How I celebrated the festival of Raksha Bandhan with a feminist twist
“Hey, is it an off on Rakhi?” asked my friend, questioning about whether or not the college would remain closed for the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan. “No, I don’t think so. Besides, we are better off without a sexist holiday,” I bellowed, the feminist in me, quietly shaking its head at the casual everyday sexism we have come to live with. “What? It’s not sexist. Anyway, I tie rakhis only for gifts,” said my friend, laughing the matter away. For anybody who doesn’t know, Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, wherein a sister ties an ornate string (rakhi) on the wrist of the brother, who in turn vows to protect her, the sister then feeds the brother something sweet and receives a gift as a token of love. I had been dreading the arrival of Saturday because growing up in a middle class, Hindu family I knew I would have to tie rakhis to my brothers. I had done so for years, but had somehow failed to realize the sexist implications of the festival. This time, however, realizing completely, the consequence of my actions, I wasn’t going to just give in. I came up with an idea: I told my mother that if she wanted me to continue the tradition and complete the rakhi-tying, all my brothers would have to do the same. They would have to, in turn, tie me rakhis too. What took me by immense surprise was my mother’s reaction to my demand. She, not only helped me pick out the rakhis for myself, she asked my all brothers about my wish, and everybody happily resolved to oblige. No, my brothers did not say no or nudge the idea. No, my brothers did not see this as a threat to their ‘masculinity’. When my aunt implied that it was a given that I was going to be there to offer unconditional support to my relatives, my elder brother said, “It is also tacit that we are going to be there for her, whenever she needs us, yet she has tied us rakhis for the last 19 years; it’s time we made sure that she is going to be there for us,” he smiled. It left me feeling a little proud. I think a large majority of youngsters realize that one particular gender, today, doesn’t need protection from the other, which is also (not) coincidentally the more privileged one. On the day of Rakhi, all the brothers, conforming to my request, tied me rakhis, making me one happy sister. My 9-year old cousin, on whom all the indications of the world were yet to dawn upon, naively asked me, “aap boy kyun banna chahte ho?” (Why do you want to be a boy?). I couldn’t say anything. What could I have said that would have permeated the brain of a 9-year-old boy who has been brought in a heteronormative fashion? I am, however, positive that he will come around as he grows up. I felt like I had made a feminist point, one that needed to be made. Raksha Bandhan is about celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, isn’t it? So, I just did that.
——————– About the Author: This article is contributed by Prerna Gupta, our guest writer.