Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rakscha Bandhan: Stop violence against women to honour your sisters

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Anglo Saxons, White men and non-Hindus do not have Rakscha Bandhan festival, they do not have vows to honour and protect sisters, they do not have Navratam, singing and dancing praises to women or devis, they do not have multitudes of Goddesses, Matas who are revered before and above male deities, like Gauri-Shankar, Sita -Ram, Radhe-Shyam, Lakshmi -Vishnu, and so on. They do not have religious anecdotes, showing high regard for women.

Yet these non-Hindu men, these Anglo Saxons and White “European” (Saheb) men appear to have relatively more respect and regard for women than Hindus and Indians with so many show-pieces and hullabaloo glorifying women. In real fact, we treat our women as trash and lowly weak creatures. India, with 80% Hindu population, is tainted as the worst country for a woman to be born into (Canada is the best). Why this hypocrisy? Why do we Indians in general and Hindus in particular have institutionalised discrimination against our sisters when we have so many festivals and customs glorifying and worshipping women?  Read on…………

Krishna-Draupadi episode in Mahabharat where Lord Krishna saves honour of Draupadi remains the hallmark of protection that brothers need to provide to sisters in time of need- a protection and respect ALL MEN should show towards ALL WOMEN, not only their sisters.
Many believe the concept of Rakscha Bandhan originated from Draupadi and Krishna. Once, when Krishna had hurt his finger while beheading Shishupal, (via Sudarshan Chakra), Draupadi was seen immediately rushing towards him. She at once tore off her sari and bandaged Krishna’s finger. Krishna for this loving act had vowed to help Draupadi. For every thread which she had used to cover his wound, Lord Krishna promised to repay the cost of each thread. He had promised to help Draupadi by saying, “whenever you need me I’ll always be there.”  He repaid this debt during Draupadi Cheer Haran (disrobing), and in many episodes of Mahabharat.

Historically there is story of Rani Karnavati (grandmother of the legendary Maharana Pratap) of Chittorgarh and Mughal Emperor Humayun, whom Rani sent a Rakscha Bandhan. When Rani was attacked and defeated and died through mass suicide, Emperor Humayun defeated Bahadur Shah and restored kingdom to sons of Karnavati. This almost 5 century old history shows that brotherly-sisterly love through Rakscha Bandhan transcends religions: love of a Muslim brother to a Hindu sister - some 500 years ago.

Bollywood has been foremost in promoting brotherly-sisterly love. From Choti Bahen to Hare Rama Hare Krishna to current times, brotherly -sisterly love is shown as immortal in reel (film) life, but such respect for women seem to have been escaping India in real life.

Bollywood has glorified brotherly-Sisterly love. The leading one is Dev Anand's "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" which immortalised this love with melodious song: Phulo ka taro ka sab ka kehna hai.

The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. 'Rakscha Bandhan' or 'Rakhi' is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the ‘Rakhi’. We can extend this love to sibling love where one may not have brothers or sisters (sisters to sisters and brothers to brothers). This is similar to the Bandhan which a pundit or priest ties to your hand during Pooja, signifying that God is your protector. 

Bollywood has been instrumental in promoting and glorifying Rakhi festival. But has the "reel' glorification descended on "real" India? 
This Hindu festival will have little relevance to the theme of brotherly-sisterly love and respect for women if all that the celebration involves is stage shows, singing, dancing and a platform for speeches by politicians. And this also provides an avenue for businesses to sell more sarees, gold, sweets, perfume etc. This also becomes a revenue source for media to promote such commercialisation. Personally I have no objections to brothers giving gifts to their sisters. But it comes with a condition that if you have to give your sister anything, FIRST gift her the promise to respect and protect ALL women-starting from your wife.

To the brothers, who has Rakhi tied to their hands, and who vow to protect their sisters, I have one question for you: You vow to protect your sister, but who protects my sister - your wife? This is especially relevant because Indians in general and Hindus in particular hold the relationship of a brother and sister in high esteem, together with respect for all women-theoretically in many cases. While your married sister is someone else’s wife, at the same time, your wife happens to be someone else’s sister. Hence there is a logical reason for reciprocity if one wants to protect sisters. What this means is that for your sister to be respected and protected, you need to do the same to your wife, and other women, who are somebody else’s sister.

