Mother Teresa had first bought the sari at a night market in Kolkata, on the day she was finally allowed to start performing charity work in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In the following years, she was seen wearing the same attire during numerous public and private events. So eventually, the garment, in all its plain simplicity, became a part of everything she was and stood for. Senior nuns who work for Missionaries of Charity, a 67-year-old sisterhood which has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide, continue to wear what has now become the religious uniform of this global order.
Mother Teresa had been an inspirational figure in the history of this subcontinent, this world, having left behind invaluable lessons on compassion and humanity. One would think, a legendary identity of such worth would be beyond worldly taints. Unfortunately, profiteering, evidently, is blind to morals.
The Missionaries of Charity were first informed of third parties wrongfully using Mother Teresa’s name for commercial purposes when they received complaints from teachers at a school with her name, about delayed wages. Looking into the matter further revealed multiple establishments that were using Teresa’s name for personal gains, including a corporate bank.
Biswajit Sarkar, a Kolkata-based lawyer who works pro-bono for the order, had helped the order trademark Mother Teresa’s name two decades back. And in 2013, he applied to trademark the iconic sari in question. India's government quietly accepted the trademark in September last year, when the nun was declared a saint by the Vatican, but the order had decided not to make it public.
However, the news has been made public eventually, in an attempt to tell the world that Mother Teresa’s name and symbols should not be misused. The trademark means that nobody will be able to use the name or the sari without first informing the Order and receiving exclusive permission henceforth.
This is the first time that a religious garment has been trademarked and it has raised quite a few questions. Designers like Anand Bhushan have defended the move saying, "Some designs of the traditional Indian towel called gamcha, for example, have been trademarked. There's nothing wrong in trademarking a distinctive and iconic design or pattern like Mother Teresa's sari. It's not like anybody is beginning to own the sari."