Burn the Sari or Save the Sari: Dress as a Form of Action in two Feminist Poems

Bonnie Zare, Afsar Mohammad


From ancient times to the present, the image of the Indian woman has been synonymous with a woman draped in a sari. This highly visible garment has been associated with marriage, fertility, and good fortune as well as modesty and virtue. In recent decades, two Telugu poems have used the sari to make a statement about women’s lives, drawing upon a familiar material item to advance the cause of social justice. In this study, we investigate their counter claims and the ways the poems intervene in Brahmin-influenced discourse about purity, chastity, and dress. In particular, while Jayaprabha’s “Burn the Sari” (1988) paints the sari as inseparable from confining gender norms and rejects the dress, Jupaka Subadra’s “Kongu, No Sentry on my Bosom” (1997) answers back, reclaiming the sari from a dalit manual laborer’s perspective.


poetry, feminism, dalit literature, Telugu literature, sari, clothing traditions of India, modesty, chastity

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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