South Seas Pearls Subject of International Controversy

Hini Rabbani KharMy in-box this morning is filled with news from India slamming the apparent faux pas committed by Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar for “flaunting” her South Seas pearls during an official visit to India. The rules of “Indian sarkari protocol” apparently require diplomats to travel and dress frugally on missions abroad.

That these relatively modest South Seas pearls provoked a controversy is a fascinating look at the sometimes central role jewelry plays in different cultural perspectives.

Modern Indian “sarkari protocol” apparently evolved from the practices established by Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement. He took care to appear frugal in public appearances and to eschew Western wear.Today, India diplomats are encouraged to travel and dress simply and to avoid big “brand” items.

Khar violated several of these unwritten rules by wearing South Seas pearls, wearing Roberto Cavalli sun glasses and carrying a Birkin bag.

This is in stark contrast to Western mores where our politicians dress up, not down, on official visits. While Michelle Obama is often created with a relaxed fashion style, this is not usually on display during state visits as the photo opposite suggests. In addition, who can compete with Her Majesty’s jewels which she never appears shy about wearing.

Neither practice, of course, is “good” or “bad.” Gandhi apparently evolved his manner of dress to remind people that India was a poor and struggling country and as India’s prosperity has grown, its politicians see no reason to change protocols that have apparently served them well.

Obviously, the contretemps involving Hina Rabbini Khar is only a footnote — if that — in the long and tangled history of India/Pakistani relations. However, for us jewelry lovers and historians, it’s another interesting example of the fact that the role of jewelry often extends beyond ornament.


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