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Rakhi: The Thread Of Tradition Exploited To Keep Our Girls ‘Safe’

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“Ma, how many people do you tie a rakhi to?” asked my youngest inquisitively as she watched rakhis adorn every street shop in town. It took me way back to my school days and mixed memories flashed before my eyes.

As kids, I recall the boys in our class proudly flashing a wrist full of rakhis signifying the number of doting sisters, the very next day at school.

I also remember reciting the pledge every morning, “All Indians are my brothers and sisters.” As I grew older I cheekily added a caveat in my mind “all except one” (Oh! this idea of the “one” which was deeply ingrained in our heads, right?).

The Indian pledge has a sentence right at the beginning: “All Indians are my brothers and sisters.” Representational image. Photo credit: Pixabay.

“I Have Officially Been Bro-Zoned”

A few grades later, the motto drastically changed to “I want to be your hero not, bro!” Boys pulled every trick in the book (plasters, remaining absent, hiding) to avoid the enforced ritual of co-ed schools where girls tie a rakhi to the boys in their class.

Schools assumed that this gesture would weed out any vulgar thoughts that the boys may have or surely counter any possibility of a budding romantic relationship.

I can actually hear the deep sighs of boys whose crush had tied them a rakhi, “OK, I give up, I have officially been bro-zoned” (with or without their consent). What is he to do next? How is he expected to do justice to his “newly” acquired title?

Looking back, some boys intervened in disagreements to “save” their sister or act possessively and hound any guy who would lay eyes on their ‘mooh boli behen‘ (sister by choice, as opposed to being someone’s sister by blood). I think the only purpose it served was to increase the levels of toxic masculinity.

What If I Don’t Need My Brother’s Help?

Over time, it proved to be a major set back towards attaining gender equality by reinforcing the idea of the girl having to be “rescued” even if she may not need the brother’s help.

Then, I wondered if my daughters would be exposed to the same rituals. I shudder at the popular attitude as I am reminded of callous and uninformed statements that have been thrown around by influential people. This particular one takes the cake. The self-styled godman, Asaram Bapu, insinuated in 2013 that Nirbhaya should have addressed her rapists as “bhaiya” (brother) and they wouldn’t have harmed her.

Self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu was found guilty of raping a teenager and sentenced to life in prison by a Jodhpur court. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A recent judgement by the Madhya Pradesh high court asked a 26-year-old man, accused of molesting a woman, to get a “rakhi” tied by her on the day of Raksha Bandhan and mentioned in the court order to “promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come.”

The latest strategy to solve sexual crimes against women has been plotted by a temple in Telangana. They have announced a ‘”Raksha Bandhan challenge” which states that any man entering their premises on 26th August will get hurled by a rakhi from an unknown female devotee.

End Misogny, Let’s Talk Safety

As a community, we have weaponised the rakhi to curtail unwanted sexual advances meted out to girls and women. It is a reflection on our flawed understanding of the issue of gender based violence and sexual abuse that pervades Indian society.

Also, do girls need to be perceived as sisters to be worthy of respect, dignity and equality? A few silk threads will surely not resolve this age old problem!

Prevention can happen only through education. Here are some alternative steps that you can take today:

  • Gift your sibling a book that helps kickstart essential conversations about body safety, questions gender norms and informs them on issues related to growing up.
  • Teach children about treating everyone with respect and dignity.
  • Consent applies to everyone in all situations, even a rakhi.
  • Talk to your child about body safety specifying, “Known and trusted people can also make you feel uncomfortable. If you ever feel this way, you can talk to me or a person in your safety network.”
  • Reassure teenagers that feeling attracted to someone is normal. Don’t shame them for having perfectly normal feelings. However, help them choose ways to act responsibly and respectfully.

For more information on communicating essential messages on personal safety and difficult conversations on growing up, you can visit Circles of Safety’s website, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Featured image, taken from Wikimedia Commons, is for representational purposes only.
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