I’m A Feminist, And It’s Impossible For Me To Reject Raksha Bandhan. Here’s Why

It’s the women in our lives that play the role of our rakshaks in big and small ways, on good and bad days

It’s Raksha Bandhan. As a feminist, I know I’m not supposed to embrace and celebrate the benevolent beacon of patriarchal values that the festival is. Devoid of the soppy sentimentality from the way the festival has been packaged and sold to us, the goings-on would be pretty ludicrous, objectively speaking. People with vaginas tie colourful threads on the wrists of people with penises in exchange for the promise of eternal raksha, or protection.

Now, I grew up in a community where women were encouraged to keep popping babies until, eventually, the ghar ka chirag, the dhan that would remain apna and not become treacherously paraya, the carrier of the family’s utterly un-illustrious name and the future owner of papa ka business, ultimately made a squalling, noisy appearance, much to the poor baby-making machine mother’s relief. It was not uncommon to see families where the age gap between the oldest (daughter) and the youngest (brother) was so vast that when she attended the kid’s PTA meetings and open houses (which she definitely did, instead of her parents), she’d have no trouble passing off as the hot young mom. Imagine an 18-year-old young woman tying a rakhi to a toddler and eliciting a promise that he would protect her, while also wiping the snot and spit off of his face.

Raksha Bandhan 2017

I also grew up in a family where the X-chromosome was unusually dominant. There were very few brothers to go around in the extended family, and the few that we had, generally made a relatively late appearance. For the first decade of my life, I was almost exclusively surrounded by women — didis of all shapes, sizes, and ages.

You’d think that as a family filled with women, we had no use for Raksha Bandhan, but you would be sorely mistaken. Each year, the khandaan would gather in our holiday home and celebrate it with much pomp and excitement of giving and receiving gifts. My childhood was spent tying rakhis to all my “sisters” and having them do the same to me. We were all told that we were all supposed to protect and keep each other safe. There was no reason to challenge the explanation. Besides, which 6-year-old cares about logic when there’s a pile of gifts waiting for you at the end of the exercise? I was thrilled with the concept of Raksha Bandhan. It was like a birthday party on steroids. To this day, the tradition among my female cousins persists, despite brothers having finally arrived on the family scene.

Raksha-Bandhan children

So it’s hard for me to reject Raksha Bandhan — my experience of it has been so different from the inherently toxic message and stereotype it seeks to reinforce and strengthen — of women relying on men for their protection, like passive bystanders. Ask any woman, and she’ll tell you how patently untrue that assertion is, in the daily march of life. Sure, we’ve all had a brother or cousin here, or a friend or boyfriend there who has offered to throw punches on our behalf every now and then when we’ve been sexually harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by a strange man on the road, but it’s the women in our lives that play the role of our rakshaks in big and small ways, on good and bad days.

When I think of Raksha Bandhan, I think of all the women who have protected me, over the years, even when I didn’t know I need protecting.

I think of my mother, who was barely out of her teens when she had my sister, and a couple of years later, me. As their quiet, timid, achingly young first daughter-in-law, my grandparents were stunned by her transformation into a fire-breathing dragon when they tried to pack us off to a government school in the neighbourhood. In every way, my sister and I, and every other girl who was born into our family, owes her private school education to my mother. She protected all our futures, in the best way she knew.


I think of my army of friends in school and college, and the number of times we built human fortresses around each other when lecherous old uncles or entitled young men tried to grind their pelvises against our butts in crowded public transport. The offender would invariably find himself sandwiched between two young ladies, one of whom would elbow him with all her might, while the other kneed him — so hard that they would tear up and quietly limp out of the bus or train at the very next station. We protected each other, even when we didn’t always like one another.

I think of all the women at my various workplaces, who, even when they were competing for the same promotions and career advancements, protected each other from randy bosses looking to prey on young men. I remember all the times a kind senior pulled me aside to warn me about not accepting a ride home from this editor or that producer.

I also think of all the nameless, faceless women on the Internet who have, more times than I can count, defended me hotly against trolls and harassers who spend their days looking for women to abuse, thanks to the anonymity and lack of repercussions afforded by the Internet. Social media can be a lonely place for a woman with opinions, and these women are the shields that protect you from the worst of the body blows.

And I think about all the women in the various washrooms in bars across countries, who gently, and without judgement, ask drunk stranger women on dates if they need help getting back home or if they feel unsafe being inebriated and alone in a car with their dates.

women rakhi

I think about all the times that the didi who cleans our home turns up with this young niece or that friend’s teenage daughter in tow, because their mothers left her in charge of babysitting, while they went out to work. Better to have them wait in our living room than leave them at home, vulnerable to rapist-y men in the chawl.

I think about the smiling lab attendant who rushes toward me with a thick blanket every time I go for an x-ray. She’s protecting my womb and future children, she tells me with a grin every time.

And I think about the woman in the police control room — it’s somehow always a woman — who answers distress calls to 100. I’ve lost count of the number of times her steely, scary voice has set errant cab drivers straight.

As a feminist, I know I’m supposed to reject Raksha Bandhan, but how can I, when I’ve only ever known it as a bond that women share with each other?