Hats and caps have western origins. The hat has always been part of official dressing and more associated with the upper class. Removing the hat was a sign of respect or even deference to a higher authority.

The cap has more working class connotations. The main covering fits very close to the head and does not have a brim all around, only a visor in the front. The cap is designed to protect the head from the sun and the visor helps to block sunlight from the eyes.

Caps are worn by armed forces and the police. These caps have special symbols that signify rank. A cap is also a metaphorical term used to signify the selection of the wearer to a school, state, national or international team in sports.  The captain especially wore it. It started from the practice that was first approved on May 10th, 1886 in England of ceremonially awarding a cap to every player in an international match of association football. In the early days of football, team members wearing identical shirts had not been universally adopted. So each side identified itself from the other only through a specific sort of cap. The act of awarding a cap is now international and is applied to other sports. Capped x number of times signifies that a player has played for that team in so many matches.

A woman holds the world record for the highest number of international caps (upto January 24th, 2006). American football player Kristine Lilly has over 300 caps in women’s association football.

The turban has been an integral part of Indian headgear and it had no class distinctions. The Gandhi cap is white in colour, pointed in front and back, a depressed covering and a wide band on two sides. It is made from khadi cloth and was first popularised during the Indian independence movement. The Gandhi cap has been traditional wear for the people of Gujarat, UP, Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other parts of India. These caps are still worn by many people without any political significance.

The Gandhi cap gained significance and popularity only after Gandhiji began to wear it symbolising cultural


pride, the use of Swadeshi goods, self-reliance and solidarity with India’s rural masses. Followers of Gandhi and members of the Indian National Congress began to wear it as well. By default, a connection to the independence movement was implied when any individual wore the cap. Black caps were adopted as uniform by the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Subhash Chandra Bose wore a khaki cap that symbolised his being the military general of the Indian National Army.

The cap became a symbolic tradition for politicians and political activists to wear it in post-independent India. It also became associated with the atypical corrupt politician and completed his dhothi, kurta outfit and a country bumpkin demeanour hiding his illegal activities. The politician wearing this cap became a contemptuous caricature.

The Congress party continued the tradition claiming Gandhiji for their own. Rival political parties however have dissociated themselves from the tradition. Modern western wear of trousers, shirts and suits, (especially haute couture and designer wera) in place of the dhothi, kurta has been adopted by younger politicians.

This year the cap has re-emerged, this time as a symbol of the national fight against corruption. Anna Hazare, the eminent Gandhian, motivated people to join his anti-corruption movement and thousands of people all over the country took to wearing Gandhi caps and marching in protests. The mass movement has emotionally touched and motivated people of all age groups, religions and classes of society to participate. While Anna fasted for nearly a fortnight, citizens joined his movement all over the country in different ways. The cap was a common feature!

The Gandhi cap has come full circle. It is now a symbol of civil society participation in social change. It is a vocal and vociferous protest against the runaway statistics of corrupt people and the money that they have swindled from the tax payer. 

This basic white cap sits bright and powerful on all heads, child, men and women and thus empowering the common man. 

PS: The Gandhi cap looks somewhat like a Chef’s cap!!

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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2 Responses to CAP IT

  1. Rummuser says:

    The Indian “Topi pahanao” is a mysterious way of conveying a con game!


  2. Grannymar says:

    The Gandhi cap reminds me of my childhood. We used to take a page from a broadsheet newspaper, fold it, then up with a shape like a Gandhi cap. I wonder if I can still make it….


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