New Delhi, March 13: A Sangh swayamsevak (volunteer) may no longer have to wear the mocking label of "knickerwallah".
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh uniform of khaki shorts, which flared clumsily at the bottom and did not flatter any sort of physique, has given way to full-length brown trousers, signifying a milestone in the 91-year-old organisation's history.
Junking tradition isn't easy. Years of intense debate had preceded the Congress's evolution from its old-world way of sitting on the floor, with cushions and bolsters to prop up aging shoulders and backs, to a boardroom style.
The Sangh's switchover to full pants has been subject to similar hair-splitting - "over four decades", an insider said - that often dominated its meetings, overshadowing national and international issues
Today's announcement came from Suresh "Bhaiyya" Joshi, general secretary and second-in-command, at the end of a three-day national convention at Nagaur, Rajasthan.
Joshi told a news conference that his cadre would from now on don "wood brown" or "coffee-coloured trousers from the waist to the ankles".
"Trousers are more common in normal life," he said. "We are people who move with the times. So we had no hesitation (changing the dress code)."
Asked why brown was chosen instead of khaki, Joshi said the colour was not relevant. But he betrayed his awareness of the jeers that the "knicker" sometimes provoked.
"The Sangh is not known by its knickers," he said. "The design has been made with the needs of physical training in mind too."
Traditionally, the swayamsevaks have been taught games like kabaddi, yoga exercises and defensive skills with the lathi and the sword at the daily shakhas (camps). But a high rate of attrition has led to the regimen being tweaked to let in cricket and football.
With their brown trousers, the volunteers will wear brown and not khaki socks.
Asked why the matter had attracted such long cogitation, Sangh spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said: "Why should the world worry? We had to convince ourselves and our adherents, and not outsiders."
For years, however, newbie swayamsevaks had admitted to being "embarrassed" by the old uniform, prescribed by Sangh founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar when the organisation was born in 1925.
To start with, it included a khaki shirt embossed with the Sangh insignia in brass, khaki shorts, a khaki cap and black military combat boots.
This was also the attire the Congress's Seva Dal sported. Hedgewar, a former Congress member, had worked for the Seva Dal, raising a huge volunteer force when the Congress held a convention in 1920 at his hometown of Nagpur.
In 1940, a white shirt and a black cap replaced the khaki shirt and khaki cap after the British banned the Sangh uniform and its route marches. During the Emergency, when the outfit was banned again, the long boots were discarded for ordinary black shoes.
In 2011, the leather belt was replaced with a canvas belt following objections from Jainswayamsevaks. But the khaki shorts survived#all the political vicissitudes, remaining an object of curiosity.
In a blog titled "Why Hindu nationalists are shedding their shorts", BBC South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt had on November 5 last year aired an outsider's perspective.
"RSS members are obliged to wear the kind of khaki shorts you would normally expect to see on a boy scout. Shorts of any kind are rarely 'fashion forward' but the RSS's version are particularly unstylish," Rowlatt wrote.
"They are pleated and cut to flare at the bottom: apparently designed to make even the most muscular legs seem scrawny and the most slim-lined knees seem knobbly."
Kindly, he omitted any description of how the more portly swayamsevaks looked in the outfit. Indeed, several BJP leaders, compelled to wear the mandatory shorts on special Sangh occasions, would complain about the impact on their image in an age of visual-dominated news.
Vaidya said that designated Sangh tailors had been directed to buy cloth that combined cotton and synthetic yarn and the swayamsevaks to line up and have their measurements taken.
It's a tall order because the Sangh now has 56,859 shakhas - each having at least 10 members - at 36,867 places.