Sister/Brother responsibility, India style: “RAKHRI”

Psychically, women are superior to men and embody considerateness, forgiveness, and tolerance. However, at the conscious level – a level that cannot unmask the psychic layer – it is the brute strength of man that dominates. Men are rustic, manual, multi-dimensionally unskilled, emotionally limited, and bereft of inter-personal skills

Thus, in marriage and cohabitation, whether arranged or love-based, women always accommodate male intrusion and direction.

The situation is more marked for young girls who are married off. A young girl married off into a new setting, a new environment, a new family structure is at the bottom of that family’s pecking order in every way. She is, to all intents and purposes, defenceless and powerless.

To balance this inequality, a mature thought-based mechanism was put in place, whereby a woman’s opinions and thoughts could be represented by a male who had known her since childhood. The person had to be from her age group, and was usually her brother or her first male cousin.

The brother, acting both as his sister’s representative, and as his father’s ambassador, would appeal to his sister’s in-laws. If the appeal fell on deaf ears, then the woman’s paternal uncle’s would make the representation instead. And if that failed, then her father came and spoke privately to her husband’s father to resolve matters.

Representations and interventions by a woman’s paternal uncle signaled that the matter was serious. For her father to get directly involved signaled that the matter was nigh-on intransigent and insurmountable.

The role of the brother in assuming his sister’s or cousin-sister’s welfare is, by contrast, part of everyday social relationships. He counters his brother-in-law’s physical threat, safeguards his sister, acts as the link between two families, and assumes a critical role and set of observational responsibilities towards the welfare, rights and education of his sister’s children.

The day that commemorates this responsibility is called Rakhri, or Rakhari, or Raksha.

On this day, a sister ties a thick, symbolic, coloured cotton thread on her brother’s right wrist, and she feeds him barfi – a sweet made from milk, ghee, and honey/sugar. He in response, promises to protect and safeguard her interests in the coming year.

Originally, the promise took the form of a promissory note. In time, this was replaced by a nominal amount of money.

By the way, it is worth noting that Rakhri is not a Hindu festival. It is and always was a global, communal, mature, ancient festival that pre-dates the advent of Vedic concept.

The annual gesture of acknowledgement and promise, by sister and brother, indicates divine ethos and humanity. Arguably, a culture that finds such gestures inimical to their own belief degrades their own humaneness and divine connection. So, I ask those of you who are anti-brother/sister celebration of Rakhri – which this year took place on 7th August – what exactly is your problem???

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