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A petition on Change.org was launched to ban the selling of ‘prank’ rakhis that make fun of adopted children. Why are such products being made even today?
Sibling relationships are always a bitter-sweet part of growing up and in case of brother-sister the equation acquires additional cultural tags. While the theme, ‘protective brother’ is not unique, in India, various rituals, traditions and customs have helped cement it with cultural approval.
Among them Raksha Bandhan is a proud assertion of the “protective cloak of love” towards the girls in a family by their brothers. Brands and years have helped make it a pan-India tradition, with lightened family moments where sisters bully brothers for gifts. And making the rakhi a fashion statement for women and girls to wilfully infantilise themselves.
Setting aside the ‘I will protect you narrative,’ Raksha Bandhan is acceptable to feminist thought only as a symbol for brother-sister bond. The rakhi tied as a symbol to strengthen relations has also been used to foster ties between non-familial members. These open-minded practices have helped make it a symbol of affection and rakhi designs have catered to the changing times.
Designer rakhis are trending to meet the demands of the internet age. However, in a race to be different, some rakhis labelled as pranks have become an eye sore to many. This ‘many’ are the category of families with adopted siblings, who find the prank messaging in the ‘you are adopted’ rakhis a depressing reminder of their reality.
Sadly, even within families, teasing your sibling as ‘adopted’ has been a staple joke like all the sexist stereotypes that parade as funnies in our WhatsApp groups. ‘Adoption’ is often referred to as an aberration and connotes ‘not really belonging.’ Jokes about adoption are not funny as they focus only to set apart people as somehow different from the rest.
We often fail to see the quiet frustration of those among us, who get affected by these jokes. The most vulnerable become easy targets for these caricatures that are often crass, and not funny. The normalisation of such behaviour is mainly because of the cooped-up existence of Indian families within set social boundaries.
This petition on Change.org is yet to gain momentum. However, Sangitha Krishnamurthy who has been vocal against this specific “prank rakhis” shares her experience, “This happens every Raksha Bandhan, to the extent that I am not even upset anymore. The levels of insensitivity are unbelievable and when as adoptive parents we call it out, we are told that we’re taking it too seriously, to just chill and take a joke. Just like when as women we protest against sexist jokes. Indian society is hypocritical and this extends to adoption too.”
The frustration is all too evident and it speaks volumes about the angst a parent feels when their child is wronged by society. There are sections of the society who think adoptive parents are being over-sensitive about it when they seek to ban these so-called prank rakhis. This lack of sensitivity stems from the way we often alienate people or in this case families as they do not fit into our traditional, conservative stereotypes.
Adoption is a very sensitive issue that deals with a lot of emotional baggage for all those involved. Parents, and the adopted child, face a lot of challenges to integrate as a family and normalise their lives often, taken for granted by many others.
Sangitha also adds some parental advice to deal with the situation, “My child knows he is adopted. We speak to him openly and he is encouraged to ask questions and he does. He will make sense of his first mother and father and their choices in his own way with as much support as he wants from us. And he has us in his corner and he knows it. He has been hurt before by this insensitivity and I guarantee that he will be again but this won’t stop him in his tracks. Why should it? It is up to those who think this is funny to figure out why and maybe, just maybe, put themselves in another’s shoes.”
Growing up in tightly knit social groups, following strict cultural norms, we do not tend to socialise freely and families with adopted children are often labelled as different from the norm.
Personally, the meanest prank I ever played on my brother was convincing him he was not part of the family. Tasteless that it was, (when I was seven or eight years old) I don’t ever remember being reprimanded for that but given a pass as a joke.
The realisation of this cruel slight often weighs heavily upon me and remains one of the memories that I often wish I could re-do. It still bothers me like all the other sexist jokes that get a causal pass in my immediate circles.
When such “jokes” can mar someone, it’s important to empathise, as there are often those around us who are battling reality with the odds stacked against them.
In a world where twitter feuds bring down brands and people get named and shamed for their slights, the insensitivity of businesses to wilfully ignore a section of individuals is shameful. It really is not that hard as a society to rewire our cultural norms or end stigma. But we do need to start somewhere.
There is a lot of stigma attached to adoption and it simply adds to the endless list of double standards in Indian society. In this age where there have been active calls to de-stigmatise adoption, the selfishness of businesses to make a quick buck at the expense of others needs to be called out and stopped.
Picture credit: YouTube
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