Keywords of India - Safedposh (सफेदपोश)

Safedposh (सफेदपोश)

Literally meaning a person who dresses in white. Safed (सफेद) meaning white and posh (पोश) coming from the word poshaak (पोशाक) meaning dress. The dictionary translation into English for Safedposh is White Collar as in White Collar jobs. While looking for the meaning of this word I came across some Pakistani forums where people were discussing the meaning of safedposh. Some spoke about white collar. Some also related this to the modest economic means of a person[1]. A safedposh being a person who wears white cloths because they cannot afford coloured (flashy, expensive) ones. Further search indicated that this understanding of safedposh was common between India and Pakistan.

I encountered this exact translation of Safeposh recently. Until now my understanding of this word related to its more common usage that I have come across in North India. People commonly use Safedposh to refer to a group of people who mostly dress in white, from head to toe – white shirt or kurta; white trousers, pajama or dhoti; and even white chappals or shoes. In common perception this is a group of people dress in white to cover their black deeds – people involved in illegal activities. For example, white collared people involved in corruption or black marketing i.e. – white collar crimes.

There are three main sub-groups which form the safedposh. If one visits any small town in North India one can easily see these three sub-groups. First, criminals who do not openly indulge in illegal activities or get involved in violence. They head syndicates of various sizes. They delegate day to day criminal activities to their subordinates. These people are to be feared. Second, contractors who bid for various small and big government contracts like building roads and bridges. It is an understanding that a common person is not capable of winning such contracts or managing such projects. Contractors need to be financially, socially and politically powerful. They also often indulge in illegal activities – bribing government officials, using substandard materials and technologies etc. Third, politicians. Politics is considered a dirty business where power is grabbed by hook or crook and it is often grabbed by crooks. Politics is also not a thing for common people. A politician is generally a powerful local person who can wield the power of money and/or muscle. So what ends up happening is that people in these three sub-groups become interchangeable. A criminal becomes a contractor and then goes on to become a politician[2]. A politician needs money and muscle to fight elections and ends of getting supported by criminals and contractors. In exchange the politician provides them safety and privileges. The same person can also be a criminal, contractor and a politician.

So, the safed (white) poshaak (cloths) are still related by the safedposh to their earlier meaning – a modesty of means and character. By wearing these white cloths they want to project a clean (in character) and modest (in means) image. But in modern India this poshaak (dress) has come to represent the exact opposite meaning – dark (in character) and excessive (in means).

Here are a few news links which use the word Safedposh (सफेदपोश), especially to refer to criminals and criminal turned politicians:





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