Saturday, December 29, 2012

Threads of Perpetuity

Let me first declare that I am no woman rights activist. I cannot pretend to be an expert on gender either. However, I am compelled by a very selfish urge to write this - I like to be able to feel that I exercise my choices with freedom. Certainly, a social person acts with free will only rarely, but it is the assurance that she can is the essence of this article.

All this must sound trivial to you for it has been said again and again for centuries now. And this is exactly why I choose to highlight it because the most audacious things seem to happen under our nose often.

We have raised our concerns with fervor and agony in the recent rape case. The demands encompass almost the whole state administration- legislative failure, pathetic police administration to insufficient and inefficient justice system. I have come across articles talking lengths about how the patriarchal system  continues to oppress the lesser citizens - the women. My agenda in this article is to compel the reader, especially the "She", to ponder over the relationship between free will and the brother-sister relationship in Indian culture.

Year on year, the Indian sister ties the Rakhi to her brothers. Vows are exchanged unsaid. The brother pledges to protect her from any evils that might cast her shadow while she prays for his long and prosperous life. What goes unrealized is the process of socialization that occurs in the event. By virtue of a sacred string (Rakhi), the female is socialized to depend on the male while the male comes to believe that he ought to be her savior. The most intense part of this socialization is that it starts in the childhood and goes on till life ceases.

My female friends can counter the claim regarding the exchange of any vows. They might argue that they celebrate Rakhi only as a festival and do not pray at all, and that does not change the position that they are caring sisters. But what they don't realize that they help to perpetuate the age long tradition that started when a sister tied the first Rakhi to her brother in hope of protection.

Let me elaborate further. From the smallest of matters to the most grave ones, the sister relies on her brother for rescue. When a young woman is teased sexually to the extent that she cannot take it anymore, who does she run for help? Not the police, not the mother, not her female friends- but her brother. (Okay, I cannot rule out the possibility that she might discuss it with her female friends, but my experience tells me that it is only a way to vent out her frustration and not an actual cry for help. ) In case she does not have a brother, she runs to the next male closest to her. And the savior responds with all he's got. Obligations fulfilled.

Now imagine the furor of the brother if the Indian sister chooses to ask help from the institutions that are actually meant to help her above him. What started as eve-teasing changes to family (or male) pride. No wonder the shame comes to haunt the victim and her family and not the perpetrator. The Indian male needs to feel that he is a father (the provider), brother (the savior) and son (the successor).

In the Indian brother-sister relationship occurs the submission of certain rights and acceptance of obligations by both parties.  A friend of mine told me that she had to reveal the details of her relationship to her brother because she felt obligated as a sister. While there is nothing wrong in her letting her brother know that, it is the feeling of obligation that concerns me. I don't think the obligation runs both ways.

How does this affect the free will of the sister then?

First, any kind of obligation demands the submission of (at least a part) of free will. Especially when the party enters it unknowingly. The "privileges" enjoyed by the Indian sister have a cost associated. No free lunches as they say.

But deeper than that is the sense of dependence that creeps in slowly and silently. Your loving brother happily (and proudly) stands in the railway reservation queue for you while you submit your confidence as the cost. Even if you are conscious enough to exploit this relationship to get your things done easily, you essentially help in perpetuating the dependence. And it is a simple fact - dependence and free will don't like each other.

My intent is not to attack the sanctity of the brother-sister relationship, but to reveal what conspires beneath it. Next time you tie the Rakhi to your brother, be conscious of the fact that you are tying the thread of perpetuity - of male dominance over the female.