The above is a saying by Manny Machado. All uniforms have their own unique charm and romantic allure. After selection in the Civil Services, I was allotted the Indian Revenue Service (Customs & Excise). During the training period in 1978, the Uniform Allowance or Kit Allowance was granted only after reporting for duty in the field. My first posting was at Madras Central Excise, Division I, then situated at Broadway in Madras. As was the practice, it was customary and obligatory for the officer to first report before the Head of the Department. Hence I went to report before the Collector of Customs & Central Excise, on Nungambakkam High Road. The Collector was Mr. B.R. Reddy. As was the unwritten practice, officers report half an hour before office time and stay on well beyond office hours. I wrote my name and designation as ‘Probationary Officer’ and gave it to the P.A. She promptly sent it in and I was summoned immediately. The moment I stepped into his chamber, he yelled at me “Where is your uniform?” I was momentarily shocked by this hostile reception and managed to just blurt out “Sir, I have not got my Kit Allowance”. He shot back angrily “What has that got to do with wearing the uniform?” He yelled still louder “Get out”. Flustered I dashed out of the room. I did not know a single soul in that huge office, so decided to go to the Broadway office, which was my posting office. I was ushered into the chamber of Mr. Mansoor Pasha, the Assistant Collector, who was in full uniform. I explained to him my embarrassing encounter of the morning. He was sympathetic and advised me to always be dressed in the official uniform. He immediately summoned two Inspectors and told them to take me along to the uniform shop and ensure that by evening the uniform was ready in order to enable me to report before the Collector the next day.
Accompanied by the Inspectors, I went to the uniform shop, who was catering to all uniformed services. The shopkeeper was well versed about the uniform requirements of every department, he had to be only told the Service and the Rank of the officer. In a jiffy he produced stars of the five pointed type (Star of India), Ashok Chakras, whistle, lanyard, shoulder flag stripe IRS badge, Peak cap, Oxford shoes brown colour, Khaki socks, and Sam Browne belt. Measurements were taken by the tailor for the Khaki uniform, with a promise to deliver it by 10 PM. The Inspector promised to collect it and deliver it in my hotel room.
The anxious wait was over, at night around 10.30 PM, when the Inspector came and handed me the stitched uniform. He promised to return the next day to assist me in wearing the uniform and escort me to report before the Collector. Next day, he reported at 8.30 AM and helped me out to wear the uniform and accompanied me in the official jeep to the headquarters office.
Again I was promptly summoned, and this time saluted him in full regalia, which he appreciated. As a reward I earned a cup of hot tea, and we discussed at length about many issues. My association with him continued for decades, he was a thorough gentleman, as also are most of the officers from Andhra Pradesh (as also Telangana State), which cannot be said about officers from other States.
Over the years, the value of the uniform has been experienced by me repeatedly. The official identity card incorporating the photo in the uniform, guaranteed smooth and respectable entry into any office or institution. In many places even priority is accorded.
A constant thought engaging the mind is why can’t there be a national uniform for all employees and departments. Many countries have such a policy. Prime Minister’s unique policy of ‘EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT’ has as its aim to promote a sustained and structured cultural connect in the areas of language learning, culture, traditions & music, tourism & cuisine, sports and sharing of best practices. It also aims to enhance mutual understanding and bonding between people of diverse cultures, thereby securing stronger unity and integrity of India. The program envisions to portray the unity amongst cultural diversity. Will it not be advantageous to have a uniform dress code across various Central Government departments and offices, including schools?
For example, in Japan, school uniforms and dress codes are quintessential parts of the Japanese school requirements. Uniforms help maintain discipline, encourage focus on studies rather than fashion, and foster a sense of community. Japanese schools have detailed dress code rules, dictating uniform colours, styles, accessories and grooming. These policies stem from a long educational tradition emphasizing conformity, etiquette and equality.
