep phenomenons alive. Things like these give people hope, even in tough times, because they have something to look forward to. Due to this very reason, during the pandemic, where people feel devoid of hope owing to the uncertainty of the situation and the helplessness that comes with staying at home all the time, I wanted to do something which people could look forward to in these pressing times. It will help them to continue to hope and not give up connecting through this beautiful form of storytelling. Owing to my previous experience with social media, I knew the magnitude of the power it held and decided to use it again.

Over the years, I have come in contact with multiple women-centric stories that have struck a chord with me. Recently, I spoke about my experiences and some stories that I hold close to my heart for a podcast. One such tale that comes to mind is when I talked about a lady who had connected with me recently from Chandigarh. Apparently, after getting to know about the pact from a close friend of hers’, she got interested and immediately hooked. She told me of how Sushant Singh Rajput’s demise had affected her at an intensity so tremendous that it made her want to take her life. I told her I wanted to send her a saree and attached a note addressing the “next generation” because, at this point, it is up to them to carry this legacy forward. The podcast had me in tears—the story was powerful. It was an epiphany, an eye-opener, that our actions could amount to big things in the future. It is overwhelming to think that I could affect so many people’s lives, let alone one, in the right direction, and for me, that is more than enough. Being kind has been and will always be the most rewarding part of this journey, and I wish that people continue to do the same.

Image credits: Anju Maudgal Kadam on Medium