Both Talha Batla, a high-end Pakistani designer house, and The Saari Girl, a portal for affordable sarees, actively promote their sarees on social media platforms. (Image: Talha Batla (Left and right); The Saari Girl (centre))


This is one love story that has both gripped and divided the nation. A Pakistani woman travelled illegally to India to be with the man with whom she fell in love with while playing PUBG. She stayed for over a month at a rented house in Greater Noida without raising an iota of suspicion. Her landlord said how could he have suspected that she was a Pakistani as she wore sarees too.

Indians were taken by similar surprise a year ago when Pakistani Bharatnatyam dancer Sheema Kermani, draped in a saree, elegantly danced in the video of 'Pasoori' -- a Coke Studio superhit by Ali Sethi and Shae Gill.

Do Pakistanis wear saree? People asked. Yes, they do. But when and why is the story. It is in fact, an enduring love story.

Is the saree making a comeback in Pakistan? The answer isn't straight, but pleated, like the saree itself.

"The current generation of Pakistani women sees the saree as a prestigious outfit, which can only be worn on special occasions, like a wedding," Talha Batla of Hilal Silk, a 70-year old fabric-manufacturing company in Karachi, told IndiaToday.In.

"If you look at everyday life, you might not find even one person wearing a saree in Pakistan. The trend of wearing a saree as daily-wear has completely died here," says Batla. He started a designer label 'Talha Batla' seven years ago that designs high-end saris and bridal-wear.

"People prefer wearing a saree for a wedding. If you go to a Pakistani wedding, you will see that out of 100 women, 20-30 women are wearing sarees. This is a big number because there are a lot of other options. That means the demand for saree is still there," says Batla. His Talha Batla label designs saris that cost up to 2 lakh Pakistani rupees.

Batla says they have stopped manufacturing cotton sarees and all their sarees are for clients who wear them on formal occasions.

But is this the entire story? Heck! No. It's a six-yard tale with all the warp and weft.


Before 1947, the saree was mostly worn as daily wear by Hindu and Zoroastrian women. After the Partition, when people, especially from Bihar and north India, migrated to Pakistan, the saree culture travelled with them. This is why sarees were more common in Karachi and Sindh provinces.

Sarees were everywhere in Pakistan till the 1970s. Family albums would have photographs of women in silk and chiffon saris. Film and TV personalities wore them and newspaper advertisements of Dalda and Pakistan International Airlines too featured women in saree.

Beautiful jamdani sarees along with cultural promotional material from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) made it to Pakistan. The saree was in full flow.

Then came the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

Pakistan was dealt a crushing defeat and its eastern territory declared Independence. Files of Muktijoddha women marching in sarees would definitely have left a mark on the psyche of the Pakistanis.

The death knell came when General Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in 1977 and herded Pakistan towards extreme Islamisation.

In the 1980s, Zia directed female government employees and women students in colleges to cover their heads.

"The once-familiar female sari has also been banned for government personnel and wearing it is discouraged in general because it is viewed as more Indian than Islamic. Western-style clothes have been largely replaced by the Awami, or 'people's suit'," says a Christian Science Monitor report from 1983.

"My mother and all her sisters have only worn sarees all their lives. I started wearing sari at a fairly young age," says Sheema Kermani, the Bharatnatyam dancer in 'Pasoori'. Khermani is a social activist and founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, which works towards women's development through dance and TV.

"When a military-religious dictator took over Pakistan and brought in Islamic fundamentalist laws that were very anti-women and anti-art, he didn't just ban classical dance in Pakistan, he also said the saree was not an Islamic dress and Pakistani women should not wear it," Kermani tells IndiaToday.In.


Zia-ul-Haq died in an air crash in 1988, but the damage was already done. Saree had disappeared from the streets of Pakistan. The salwar kameez had elbowed it out.

But the saree didn't die out completely. Just like the Muktijoddhas of Bangladesh taking on the Pakistan army in guerilla battles, the saree too took cover. It folded itself in almirahs, hunkered inside trunks.

Sheema Kermani recounts how the saree became a symbol of resistance against the imposition of Islamist ideas and values.

"I decided to wear sarees as an act of resistance and defiance. For many years, saree was banned on all official media and there were only a couple of us who continued to wear sarees," adds the feisty Kermani.

"Then, of course, there is also the bindi, which I wear all the time. I use both for make-up and defiance against restriction of personal freedoms," adds Kermani.

"Hardly anyone except a couple of us wear sarees on a daily basis in Pakistan," says Keermani, adding, "I personally would like to see many more girls and women wearing them."

Despite a defacto ban by the Zia regime, how is it that the saree is making a comeback in Pakistan?

"The demand for sarees in Pakistan has definitely grown in the past couple of years with the younger generations wanting to bring its heritage back," Maira Maryam of The Saari Girl, Pakistan's first and biggest online and in-studio saree store, tells IndiaToday.In.

"A long list of taboos and decades-old narratives surrounding the outfit, especially political and religious ones, heavily affect its demand among our people. So, popularising it is a work in progress," adds Maryam.

Celebrated Pakistani journalist and human rights activist Marvi Sirmed wears saree and tops it with a bindi in defiance of social mores. "Some of us still wear both [saree and bindi] as a statement of rebellion from established codes," she tweeted in 2017. Sirmed keeps professing her love for sarees.

The saree is definitely bringing Pakistan back into its fold. But how?

"India and Pakistan were once one country, our roots are the same and those are being passed on from generation to generation. Saree is seen as an integral part of our fashion," says Talha Batla of Karachi's Hilal Silk.


Aiza Hussain was scouring the bazaars of Lahore for an affordable saree to wear for a farewell party. The harrowing experience motivated her to launch an online platform for affordable sarees and The Saari Girl was born in December 2019.

“Where has the saree gone? Why can’t I find affordable options? Why is it so that just across the border the prices are so low and here I have to pay 4-5 times the amount for it? Our culture was similar but then why isn’t the saree shared the same way?” Aiza Hussain asks, describing to IndiaToday.In her idea behind The Saari Girl.

She has taken it upon herself to provide sarees for every budget and occasion.

Several online clothing platforms have sprung up in the last couple of years that promote and sell affordable sarees.

Noroz and Upgrade Clothing are two of them.

The story of Noroz founder Fatima Noor is similar to Aiza Hussain's. Fatima, now 27, started a saree business when she couldn’t find a nice, affordable saree for her college farewell in Islamabad.

Noor started her apparel business in April last year with pret clothes and limited sarees, but in three months, she switched to selling just sarees. "It was really hard to get in touch of suppliers across the borders. I had some friends in Sri Lanka from my visit in 2017 and they helped out," says Noor.

In just a year into business, Noroz has a third pop-up saree store in Islamabad apart from a thriving online business.