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Uniforms: Anti-choice or Unifying?

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
October 2014
Uniforms: Anti-choice or  Unifying?

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I’m writing this from Kolkata, India, on my tenth visit to the place of my parents’ birth.

As a small child, I used to think it was odd that Indian students wore uniforms to school. Except for students at a few private schools in the States, the only ones who wore uniforms were athletes and band members. Even though I went to a public school in America, I got used to the idea that India was different.

On this visit, during summer break before my junior year of college, I’m again wondering about the idea of uniforms. My cousin-sister here also goes to college, and actually wears standardized clothing to her classes. This really blows my mind! College uniforms? That’s too much! What’s next? Work uniforms?

Since this column is about postmodern choice, I’m sure you’ll agree that uniforms are anti-choice, and thus a bad idea.

Dear Friend,

“I believe in advaita, I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter of all that lives.” (M. K. Gandhi)

While uniforms do promote unity, they may or may not be anti-choice. The concept of advaita (translated from Sanskrit as non-duality) may be helpful here. In part, advaita pulled together the many threads of Hinduism under one philosophical construct. But for this discussion, it is synthesized as a belief in all things being interconnected and not separate; although they are interconnected, all things retain their individual nature.

If one were to think of school uniforms as a means of interconnectedness between students, while promoting multiple intelligences and individual aspirations, then they would be consistent with postmodern choice. If, however, uniforms are intended to suppress diversity of thought, then they are a bad idea, indeed. While one cannot, and should not, eliminate differences, anything we can do to demonstrate unity of purpose has potential for harmony. Also, at a practical level, if all schoolchildren are wearing the same clothes while school is in session, there is minimal “competitive dressing,” whereby one student shows off his/her latest pair of expensive Guess Jeans or Air Jordans, and others feel compelled to follow.

Regarding work clothing, many professions have uniforms: flight attendants, police officers, fire fighters, postal workers, grocery clerks, gas station attendants, and even the sisters of Mother Teresa’s order who wear white saris with blue borders. This shared sartorial style is sure to create an esprit de corps within the “team,” while making it easier for others to identify an individual with a specific organization.

While there is much to be said for uniformity, perhaps there are limits. For example, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s tax waiver for residences painted in white and blue seems a shade excessive (pun unintended). Since one charm of a community is its diversity, if every home is the same color, then drab homogeneity bows to the whim of an idiosyncratic leader.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]


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