BY SRISHTI MUKHERJEE ’21
Justin Trudeau is an incredibly difficult guy to dislike: he looks like a movie star, urges all men to call themselves feminists and is everyone’s favorite liberal mascot. However, his recent trip to India has been somewhat damaging to an otherwise faultless image. Along with inviting Jaspal Atwal — an alleged Sikh extremist — to attend an official dinner in Delhi, another takeaway from his visit was his engagement in activities that some would consider to be cultural appropriation.
There have been a slew of articles released by international publications criticizing Trudeau for his choice of attire during the trip. The New York Times published an article titled, “Can a Canadian Carry Off Bollywood Style? Justin Trudeau Finds Out,” while British comedian John Oliver released a video poking fun at Trudeau’s sartorial choices — which included a clip of Indian fashion designer Anand Bhushan commenting that Trudeau’s outfits were “a little too Indian for Indians also.” For the most part, I do not begrudge foreigners for wearing Indian clothes in India. However, the number of outfit changes Trudeau made in the span of a week — wearing Indian clothes after Indian clothes after Indian clothes — made it feel like more of a fashion show than a state visit. The clothes he chose to wear were unnecessarily flashy and colorful, and although some praised him for dressing in “the true spirit of India,” (according to The New York Times,) it felt like this spirit was inspired from the same stereotype that leads non-Indians who have never watched a Bollywood film to praise the industry for how “vibrant, festive, and colorful” it is.
The New York Times noted that his choice of attire was “more appropriate for a Maharajah and his court than a visiting leader.” Of course, we can argue that what one wears should not affect how one is viewed as a leader. However, there is no denying that fashion can and is often used to make political statements. Take for example, celebrities by wearing all black to the Golden Globes in support of the Times Up movement. Trudeau’s choice of attire, on the other hand, is out of context and makes it difficult to take him seriously — after all, one can’t wear the same thing to the VMAs and the General Assembly.
Whether Trudeau’s elaborate attire was an example of cultural appropriation or appreciation is a contentious topic, but in this case, I would argue that it does not matter. This isn’t the first time Trudeau has worn a kurta or danced bhangra in front of a crowd. Soon after news of Atwal’s invitation to an official dinner was noticed, Canadian media outlets released pictures that suggested that Trudeau and Atwal were well acquainted in Canada as well. Given Trudeau’s support towards elements that threaten to tear apart India — and one in which there is a long history of bloodshed and pain — it made it rather difficult to appreciate his “namaste’s” and inappropriate outfits. On this trip, he came off as someone who acknowledges and is playing to his own rockstar status — and his charisma is superficial.