By Suresh Kurl
Thousands of centuries ago, Shachi, not our daughter, but named after the queen of Indra, the Cosmic god of rain and the ruler of deities, tied a string around the wrist of her husband for his protection and victory in a war against demon Vritra.
In Sanskrit “raksha” means protection and “bandhan” means a band or a string. The purpose of tying a band or a string on the right hand wrist is to protect its wearer from danger or evil spirits. This band could be equated with an amulet worn around the neck or tied around the arm to magically shield the wearer against injury.
Traditionally, this ceremony was always to ensure safety of men engaging in bold and risky endeavours. As women rarely left home without the protection of men, there are no references of such ceremonies seeking their safety.
The ancient Hindu Laws of Manu assumes a woman to be born safe from societal threats always. As a child she is protected by her father, as a young woman by her husband and in her old age or as a widow by her son(s).
This assumption I opine is inherently faulty. Contrary to the concept of independence and equal rights it portrays a woman to be weak, that she is in need of protection always and therefore incapable of protecting herself. It compounds the belief that a woman can never stand on her own feet and protect herself and thus, she is a burden on herself as well as on society in general.
As time moved and new social conditions evolved, a woman's need to seek added protection increased. Subsequently the culture added their brothers to the list of her protectors. That is, the traditional custom of a wife, or a priest or any elderly member of the family tying a string on the wrist of a man for his protection expended to a sister tying a string on the wrist of her brother(s), but for her own protection against external threats.
During medieval India, when Muslim invasions of Hindu kingdoms raged fast and furious, a Rajput queen Karnavati, the widowed queen of Chittor, sent the Mughal emperor Humayun (1508-1556 AD) a band, addressed him as her brother and asked him to protect her against Bahadur Sher Shah, the invader of her estate. Humayun, immediately abandoned his own military campaign at her request and came for her rescue.
An Islamic Scholar believes that Rakshabandhan grew in popularity after Rani Karnavati sent a band to Humayun when she required his help.
Every year, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrate this pious bonding between sisters and brothers in the month of August as a reminder to their brothers of their obligation to protect their sisters from their oppressors.
But the trouble arises when a woman’s own family become her offenders. There is no shortage of incestuous brothers or brothers who swindle their sisters. Reportedly brothers have killed their sisters just as ruthlessly as they have killed their own daughters and spouses.
However, despite the annual celebration of this festival, women neither feel safe nor do they feel protected. Why? Do brothers forget their vows to protect their sisters as soon as the ceremony of exchanging sweets and a gift of cash between them concludes? Given the statistics on domestic violence I say they do.
We know that no society has an exclusive monopoly on violence against women. It exists in almost every society. I can say this with certain authority as a retired Social Worker and as an ex-Member of the National Parole Board who has studied thousands of case files and participated in hundreds of parole hearings.
Seemingly, our family traditions that used to keep us bonded, civilized and law abiding are either ceasing to exist or changing much too rapidly. The spiritual powers of the wedding vows taken around the holy fires or around the Gurugranth Sahib are losing their grip on living peacefully. Life is becoming increasingly unhappy and stressful.
Three years ago, Mayor Dianne Walts and Councillor Barinder Rasode launched a Rakhi Project to strengthen the spirit of this festive occasion and to raise awareness around domestic abuse in Surrey, BC. I congratulate them for moving us in a more harmonious and civilized direction of a living.
As of this year, I would like to add a new tradition to further this awareness around domestic violence and to keep the bonding stronger not only between sisters and brothers, but between husbands and wives as well. I propose "Husbands tie Raksha-bands on the wrist of their spouses as a vow against domestic violence." And let Canada become the birthplace of this blissful tradition.
Suresh Kurl is an ex-university professor, a retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board and an ex-member of the National Parole Board. You can contact Suresh Kurl at email@example.com