Bhai Dooj is a Hindu festival essentially meant to celebrate the virtuous bond between a brother and sister. Though descriptively it may seem like a pure-hearted commemoration of sibling love, it has - like Rakshabandhan - often come under fire for having patriarchal notions. More than celebrating an equal brother-sister relationship, it instead connotes a one-sided effort from the sister, who prays for the health and long life of her brother. It also marks the age-old appeal from a woman to a man to be her "saviour" and "protector" from the big, bad in the world.
But what is it that sisters are asking for today? Are they interested in playing upon the "abla naari" tradition to depend on a man to fend for them? Or are they seeking something bigger, more tangible; something that will help them fend for themselves in the world? No matter how romantic the idea of a man protecting a woman may still be, the fact of the matter is that along the road of feminism, this outlook does not find space. In the fight for women's upliftment, brothers shouldn't have to protect sisters.
So this Bhai Dooj, ditch the vows of protection. Ask your brother to promise you these five things instead:
1. Assist me in being financially independent
Despite an upward progression in the number of working women, daughters in India are still largely disadvantaged as compared to sons. A lot of this inferiority stems from women holding second-class tickets when it comes to financial independence. We are handed the label of being the 'Ghar ki Lakshmi' - goddess of wealth - without any room for aspirations or training to manage our wealth. From depending economically on our fathers when single, we are expected to move onto the husband when married.
Brothers can contribute greatly to breaking this cycle of women's dependence. As men, they are brought up with the sense and sensibility to manage finances, handle bank statements, taxes, balancing, saving, and spending. Ask your brother to impart that knowledge to you, so that you secure a future for yourself that is safe from economic adversity. Learn from him the skills you need to sustain yourself through your own pocket.
2. Be a feminist ally at home
Indian families may be inching towards a progressive outlook now, but there's no denying that households are still seated on patriarchal systems where daughters don't have certain privileges that sons enjoy. It may be something as banal as daughters not being able to party till late as her brother, or something as harsh as the daughter not being allowed to work. You can protest, put your foot down, fight for your rights with your parents. But since you are already disadvantaged, how much power do you really wield to assert your feminist views?
This is where your brother can come in. By way of his privileges, the best way your brother can value the sibling bond is by standing up as a feminist ally alongside you. But he shouldn't use his gender to his advantage in taking your side. He would be an ally only when he helps you in convincing your parents that neither is he above you, and neither should you be above him. Both of you are only desiring equality as siblings, and as individuals.
3. Give me advice when I ask for it
Mansplaining and offering unsolicited advice is a trait common among a lot of men (not all), and brothers are not an exception. By virtue of their gender, they feel they're better equipped or are superior enough to their sisters to offer advice to them.
While a sister may need an advisor, she sure doesn't want a sibling who instructs her with an iron hand. Or someone who checks her mistakes, taunts her, nags her, every step of the way. So do ask your brother for advice when you need it. But at the same time, tell him that your life is your own to live. He shouldn't crowd you. You need space to grow. And his advice will be best appreciated when you ask for it.
4. Don't protect me, but stand behind me in support
Many people still dwell in the misconception that protecting someone - by making decisions for them, or instructing them incessantly, or telling them how to be - is a form of love. Sure, it may stem from a good place, where that person wants the best for you, but the manner in which they execute it can often curb self-growth. If you have a brother always shielding you from detractors, or tackling someone who bullies you, you may feel nice about how much he cares for your well-being.
But is that kind of "protection" feasible in the long run? Will he always be there to protect you when something ill befalls? Or is it right if he defends you only because he feels responsible to preserve your "honour"? These are questions you should be asking yourself - and your brother - before allowing him to guard you. Wouldn't it be a better idea then to ask him to defend you not from the front, but stand behind always in support? His solidarity with you, in the decisions you make in life, will go a long way, much further than when he physically protects you.
5. Let me learn from my own mistakes
A brother, especially an older one, feels obliged to be protective towards his sister and prevent her from making the same mistakes he did when he was her age. For instance, if a job change did not work out well for him, he may advise you to not repeat the mistake he made of changing jobs. He may tell you to stay put where you currently are, no matter how emotionally draining your job is to you. While the advice may be well-meaning, and he means to make a bubble around you to protect you, it's not always the right way of dealing with things.
What if a job change is exactly what will work best for you, even if it didn't for him? And even if it doesn't, shouldn't you be given the space to call that a learning curve? To count it as a personal experience you can learn from later in life? A brother is free to talk to his sister from experience, but he must understand that she is an individual living her own, separate life. Until she falls down and gets up again on her own, how will she learn to be independent?
So this Bhai Dooj, make a promise of sharing your experiences with each other, looking out for each other, and helping each other out when the need arises. Not in a way that impedes the other's freedoms. But in a way that uplifts them.
Views expressed are the author's own.
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