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One may say these are 'just customs', but why maintain sexist, patriarchal customs? I want to tie a rakhi to those who stand by me, who support me through every low, and encourage me through every high.
One may say these are ‘just customs’, but why maintain sexist, patriarchal customs? I want to tie a rakhi to those who stand by me, who support me through every low, and encourage me through every high.
I genuinely believe the fight against patriarchy begins at an individual level first.
For any traditional Hindu household, Hindu festivals are obviously an integral part of life. With Raksha Bandhan barely a week away, I am sure every woman or girl who has a brother must have begun preparations for it. Even if she is the older one and hence, in a better position to ‘protect’.
I’ve been an only child, and so obviously I had no brothers to whom I could tie a rakhi. Usually, I would be content with tying it on the wrists of my cousins. When I was a little child, we would visit my maternal hometown every year on the major festivals, and I would happily tie it to everyone in the khandaan, even the uncles on my mother’s side of the family, for the gifts I would receive then.
One of those uncles is the reason for my #MeToo story. Another uncle I met at a recent family wedding hugged me so tight and for so long, that I couldn’t breathe. These are the people I had tied rakhi to. Says a lot about how really are.
But I digress.
As a child and even until much later, I participated enthusiastically in the festivities of Raksha Bandan. Distances or time didn’t keep me from maintaining the tradition of tying or sending a rakhi to my cousins. If I wasn’t physically present to tie the rakhi, it was one of my younger female cousins who would do it on my behalf.
I have in recent years begun questioning many small and big things. Inane questions that probably have no answers.
I am from North India, and have grown up and lived here for most part of my life. In our families, and I am presuming in many other North Indian households too, daughters are exempt from touching the feet of elders. They are exempt from covering their heads too.
Why are daughters of a household exempt from these traditions and customs, but not the daughters-in-law?
Why do many elders rush to the defense of their daughters when they are facing domestic violence but look the other way when their son beats up his wife?
Why are women allowed to step out of the house only when they are chaperoned by brothers, who be the same age or even younger?
Why are only women expected to be docile, submissive, expected to maintain fragile relationships that might blow up in their faces, but men can do what they feel like?
Why are women told to adjust and ignore the betrayals they receive from the men in the family, but men not told to behave better?
I know these are futile questions, and the only answer I will get from traditionalists is “This is the way things always have been!”
But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? That things shouldn’t necessarily be how they have always been. That this might have been how it was earlier, for whatever reasons, but that as we know better, we should encourage questions and accept deviances from the norm?
Why is it that a woman is advised to forget and move on, when it could be her own brother who has caused her physical and mental trauma? Why should a woman have to be accept being treated as less when she is equally capable, maybe even better, than her brother?
Last week, I told my parents that I don’t want to tie a rakhi to my brothers. They didn’t ask me, ‘Why?’ Probably, the question, in their opinion, was moot. Probably, they already knew the reasons why I could have said this. Probably, they know me to be a stubborn, opinionated, rebellious woman known to make random declarations like these.
Instead, the only thing they expressed concern about was how I would end up ‘spoiling my relationships this way’.
I understand their concern but my question still stands. Why is the onus of maintaining relationships only on me? Furthermore, are relationships and family structures really so fragile that they will fracture just because I refuse to uphold a regressive patriarchal Hindu custom like tying a piece of string on someone’s wrist?
We all know what Raksha Bandhan stands for. Why can’t we reject the undue control and power it accords to the men? Boys as young as five- or ten-year-old are expected to protect and defend the ‘honour’ and life of their older sisters, who in some cases, are ten-twenty years older. Even when the brother-sister duo become older and the sister is capable and independent, the expectation and assumption of the brother being the protector still stands. And having said all that, are brothers really being able to ‘protect’ their sisters without being violent towards ‘women of the other side’?
One may say these are ‘just’ customs and traditions, followed to keep our familial love alive. That these traditions are an excuse to bring families together as they celebrate a festival like this. Accepted.
But then why maintain sexist, patriarchal customs at all? Customs and traditions that place one gender far above another, just for the accident of birth?
Why can’t we subvert the customs or even just modify them to fit the evolving ideas of feminism and gender equality?
Or better still, why not create new ones?
Why shouldn’t a Rakhi be just a symbol of love and respect between two individuals – and upholding mutual support, not one way; and irrespective of their gender?
I want to dedicate Raksha Bandhan to the women who hold me up.
I want to tie a rakhi to my friends who stand by me and support me through every low and encourage me through every high.
I want to tie a rakhi to that friend who rushes to protect and defend me when trolls are attacking me on a social media post.
I want to tie a rakhi to that woman who inspires me to read or write more.
To that woman who tells me to stop beating myself up so much and start valuing my own efforts.
To that woman who praises every single painting of mine and sees the beauty in it even when I can’t.
To that woman who listens to me vent, even when my words make no sense.
To that woman who tells me I am a fabulous writer, and I dare not question myself anymore.
To that woman who tells me she is not okay and needs me to put her right again.
Those friends who love, support and protect me unconditionally. They are the ones who deserve to be decorated with a Raksha Bandhan.
They are the ones I wish to tie a rakhi to this year.
Image source: vilandrra on pixabay
Piyusha Vir is a writer, artist, a CELTA-certified English Language trainer, and a Creative Writing Coach.
She was awarded the Top 5 position in the Orange Flower Awards 2018 for the category of Writing read more...
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