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In her book Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, Vanit Nalwa observes:
Feminine apparel for Pashtuns
In accordance with the teaching of their Guru, the Sikhs did not attack the defenceless or the weak. this included children, women, mendicants and the elderly. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa advised the Pathans that one way they could escape the wrath of an infuriated Sikh was to dress as a woman. In the Punjab, the shalwar kameez is feminine apparel. The shalwar is a loose trouser with a stiff border at the ankle, while the kameez was a loose shirt falling to the knees. In India, this dress came to popularly be known as the ‘Punjabi suit’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, men still wear its variant–the ”Pathan suit’.
The following is the gist of an open letter written by Miangul Aurangzeb, the present Wali of Swat, to the Taliban when the Taliban were preaching and enforcing strict dress and conduct codes for the women in the areas that fell under their control.
“At the outset I want to record that you all must love me very much as you have decided not to take over my property in Swat unlike those you have taken over of other landed families. I am therefore emboldened to believe that I have the privilege of sharing some historical facts for you to know about and I urge you to absorb the same before you continue your campaign of moral policing, especially when it comes to the manner of dressing and code of conduct for women.
The Sikh army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, under the leadership of Hari Singh Nalwa came to the Frontier in the 1820’s and swiftly conquered our ancestors. It is the only time in recorded history that our people were ruled over by foreigners. The locals were so utterly terrified of the Sikh army that they used to hide every time the Sikhs came into view. Those that decided to resist were met with ruthlessness. During this time, the word was spread around that the Sikhs did not harm elderly people, women and children and that the local men who did not wish to earn wrath of the Sikhs should wear the garb of Punjabi women, which was the Salwar-Kameez. At that time in our history both men and women alike, wore only a single-robe garment (similar to that worn by the Arabs) and the Sikhs would not harm any man either when wearing the Salwar-Kameez.
So you see, our men happily adopted the garb of Punjabi women since they were too terrified to stand up and they have adopted the garb as being theirs’ ever since. I am very intrigued to see that you are following in the footsteps of your ancestors by wearing the adopted Punjabi women’s garb as your own, but now go around preaching and coercing our women as to how they should be living their lives! I suggest that take a deep look inside yourselves, given this historical perspective.”
Reproduced from ‘Nishaan Nagaara’, a magazine published by The Nagaara Trust, III/2009, p. 45.