Thursday, January 15, 2015

The ‘baju kurung’ vs ‘baju kurang’ debate: Only in Malaysia?

by Azly Rahman

Unfortunate. Even sad news. About that poor girl who got sent off because she wore a ‘Malay baju/dress’ on her first day of school, as reported.

This is more puzzling than the ‘Allah Controversy’ that I have been writing about. She was not only eager to be in school but what she wore the first day represents what she was feeling - in this case culturally.

The ‘baju kurung’ is the most gentle of the Malay dress; even the name ‘kurung’ connotes ‘shackling’, ‘confining’, ‘controlled’, ‘thinking and wearing something not outside the box’, ‘in the box/didalam kurungan’, and a range other connotation, signs, signals, signifiers, and representation (the entire semiotic jingbang and shebang of modesty) any Malaysian can think of. Right?

The ‘baju kurung’ is the most ‘nerdish girl-dress’ but its nerdish-ness is not without dignity and cultural pride.

Now explain to us gently: did she wear ‘baju kurung’ or ‘baju kurang’; the latter is the exact opposite of the Malay dress but the most revealing of dresses that reveals things either translucently or transparently or opaquely.

‘Baju kurang’ or ‘lesser dress’ is the exact opposite of shackled dressing; it is the official dress code of many a gangsta schoolgirls in the Bronx, East LA, East Philadelphia, Miami, or even Detroit, birthplace of Motown.

It is worn by girls who think that every day is an audition day of Beyonce, and Lady Gaga, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, or Queen Latifah to attract boys like Snoop Dogg or Jay-Z or 50 Cent. (equivalent to 50 American cents X current Malaysian Ringgit that makes no sense). That's what the ‘baju kurang’ girls attract.

So - can't the Malaysian educators-administrators under scrutiny be able to tell the difference between ‘baju kurung’ and ‘baju kurang’? Or maybe these administrators need to be sent to the Bronx or ‘Da Hood’' to see what ‘baju kurang’ looks like and to appreciate the intense feeling of those non-Malay-Muslims wishing to wear ‘baju kurung’ on the first day of school and not to be sent back home in humiliation - just for wanting to look Malaysian and very modest.

Now, it is fine if the poor girl came to school with ‘baju kurang’ or immodestly dressed and be sent home in a school gardener’s spare T-shirt to cover her ‘dress-lessness/kurang-ness’. That would be fine - in the same manner boys trying to look like K-Pop-Gangsta wearing sagging pants (‘fesyen seluar terlondeh’) inspired by US-Prison Fashion trying to ‘look fresh’ walking around the school like herniated folks - that I can understand.

That is boys’ ‘baju kurang’ fashion or to put it correctly, ‘baju kurang ajar’ when there is not respect for the public when one wears such, even though in a free-speech country such as France.

Be wise, pick your fights

So, Malaysian teachers. Be wise, pick your fights. Choose the best. Those worth fighting for. We have a lot to struggle for on our way to build a great education system. You don't need such a bad publicity.

You leaders are better than this - because in you we trust to bring education to greater heights.

In this case, the greater heights means not talking about ‘baju kurung with tudung only allowed’, but about new ideas in school reform, more engaging and intellectually challenging curriculum, Socratic-teaching methods infused, making students better thinkers and masters of concepts, appreciating and celebrating diversity, taking pride in one’s culture and also in exploring other people’s culture... and more.

These are the themes of out daily toil and struggle as educators and administrators.

Aren’t you folks supposed to be ‘philosopher teachers’ rather than ‘correctional officers’?

Time to go back to school. Teacher Education 101. To shed that ‘baju kurang’ attitude and move outside the box but still appreciating those wearing ‘baju kurung’.

I am now done with my complaint!

But how can we train our school administrators better - especially in matters of diversity, cultural literacy, and equal opportunity in a country badly in need of education for race and religious harmony?
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