In July last year, I went to rural Haryana as part of fieldwork on primary education for children. During the survey, as a part of trust building we would tell the respondents about us. Following the Indian tradition the first question is regarding your family, especially if you happen to be a 20 something, unmarried girl roaming around the hinterland. Shockingly for most of them we are two sisters. The idea of there not being a brother was bordering on absurd for them. “Why don’t you have a brother,” was the recurrent remark. “We didn’t need one” as an answer was blasphemous enough.
The idea of a perfect, modern, nuclear family embodied by ‘hum do humare do’, Doordarshan always consisted of a brother and sister with beaming, middle class parents. This image has been perpetuated through ages given the patriarchal culture that has informed the numerous historical tales and myths. Raksha Bandhan is a festival that sees barrage of advertisements from Cadbury to Amazon and extremely sweet ones. Strangely though as sisters we felt left out, we had to be constantly on the lookout for cousins or “Rakhi brothers.”
However, stranger still the basis of the festival. It doesn’t merely celebrate a bond between siblings but the responsibility to protect the sister by valorous brother. Of the stories behind the festival, two most popular ones are about Krishan and Draupadi, and Humayun and Queen Karnadevi of Mewar. Both stories revolve around rakhi becoming the tie that gets the men to save honour of their sisters. This protection becomes significant as the women are not given the agency to stand up for themselves. This idea of being the sisters’ custodian often takes extreme forms such as honour killing in North India. The women become symbols of family name to be tamed by the males (mostly brothers) of the household. There are obviously changed contours of the relationship and women choosing how they look at the relationship.
The male-female bond though remains a constant. There is a need to change the typology. My sister and I have started celebrating rakhi minus the tying a thread as a reminder of one of us being the other’s bodyguard. On the other hand raksha bandhan for us becomes a time for us to re-bond, a day when two independent women take time from their schedules to have a long drawn Skype conversation. The festival becomes a way to celebrate our sisterhood, not just to be physical defenders but emotional support systems for each other. The festival may have started in times of raging wars and invasions, wherein the thread became a means of mutual trust and responsibility. With turn of ages, there is a need to redefine the festival and break its gendered confines.
Let this raksha bandhan be the start of new relationships. Brothers or sisters, the festival does not need to adhere to stereotypical gendered notions of dominance and subservience. The notions of raksha bandhan have transformed with women becoming ecological crusaders to pink clad army protesting domestic violence. Deconstruction of previously held patriarchal norms allows women to inform their vision of festivals and expectations from them. Let this raksha bandhan be one that celebrates the fights, the sharing of secrets, the jealousy for parents’ attention and pure unadulterated sibling love.
Prerna Trehan (Author)