In India we celebrate Raksha Bandhan, which is traditionally for the sister to tie a decorative string (rakhi)on her brother’s wrist to remind him that he loves her and she needs his protection. Kind of like the un-breakable vow between Snape and Draco’s mum.
In college days it is known as the day that most guys hide or even bunk, for fear that ‘The One’ would suddenly pop up with a rakhi and not just friend zone them but bro –zone them. While friends may sometimes have benefits, the bro- zone (usually said to be done by men to women , but in India we have subverted that paradigm!), basically implies that any sexual relationship is no longer possible/ welcome.
Unless you are Cersei and Jamie Lannister of course.
But for those who don’t know, as I noted in an earlier post on the Mahabharat, (https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/sex-ed-of-epic-proportions/) whatever GoT can dream up of, we in India have been there, done that, thousands of years ago.
Hindu mythology says that Yama and Yami were twins born of the Sun God (or sometimes Brahma) and his wife Sarayu. They were the first humans on earth. Yami is essentially Yamuna, one of the two most sacred rivers of Hindu culture.
The story goes that when Yami grows up, she wants to have sex with Yama and make babies. The Rig Veda (X, 10) tells this story:
“The Immortals Gods want an offspring from the only of mortals, my brother – Yami says to his brother – the manifest power of your mind to be united with that of mine, that your body enters mine.” “Will we make what until now has never been make? – Yama responds – We are talking about righteousness and will we act incorrectly?” “The desire for you is now inside of me, I want to lie in the same bed with you,” his sister insists. The twins are already embraced in the womb like the sky and the earth.” “Go away, desire a husband than myself – says Yama – lie in the same bed with him, join up with him.”
However, the hymns apparently don’t say what happens next and how the earth gets populated since these two were the first humans. Maybe some later day censorship? In some versions of the tale, it is conjectured that Yami was successful in becoming Yama’s wife.
Finally Yama dies one day (only his mortal shape I guess, since eventually he himself is the God of Death). Yami is inconsolable. She keeps saying Yama died today. To help her understand the passing of time, the gods created night so as to divide one day from another and that is how she learns that time passes and moves on and this eventually helps her deal with her grief.
This story is astonishing in that Yami despite this incestuous desire is still among the most sacred. Her brother may have rejected her advances but there is no judgement passed on her. And what a poetic explanation for the creation of day and night! Love and grief give birth to the night and to the passage of time. Truly awesome.
Unlike Bhai dooj where the sister wishes a long life on the brother (note –no reciprocal festival for the brother to wish the same for his sister. Hmmm), Raksha Bandhan, as the name suggests, is the bond of protection. One has to wonder from whom did these women need the protection? Was it meant to be a deterrent towards an unspoken understanding of domestic violence? Was it because women could not protect themselves? Was it meant to be a deterrent to anyone who wanted to have sex with her?
Did it matter if the brother was younger, smaller, weaker, not interested?
What if she needed protection from the brother?
Some of you may think that I see the world through a very dark lens, but like the red pill Neo took in the Matrix, once you wear the gender lens, there is really no going back.
Here is what good old Bollywood has contributed of course.
I can recall only one movie which kind of explores the forbidden territory—Bambai ka Babu where *spoilers Suchitra Sen’s character falls in love with the long lost brother who returns home. And there is only one song where the brother is praising his sister:
Of course it is wonderful to celebrate the special brother- sister bond. As it is to celebrate the sister- sister bond or the brother- brother bond or in these changing social times step- sibling and half- sibling bonds. As long as they are equal and reciprocal, no harm done at all.
But as always, there are many tangled threads to this narrative which include issues like child marriages, dowry, property inheritance rights, education potential and economic value of women, social security issues, family planning, poverty, inequality. All falling in some ways within the framework of patriarchy.
Let us marry off the girls young so that they grow up learning the customs of the in-laws. After all she is paraaya dhan here. Let us marry her off early before she ends up being raped or horror—falling in love and having pre- marital sex. Worse horror—with someone of another caste, class, religion ! (If you have not seen Sairaat, please do. It is worth it. If you prefer Hindi, see Love Sex aur Dhokha. Both are equally chilling and fully true to the lived realities of young men and women across India.)
Let us send her off with dowry –which was meant to be streedhan ie her inheritance to do with as she wants. Reality —you are a 14 year old bride, moving to a village far away from everything you have ever known, you are hardly going to have a bank account and locker in which to keep all this right? Your mother- in- law takes it away for safety. You probably see it only at festivals when they want you to wear it all and show off.
Let us give the boy’s parents nothing to complain about, so that they will treat her well. Let us buy him a car. Let us pay for their honeymoon. Let us set up a separate bank account in her name??…. No way! How insulting. As if our boy will not look after her?! Kya aap shaadi se pehle hi divorce ki tayari kar rahe hain??
Of course the boy grows up knowing he never has to leave home and never has to negotiate for equal rights. Effectively, the girl is made homeless when she marries. And remains a dependant on the brother if she stays unmarried.
(Mary Roy, Arundhati Roy’s mother, filed a court case seeking gender justice in inheritance. https://www.outlookindia.com/newswire/story/mary-roy-case-court-gives-key-verdict/698128.)
Under these circumstances and given that the siblings are likely to outlive the parents, of course the siblings need to have a healthy and supportive relationship. What bothers many of us feminists is that the positioning of the sister here is always helpless, fearful, seeking while the brother is strong, protecting, privileged. The sister is glorified for giving up her rightful share so she can maintain good relations with her brother. Seriously?? He will treat her well in the future only if she sacrifices money and property ?? Doesn’t seem worth the price..…
The famous story of Rani Karnavati sending a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun to come to her rescue is probably the beginning of this festival. But since that ended a bit badly with all the women in the palace committing jauhar aka mass Sati ( which is now a crime), maybe some re-think is needed on this festival also.
To challenge sexist Bollywood songs, an NGO in Mumbai had come up with a brilliant Gaana Re-write competition.
The winner of this competition was Dr Manisha Gupte, who has contributed immensely to the women’s rights movement in the country, is the founder of MASUM and continues to be an inspiration to many of us.
Here is the song she re-worked and her explanation in her own words:
“This is a song that was very popular in its time thanks to Geeta Dutt’s haunting voice and the unrequited love, yearning and frustration expressed by a neglected wife towards her feudal husband. Na jaao saiyyyan chhuda ke baiyyan. From Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. picturized on Meena Kumari.”
Na manun, bhaiyya, pado bhi paiyyan,
Kasam tumhari, main toh ladungi, main ladungee.
Masal rahe ho jo khwab mere,
Jo tum kahogey, kyu main karungi ? Na karoongi.
Yeh khet pyare, yeh ghar ka sajdeh yeh mehki bagiya yeh mann ki galiyan
Yeh sab hai merey, jaisey tumharey
Main aaj inko na jaane doongi, khoney na doongi !
Dedicated to all the sisters of the world should demand equal property rights from their natal family irrespective of marriage and celebrate Raksha Bandhan on an equal footing, in a mutually balanced relationship!
P.S. The only brother for whom I tie the rakhi without reservation is in the Armed Forces and he really does protect us all so we can lead peaceful democratic free lives !