The word “sister” conjures all kind of beautiful memories of growing up; running around and fighting for sweet nothings with siblings. Desi folk lore celebrate siblings in so many beautiful ways irrespective of region or religion. Hinduism has specific rituals celebrating brother-sister bond, in the form of rakshabandhan and bhai dooj with regional variations. In Bengal women celebrate Bhai Phota and in south India sisters’ pray for the wellbeing of brothers on Nag Pancham and Avani Avittam. Thursday is called Birvaar in Punjabi and hindu women do not wash hair on that day to elongate their brothers’ life. There are folk songs celebrating this bond; in some brothers tease sisters how they’ll be married and sent away to their marital homes, in others sisters lament this parting and differential treatment. These rituals, fasting, praying, singing and dancing everything comes and rests on bolstering male ego by declaring women’s dependence on men. Even in non Hindu communities where women as sisters are accorded special place yet it is secondary to male siblings. The only reason for this discrimination rests on patriarchal nature of all communities (minority matriarchal Keralites and North Eastern States are exception).
Desi brothers are expected to protect their sisters from not only from evil strangers but also support them financially when they or their marital families are in need. In 1950s-60s a bollywood sister depended on brother to fix her marriage if her parents weren’t around or could not and a great brother would forgo his marital bliss happily. In 1970s-80s a bollywood sister had to get raped to bring out the angry young man in the hero. To save the honor of his family the hero was entitled to kill his sister if he found her in compromising position. Either way the brother was considered pseudo parent (karta, family head) irrespective of his age. In every decade there was a self abnegating sister India who would kill her dreams of romance and household to raise her orphaned siblings and settling them by getting them married later on to be shunned by their selfish spouses, mostly brother’s wife. She could not get married and take care of her siblings because she did not have a wife where as a raising man’s sibling’s is default job of is wife.
A woman as a sister has a very important place in desi family but the same woman looses that place as a wife. The sister becomes the nemesis of wife. The wedding songs sung by bride’s party describe the mean sister of groom waiting to rip the fragile new bride and her relationship with her yet stranger spouse. The married daughters have visitation rights to their natal home, they are treated as guests entitled to make demands and boss around because it is believed they are hapless in their marital homes. The unmarried daughters are considered temporary residents hence permitted to throw weight around and to be tolerated.
Whereas the songs sung by groom’s female kin portray an evil picture of the incoming bride who’ll deprive them and rip the family unity. Each group of women voices their insecurities and fears related to the bond they share with the groom. The fear of incoming bride is so potent that tradition recommends sisters’ be married before the brother because it is feared his wife would not let him or his parents spend good amount on the wedding. One woman’s need to save for her children’s future becomes selfishness for rest of the family.
The inherent gender inequality in families as supported by culture and tradition shapes the brother-sister bond differentially in every family depending upon the nature of parents. In some families siblings are very close and in others they are bit distant. In some families mothers pamper daughters and spoil them because they believe daughters will go away after marriage and may not receive good treatment at the hands of their in-laws. Then there are some mothers who openly discriminate and ill treat their daughters because they think this way they are preparing their daughters for the worse that may await them in their marital homes. Yet there are other mothers who discriminate and pamper male children without much thought for girl children because they believe for their care in old age they need to be in the good books of their sons. Depending on these approaches of parents towards raising daughters, brothers bond with sisters.
Some siblings are too involved in each others’ day to day lives and some build their identity on this involvement. Others have a concern but not suffocating attitude. Both these attitudes sometimes work and other times backfire depending on who they marry. If a brother who is too involved in a sister’s day to day life is not able to keep up once he is married the sister feels she has a legitimate right to feel neglected. It becomes imperative for her to show her displeasure and make her neglect known. She can even try to sabotage his marital union to make her presence felt. Throwing temper tantrums, making snide remarks about brother’s wife and sulking are some common tactics. In the early days of her marriage C told us how her unmarried sister-in-law would get into a fit of rage in the evening when she and her husband went out for a walk after dinner. DG recalls how that God forsaken now ex’s sister made a scene at wedding reception. She would not go to the banquet hall because DG has snatched her brother, DG was yet to live with the man in the house.
If an over indulgent sister is not able to keep after once she is married she is appreciated for her non interfering stance. But once she is on visit to natal home she can make sure her brother knows her place. Rinku has this evil incarnate SIL who wants everything her brother bought his wife her argument is she won’t ask her husband because she wants to show him how generous her folks are. One time Pinku told his sister, if he were her husband he would have gone missing on purpose. Recently Pinku bought his sister a home because Rinku bought one, now he is paying her mortgage and his wife is preparing for filing divorce. Anti 498A club has been in the forefront saying women file false complaints against married SILs in dowry harassment, when they are not even living with the couple. One need not live with someone to botch their peace, remote controlling can be done over the phone and internet.
Women are selectively accorded privilege in one role and oppressed in another that way they are kept confused and fighting within themselves. All that fasting and praying is a sham when sisters and wives have to rip one another off and destroy peace of men in their lives. Why stay hungry, bother Gods and waste time, just get to the task, fight tooth and nail and get over it for good.
The previous post raised questions about role of siblings especially a brother in the lives of sisters. The unconscionable anchor viciously accused the brother ignoring the fact that sisters were no saints and had tried to break his marriage.
Isn’t it time we desis started behaving like adults and humans.