Ye Hongming, a professor at Shuren University in east China’s Zhejiang Province, has suggested a return to the “one look for all” ethos when he advocated that civil servants in governments at all levels should wear uniforms. Ye even gave details of what he had in mind when he said rank-and-file civil servants, as well as state leaders, should wear suits, while traditional Chinese dress should be worn on occasions where Western suits are not suitable. His suggestion to standardize civil servants’ work suits has won many supporters, who believe that uniforms will not only bring harmony and discipline to the workplace, but they will also be a constant reminder to these officials of the role they play in society.
Recently, in October 2023, the Himachal Pradesh government has implemented a strict dress code for its employees in state secretariats and government offices. Under the new guidelines, government employees are prohibited from wearing jeans, T-shirts, or any other non-formal attire during office hours, and non-compliance may result in disciplinary action.
Divisive tendencies and fissiparous tendencies are visible in many States, as well as in a few Opposition parties ruled States like Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Bengal where the State Police have even been deployed against Central enforcement agencies. This trend can be curbed if all Central Government employees, irrespective of the departments, banks, PSU’s have a prescribed national uniform to wear. The psychological impact on anti-national forces will be strong and the sheer thousands of employees donning the same uniform will be a warning deterrent to anti-national forces.
Meanwhile, the Muslim community is enforcing wearing of Hijabs and Burqas by their womenfolk working in government departments. This creates a sense of alienation among the employees. Pew Research Center in USA tracks the number of countries where some level of government – national, provincial or local – regulates “the wearing of religious symbols, such as head coverings for women and facial hair for men.” Looking at only those laws, policies or regulations that apply specifically to women, the Center finds that 50 of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had at least one law or policy regulating women’s religious attire in 2012 and 2013, the two most recent years for which data are available. About three-quarters of those countries (39 of the 50, or 78%) had a law or policy limiting women’s ability to wear religious attire, while about a quarter (12 of the 50, or 24%) had at least one law or policy requiring women to wear particular attire. Some of these laws or policies applied nationwide, while others were imposed at the provincial, state or local level. One country – Russia – had policies forbidding women from wearing religious attire (in the territory of Stavropol, where Muslim headscarves, or hijabs, were banned in public schools) as well as policies requiring women to wear religious attire (in Chechnya, where women were required to wear hijabs in all public buildings).
Laws or policies limiting women’s ability to wear religious attire were particularly common in Europe, where 18 of the region’s 45 countries (40%) had at least one such restriction in 2012-2013. Several European countries banned certain types of religious garb in public places. In France, for example, authorities passed a law in 2010 that prohibits people from covering their faces in public places, including government buildings, public transportation and venues such as restaurants and movie theatres. A similar policy was in effect in Belgium, where police continued to enforce a 2011 federal law banning people from wearing clothing that covers the face, or large parts of it, in public places. Violators could be fined and/or detained for up to seven days. In December 2012, Belgium’s Constitutional Court upheld the ban, ruling that it was necessary to protect public safety, ensure equality between men and women and preserve “a certain conception of ‘living together’ in society.”
By prescribing a uniform for all government employees, the government will be effectively ensuring that no fundamentalist group can insist and threaten their womenfolk to wear and comply with foreign dress codes. In schools and colleges, it will be easy to protect and safeguard young girls and women, from being browbeaten by their menfolk, to observe dress codes of Middle East countries.
Though out of context, the Government of India needs to set up exclusive Central Jails to house violators of offences infringing Central Acts, as well as creating an independent cadre of Central Magistrates, to ensure neutrality and non-interference by State agencies, as well as protect the officers from being bullied and threatened and false cases foisted on them. A Central Jails Authority needs to be set up, to control the Central Jails.
The scope of ‘EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT’can be considerably expanded if all Central government employees, PSU employees, bank employees don a national workplace uniform. Similarly, all employees working in the Central Secretariat can be immediately brought into the scheme on a pilot program basis. If BJP ruled States can follow the concept, it will be a great milestone in national integration.
As Dean Cain says “Real heroes don’t wear capes. Real superheroes wear uniforms and badges and stethoscopes! Real superheroes are members of our military, law enforcement, and first responders. Pretend superheroes wear capes!