As the festive season enters the last leg after Diwali, brothers and sisters across the country are all set to celebrate Bhai Dooj. Unlike Raksha Bandhan, which sees a sister seeking protection from her brother, on Bhai Dooj she offers prayers for the long life and well-being of their brother, while the latter showers her with gifts and blessings. But then what is it like for a sister to not have brother? Is her life incomplete and her well-being at risk if she has no brother? Should she pity her fate for being brother-less? Or is that something the society wants us to believe?
- Does the festival of Bhai Dooj celebrate sibling bond or gendered roles bestowed on brothers and sisters?
- The society looks down with pity on women who have no brothers,
- Must a brother feel obliged to ensure his sister's well-being even if he is physically or economically incapable to do so?
- Does a sister only love her brother because he'll keep her safe and secure?
Is a girl's life incomplete and her well-being at risk if she has no brother? Should she pity her fate for being brother-less? Or is that something the society wants us to believe?
I am not unfamiliar with the sentiment of pity that comes riding on one's brother-less status. Old aunts, neighbours and random people have all looked at me with sympathy when I told them that we were just two sisters. “No brother?” they would ask, as if I was deliberately holding back information to cause them distress. It made for an awkward conversation very recently when an old woman, well in her eighties, who I barely knew, advised me to not repeat my parents’ mistake and “give” my daughter a brother. She also shared her own example, as to how she went on to birth a string of daughters until she had a son. Hardly a wise, moral or economic choice, I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t know her too well, and the generation gap in rational was too wide to be covered with one conversation.
Another question that I am often asked is whether I miss not having a brother during festivals like Bhai Dooj. To a conservative eye, it is a depressing position to be in, to not have a brother to dote on you or vice versa. The prospect of not having a mayka or maternal home after your parents are no longer there, and to not have a male relative by your side who’ll protect and support you, if anything goes wrong before or after your marriage is daunting to many, especially women.
For us, festivals like Bhai Dooj and Raksha Bandhan were a prompt reminder that me and my sister were at a disadvantage for not having a brother. Being thick-skinned and brought up y feminist parents though, we never took such comments to heart. We knew we have each other and that was more than enough. But the social attitude begets one to ask, must a woman only need a brother for protection? Is there no depth to a woman’s bond with her brother, if you take out the security and support angle from it?
Instead of reducing the sibling bond to gendered roles like protectors and seekers of protection, why not simply encourage brothers and sisters to love, support and stand up for each other through their lives, irrespective of what is expected of each one of them as per their gender?
There are numerous brothers who cannot live up to social expectations such as these, due to physical or economic constraints, and the society doesn’t shy away from shaming them for failing their sisters, which is absolutely unfair. Instead of reducing the sibling bond to gendered roles like protectors and seekers of protection, why not simply encourage brothers and sisters to love, support and stand up for each other through their lives?
If women are raised and conditioned to be strong and economically independent, they wouldn’t have to depend on anyone for their well-being. Similarly, brothers wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of living up to social and familial expectations and deal with shame if they ever fail to live by those standards. But then again we know that this is exactly what patriarchy doesn’t want; men and women challenging traditional roles which would upstage the entire system.
This Bhai Dooj, we must pledge to celebrate the sibling bond, instead of gendered duties. We must trade expectations with love, promising to have each other’s back always. And if you do not have a brother, like me you can choose to make similar promises to your sister, or better still, to yourself. Why must anyone be accountable for your well-being when you can do that for yourself?
Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.