In a few days, men all over India will take a vow. A vow to protect their sisters. Raksha Bandhan, the bond of protection, is an Indian festival that celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. The central ceremony involves the tying of a Rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister around her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love for her brother and reaffirms the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. Hindu mythology has several stories related to Raksha Bandhan. One of them involves the god Krishna and the princess of Panchala, Draupadi. Draupadi had once torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Krishna’s wrist to staunch the bleeding from a battlefield wound. Krishna was touched by her action and declared her to be his sister, even though they were unrelated. He promised to repay the debt at the right time. (Source: Wikipedia.org)
Years later, Draupadi married the five Pandava brothers, sons of the Pandu, king of Hastinapura. The Pandavas lost themselves and their queen Draupadi in gambling to their cousins, the Kauravas, 100 brothers who were sons of Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur and Pandu’s successor. The eldest of the Kauravas, Duryodhana ordered his younger brother Dusshasana to disrobe Draupadi in the assembly hall. The entire royal assembly of Hastinapura including King Dhritarashtra and other elders watched helplessly as Dusshasana tried to disrobe Draupadi. Draupadi pleaded to Krishna for help and Lord Krishna indefinitely extended Draupadi’s saree and protected her honor. Thus the small string of silk she tied to stop Krishna’s bleeding protected her honor at the most desperate time. From that day, Hindus started celebrating Raksha Bandhan, a day when brothers take vows to protect their sisters. Indian women have made significant progress since the time of the mythical Draupadi, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are thousands of modern day Dusshasanas all over India. Violence against women, both within the home and in public, is on the rise. Women are groped, molested and sexually and physically assaulted in public places, including buses, trains, sidewalks, bars, clubs and pubs. Countless incidents of rape and molestation have been reported in the past few years. Take a look at the staggering statistics tracked by Map4aid here.
One incident that shook the entire country happened recently in Guwahati. On July 12 2012, a young girl was molested, stripped and physically attacked by an unruly mob of twenty men outside a pub. Onlookers not only watched the horrific incident like the king of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra, but eventually joined the mob. All of this was recorded on video by a local TV news reporter. Some of the molesters proudly posed for the camera, which speaks volumes about the ineffective and inefficient law enforcement system in India. The Assam government came under extreme criticism for failing to arrest the molesters and the incident caused national outrage. A few days after that incident, on July 25th, a 19-year-old girl was pushed out of a moving train in Karnataka by four men who tried to molest her [Another horrific incident happened in Mangalore between the time I started writing this and now]. And these are the incidents that get reported. Violence against Dalit women; lesbian, bisexual and transgender women; and violence in the name of community honour are grim realities in many of our lives; all acutely under-reported. Looking at the state of the country, isn’t it hypocritical of Indian men to celebrate Raksha Bandhan on one hand and perpetuate violence against women on the other? What happened to the vows they made all these years? I guess they never really meant it. I bet the Rakhi-tying ceremony, taking a vow to protect their sisters and all, are just attempts to make them feel macho and superior, nothing more. Festivals like this are another sexist attempt by the patriarchal Indian society to condition its men and women to believe that women are weaker elements of the society that need protection from men. Have you ever heard of a ceremony where a sister vows to protect her brother? If you think about it, the whole concept is fundamentally flawed. In a fair and equal society, why would women need men’s protection or vice-versa? Men love to think that women are beneath them; that they are vulnerable commodities that need protection. This also leads to the notion that any woman who is “unprotected” is everyone’s game. Single women in India (unmarried, divorced and widowed women) are constantly criticized, condemned, disrespected and harassed, even in the 21st century. Remember the Akeli ladki Khuli tijori scene from the movie, Jab We Met? We need more women like Geet to stand up to such attitude and behavior. There is no need for Raksha (Protection). All we need from men is respect. Respect for women, whether straight or queer, cis or trans, regardless of community, class, caste or religion. Respect for women’s rights and freedom. Respect for women’s choices and decisions. Respect for women’s spaces and right to exist with dignity and as equals in life’s journey. No “Raksha” Bandhan this year. Let’s start a bond of mutual respect – A respect bandhan!