While growing up, I was mostly insulated from the subtle and the blatant messages that our patriarchal society sends our way, thanks to an independence-fostering father and a feminist mother. Mum was an atypical one. My parents come from Haryana, a state infamous for its gender inequality and that is what made her more than a woman she pretended to be.
My mother made no rabble-rousing speeches but ingrained in my brother and me, the fundas of gender equality. This was done all year, except for Raksha Bandhan. That day, she would extol the virtues of having a brother and how fortunate I was to have my ‘own’ brother to tie a rakhi. She, as a sister of three brothers, could never tire from reminding me about the ‘others’ who were same gender siblings.
I never really paid attention to these conversations. Certain things are a given. I had brothers, I tied the rakhi, I got my gifts, and life was good. But as I grew up, I saw that society tries to show women their supposed place. You see patriarchy work when girls’ hostels have a time deadline of two hours earlier than the boys’ hostels. You see it when an auto rickshaw driver lectures you about why no job is worth late nights for women. You face it when you pick up a book titled “China’s Military Transformation”, and an old patriarchal honcho cocks his eyebrow, twists his lips in a sneer, takes the book out of your hand and replaces it with a regressive Cosmopolitan instead.
But nothing beat these messages in until I had two daughters. What was deviously subtle earlier was now unapologetically graphic and plainspoken. The straight face of patriarchy told me to think about a third child and pray hard for it to be a boy. It suggested dire sorrow for my girls, without a male sibling to take care of them. It told me ‘tough luck’ when my second daughter was born instead of congratulations. Patriarchy forbade me from celebrating certain customs and festivals because I did not bear a son. Hell, in Haryana, there is a particular shawl that can be worn on festivals only by son-bearing women. There are lines clearly drawn between them and us.
And then came Raksha Bandhan. A festival that displays and celebrates the typical mindset that most of us are trying to correct. While in the yesteryears, women have had to look up to men to protect them, it is high time that the definitions of our festivals evolve with the changing times. It is I who have saved my brother more often than not because I am the elder one. Should ‘Rakhi’ not be treated as an occasion to celebrate ‘siblinghood’. Don’t same gender siblings need to cherish each other?
As a society, we are transforming; it is snail-paced but nevertheless, it is a change. So why should we quarantine our festivals and customs from the same? What was accepted earlier is not necessarily relevant anymore. A long time ago, Indians were okay with sati, child marriage, and dowry. One of those evils has died its death and the others are being shown the door in progressive households.
I can put my ideas into play because I have a supportive husband who is more gender-conscious than any man I have ever met. I have never felt more equal than in my own home, and that is saying something. Girls are raised to feel that they owe the world something; sacrifices, compromises, and inequality are part of our nomenclature. My husband has never made me feel lesser than him or lesser than what I am, and that is where I draw my hope from. Our homes are a microcosm of our world. What affects the larger picture, makes as much difference to our lives. The ripples of change that begin with you and me, have the potential to turn the tides of our society. This is not just rhetoric. At the end of the day, we are the world.
So this August, my daughters will not look outside of themselves for Raksha Bandhan. They are whole, complete and enough for each other. They will tie a rakhi to each other and celebrate sisterhood. This is my personal war against patriarchy and all that it tells us about what we cannot be, do or achieve.