Raksha Bandhan in Co-Ed Schools: An Enforced Ritual for Involuntary Bro-Zoning

Culture

Raksha Bandhan in Co-Ed Schools: An Enforced Ritual for Involuntary Bro-Zoning

Illustration: Arati Gujar

M

y favourite thing about 2000’s Mela is a furry-chested Aamir Khan doing a re-enactment of his first LSD experience in “Dekho 2000 Zamana Aa Gaya”. A close second is the sequence where Faisal Khan’s character valiantly agrees to become Twinkle Khanna’s rakhi brother after spending literally three days with the woman. A time span in which she has him and his BFF almost killed multiple times. If this isn’t bizarre enough, risking his life for a village full of strangers comes with the territory of being Rupa’s bhaiya, as does being beaten to within an inch of his life. Since this is Bollywood however, the power of the almighty bhaiya bond trounces everything at the end.

It’s a brilliant example of how we, as a society, expect any man, regardless of his consent, to be a dutiful bhaiya to whichever damsel in distress ties a colorful cotton thread on his wrist. There’s few things that are so equally detrimental to both sexes. On one hand, it fuels the already out-of-control levels of toxic masculinity in this country. And on the other, it enables white knights to further come to the aid of women who might not even really need their help. It doesn’t help that we live in a country where then-Godman, now-prisoner Asaram Bapu insinuated in 2013 that the Delhi gang rape victim should’ve addressed her rapists as “bhaiya” and they wouldn’t have harmed her.

Statements like Asaram’s are part of the reason I’ve always had an inherent issue with boys and girls being encouraged to forge unnatural familial bonds. It’s probably why in middle school, the impending arrival of Raksha Bandhan triggered nightmares in the mind of every pubescent boy. “Yaar, what if Ruchi ties me a rakhi?”, I remember a petrified classmate asking me, afraid that he’d be forced to address his crush of two years as “Ruchi didi”.

Back then, the “friendzone” was a place of privilege. It meant you still had a shot with a girl or a guy you liked. As a hormonal pre-teen with a crush, your hierarchy in descending order was as follows: She shares her tiffin with me, she friendzoned me, she asked me to pick a chip-chop colour, she doesn’t know I exist. The last thing on the menu, which meant that you were well and truly out of her league, was if you got rakhizoned.

Often, this was involuntary. It was actually enforced in several co-ed schools. Teachers would ensure that girls tied rakhis on the wrists of their male classmates, rendering any other relationship between them illicit. And thereby rendering the point of a co-ed institution, where presumably, the idea is to foster healthy interpersonal relationships between the sexes, null and void. It stems from a place which believes that young boys and girls are incapable of being friends. There is a very healthy middle ground that exists between couplehood and outright involuntary kinship. And by denying children the right to explore that middle ground, an institution sets the tone for a divisive understanding of grown-up relationships that fall into a binary: Girls and boys can either be siblings or couples. It’s one of the reasons so many of us still believe in the “ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte” theory.

I suppose these institutions can only be as good as the faculty members that teach there. And I guess it is hard for anyone, especially grown-up teachers managing a menagerie full of bouncing jellybeans, to erase their own conditioning. Which is why you see teachers shaming girls for wearing short skirts or being “friendly with boys”. It’s bad enough that we have the kids of tomorrow learning skewed versions of “the modern girl”, but may be the buck needs to stop at peddling the idea that giving young boys the mantle of “bhaiya” is the best defence against fostering any other kind of relationships.

It’s bad enough that we have the kids of tomorrow learning skewed versions of “the modern girl”, but may be the buck needs to stop at peddling the idea that giving young boys the mantle of “bhaiya” is the best defence against fostering any other kind of relationships.

Change is slow, and I gather that archaic mindsets in our education system will continue to espouse delusional practices. Which is why, this year too, Raksha Bandhan will trigger millions of conflicted pre-teen boys and girls into asking their still-developing minds why they are required to be dragged into a kinship despite sharing no DNA with the other?

Maybe it’s time we began to treat rakhis as a symbol of what they used to be: a celebration of the bond between brother and sister (with a much-needed update). And not a metaphorical chastity belt that wards off the prospect of any other kind of relationship.

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