A brother's hand that extends towards a sister for tying of the bond of love is also used to bash other women who are somebody else's sisters.  That is why Rakscha Bandha should be a platform to promote love, respect and regard for ALL women.
But is this happening? We reportedly have high incidents of family violence, (and atrocities) especially against women in India and amongst Indian migrants (read People of Indian Origin) to New Zealand and other countries. It therefore came as no surprise to me that one Hindu group in Auckland is blaming an Indian publication, Indian Newslink for publishing a research report they see derogatory to Hindus. That research by Massey University shows that Indians in general and Hindus in particular are biggest abusers of women in Auckland from their sample in a women’s refuge. I believe that, as that is a fact. Hospital records, police statistics, Auckland Council concerns and Ministry of Social Development figures substantiate this. Through such concerns, in 2010, Waitakere Indian Association held a joint workshop with these organisations to tackle this problem. Rather than running with bruised egos, Hindu organisations need to really tackle the hard issue facing our community-the band of women beaters in our community.

Tragedy for Indians is that while they pledge to protect their own sisters, then why do they openly abuse sisters of others? If we took the theme of Raksha Bandhan to protect sisters, that translates to respect for ALL women. Then why are women so much abused and dishonoured in India generally by Indians? Are our festivals only a sham and show piece, without any meaning, and do we observe them "parrot-like" - without understanding it?
We appear to be too religious, but lacking spirituality – we need to practice it in real life. Hindu religious organisations need to inculcate better respect for women within their community from “vyas gaddi” (religious pulpit) in practical terms and NOT in some abstract religious theory, not understood by many. The visiting Swamis from India need to speak more about relevance of religion to improve well being of migrants rather than abstract knowledge that is merely theoretical. We need to walk our talk of good deeds. We have too much religious activities, but little practice in life.

During Rakhi, a sister should also seek protection of her Bhabhi-sister in law, who is also somebody's sister.
Rakscha Bandhan for modern men and women should be about change in human attitudes. It should be about improving our well being through teaching of festivals. It is not about “parrot-like” celebration for commercial gain and an opportunity for profits. Neither should it be a grandstanding of Pundits and Swamis about glorification of this relationship, when we continually abuse and mistreat women. 

The issue we have is for Hindu and Indian groups to recognize the problem and address the vice, because richness in our culture on respect for sisters and women seem to be inversely related to how we actually treat them. Therefore Rakscha Bandhan should be an occasion to pass a message to our community to address the issue about respect for women and stop family violence. This is because celebrations are good avenues for addressing social issues in the community, despite so called Hindu organizations disputing this. Therefore sisters, when you tie the sacred thread, Rakhi on your brothers’ hands, please ask them not only to vow to protect you, but your Bhabhis (sisters-in-law) – their wives as well, because they also are somebody’s sister.

Sisters always feel protected by gallant and brave men who fight for the nation, and do not show their bravery in beating up women and children
Therefore I plead to all brothers to accept this theme and slogan for all Rakscha Bandhan in future. Please take this pledge with all other men: I vow to protect your sister in my home, please pledge to protect mine in your home. And this way, we will use our culture to tackle this vice in our society.

We cannot continue to happily celebrate Rakscha Bandhan while our sisters get beaten up by their husbands behind closed doors in their own homes, without community taking any positive action.

This should be the gift all sisters should seek from their brothers:My brother, this hand is for protecting sisters in particular, and women in general. Please never use it with bad intent on any other sister.
Let us all join in the spirit of Rakscha Bandhan to respect all women, and introduce social theme for betterment of our women. 

Happy Rakscha Bandhan to all.


[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and runs blog site FIJI PUNDIT to pass social message to the community. He advocates change in community attitudes towards festivals we celebrate, to address issues in our communities. Otherwise the well-meaning festivals remain hollow and meaningless. ]

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