9:40 pm - Thursday November 5, 2015

Dhoti Bill passed in Tamil Nadu Assembly

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The Tamil Nadu Assembly on Wednesday passed a Bill that imposes a one-year jail term and Rs.25,000 fine on those who deny entry to persons wearing dhotis in any public place, malls, clubs and stadiums.

Introduced by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, the Act is also applicable to other traditional Indian dresses.

The Tamil Nadu Entry into Public Places (Removal of Restriction of Dress) Act, 2014 was passed by voice vote.

The move was necessitated after an ugly incident in Tamil Nadu Cricket Club Association (TNCA) last month when a sitting judge of the Madras High Court Justice Hariparanthaman was denied permission to enter the club to attend a function simply because he was wearing a dhoti.

Though the judge pleaded with the security staff of the club that the dress code is only for its members and not for the guests, they simply refused to allow him.

This created a huge furore in the state with all the political parties cutting across party lines condemning it.

At that time making an announcement in the Assembly, Jayalalithaa vowed that she will bring a legislation in the present session giving protection to dhoties.

“No person, wearing a Veshti (dhoti) reflecting Tamil culture or any other Indian traditional dress, shall be denied entry into any public place, by reason only of his dress, provided that the dress shall be worn in a decent manner”, the Bill said in its operative portion.

As per the Bill, the licences of the clubs and organisations violating the law will be cancelled. It says the violaters of the law shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to Rs.25,000.

However, a powerful section of lawyers feel that this law may not stand the scrutiny of law.

“The Supreme Court in nearly half a dozen rulings had indeed struck down Acts like this. The government cannot impose its will like this on purely private bodies, which does not get anything from government.  In the TNCA case, the government can claim that it has given prime land in the heart of the city to the club on a very small rent ostensibly to develop sports. So it can impose its directives there. But there are several private clubs which does not depend on the govt for any charity. This Bill cannot control them. The government’s writ cannot run there. This is ridiculous. I hope if any one challenges it in the proper judicial forums, the government will have egg on its face,” said a senior lawyer practising in the Madras High Court.

But some other lawyers feel the government has a right to get involved.

“Yes, the government has a role and powers. It is extending its hands to protect cultural rights of the people. You have to look at the motives behind the law. I do believe that this will stand the scrutiny of law,” said P. Sundarrajan, an advocate of the Madras High Court.

Observers believe this is one more Act by Jayalalithaa to protect and expand her fast growing vote base.

“Ever since she came back to power in May 2011, Jayalalithaa is taking into her hands all those issues which are dear to her arch rival and DMK president M. Karunanidh. Whether it is the Cauvery waters issue, Sri Lankan issue, Tamil fishermen issue, release of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, anti-Hindi and anti-Sanskrit agitations, Jayalalithaa is taking the issues in her hands and thus deny any issue for the opposition especially Karunanidhi to protest. This is a clever move and these moves had paid her dividends in the last Lok Sabha elections wherein her AIADMK won a landslide victory of bagging 37 out of 39 seats in the state,” said RAR Kannan, a senior journalist.

The dhoti Bill is definitely one among the list and since the state is going to the Assembly polls in 2016 one can confidently say that Jayalalithaa is not missing any issue to garner votes and repeat the spectacular performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

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