Desi Sisters: Nemesis of Brothers

25 Apr

Honey I Doubled the Kids/Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

Honey I Doubled the Kids/Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

Tangy Tuesday Pick

Tangy Tuesday Pick


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.

8 Responses to “Desi Sisters: Nemesis of Brothers”

  1. thisistrue! May 21, 2011 at p05 #

    My mother transferred a lot of her mental illness to my sister and also filled her head with all kinds of other junk over the years.

    My relationship with my sister is terrible. She expects me to date/marry a woman who will be her sister in the same way my mom expects my future wife to be her daughter. The problem is is that they only want an extra person to be their emotional dump and an ally in the Great Indian Intra-Family Passive Aggressive Wars.

    Oh, one more thing. I heard in the DSM 5, they are considering taking out clinical narcissism because according to researchers,”everyon’s a narcissist these days with all the Facebook and reality TV blah whatever.”Does that mean that an entire culture’s mental problems with forever go undiagnosed? I think their logic is that if everyone has a particular mental disease then it’s not a disorder anymore. Like if everyone has malaria, then malaria isn’t a disease anymore. Logically makes no sense.


  2. desibahu May 5, 2011 at p05 #

    crazy sils who demand their brother spend money on them and not buy the same things that they buy for them for their wives, who complain about their brothers spending time with and defending their wives, who take money from their brothers even though they have tons of money to buy their own stuff, whose husbands are slaves to them, but who still make sure their brother’s wife doesn’t buy anything expensive and if she does then they remind their brothers how “your wife wears x amount of money clothes, we don’t ask you to make the same clothes for us”, who have their brothers buy them houses and furniture when the wife gets nothing because he has been brainwashed from the beginning that a wife who demands anything is bad, who forget about their own unreasonable demands of houses and land and cars and whatever………them sweet sisters who the parents didn’t educate because they only “invested” money to educate and feed well the sons since they were going to grow up and take care ( take care is desi code word for big money) of the poor parents who sacrificed so much and lived in poverty to educate them. grt brainwashing. then the brothers grow up n feel guilty that v were educated n our sisters were not so now v have to make it up to them by taking care of them ( you remember what take care means, right?)yes v feel make god proud, v will make our parents proud(duh- they dont have to worry asbout taking care of the daughters, n v will make our sisters happy. do u notice how wife wasn’t mentioned here? she is supposed to make us- husband, in-laws,happy. which ofcourse as v all know will never happen. those same parents and sweet sisters will make sure v put a lot of things intop that foolish boys head so he continues taking care of us and not let that girl think she is anything. v will break her into pieces, v can break her up in 5 minutes if v have to- thats our profession

    Desi Bahu,
    Ha Ha… So when did you return from desh? DG is glad you made it back in single piece from that mosnter-in-law Inc. 🙂


    • desibahu May 6, 2011 at p05 #

      ha, monster in law inc. funny. u r funny.
      i think there is a factory where they manufacture mils.


  3. sexandtheindiancities April 26, 2011 at p04 #

    whenever i count my best friends ..I count my brother .. I think we share a wonderful relationship. we can share all our secrets without being judged and yet we don’t interfere in each other’s personal life . we are two very different individuals that share friendship , love and respect as equals. our marital relationships never changed our relationship as we both know when not to interfere. And yes DG it all comes from the fact how we were raised, we never heard words like ” you are a girl so you should be doing this and you are a boy so you should be doing this ” while growing up , we had equal rules ( come home before dark) , equal pocket money ( according to age) and equal punishments ( when we used to fight , one of us would do utensils and other will wash cloths ) and equal love, priveliges and respect at home.
    we also climbed trees , wrestled and also drank together when parents were away ..

    It all depends on how parents address gender and birth order issues in the formative years of children. Where parents discriminate between children, in adulthood children continue on same lines.


  4. Indian Homemaker April 26, 2011 at p04 #

    I have blogged about how Raksha Bandhan was celebrated by my kids, both tied rakhi on each other’s wrists and exchanged gifts. It was understood that would both stand by each other should any need arise.

    A married sister has less right on her parental house than her brother’s spouse has – again not really because her right is also very limited, generally as long as her husband is alive or if she has male children – everything goes on creating an insecurity and dependence on male members.

    Yes, read your post on Raksha Bandhan. You are right we have discussed patriarchy keeps women clinging on to men like mites. Even the educated women with jobs and careers continue playing these games rather their games are more pathetic and vicious. Even sister and sister dyad has same almost problems. Don’t know if people don’t like to live in peace or they thrive on drama.


  5. thechildgonewild April 25, 2011 at p04 #

    I had the same relationship with my brother as PT described above, minus the jars (I’m stronger). We’ve always behaved like friends and equals, and my parents were/are more than happy with that. Once I moved out for college, I never went back home for Rakhi or Bhai Dooj, nor did I mail them over for him. We both thought of it as something completely unnecessary. If I happen to speak to my mom around Rakhi, she’ll ask me to send him an e-card, and then I send him one saying “Mom asked me to send this to you.” 😀
    My brother is one of the reasons I want to have zero or two kids (when I get the opportunity, that is). I can’t imagine what my life would be like without such a strong and meaningful sibling relationship.
    All that said, I have cousins whose relationships with cousins of the opposite sex have survived BECAUSE OF Rakhi and Bhai Dooj. There’s nothing else to those relationships except these two festivals.

    Siblings bond in unique ways and it all depends on how parents treat daughters. Children receive first lessons on gender differences at home much before the step outside.
    Yes, it is a shame many siblings use festivals and rituals to sustain their bond because they have nothing else to hold them, no fond memories, no excitement of future and some just bond on the idea of competing with each other.
    Celebrate your relationship with your sibling. Create a bottom line, like “no matter what we’ll always keep the communication going and nothing cloud the fact that we love each other.”


  6. PT April 25, 2011 at p04 #

    Desi Girl,
    you say:
    “Isn’t it time we desis started behaving like adults and humans”

    Well, I say YES! For too long now, the very worst kinds of practices have been propogated through our society under the collective banner of culture, religion and tradition. It’s time that this ended, at least in the lives of those of us who hold the ideal of a free and fair society close to our hearts. When it comes to choosing between humanity and tradition, humanity MUST come FIRST, always and every time.

    I have two sisters, one older to me and the other younger. With the older one at least, I share a very strong bond. Her self-confident, nearly condescending attitude, born of her own academic brilliance, angered and inspired me in equal measure as a child, spurring me onwards to bigger and better things in a way that my academics-obsessed parents could never do.

    I never saw her as someone who needed protection. The very idea was alien to me as a child and as far as I know, it was alien to her, also. It was not, however, alien to the rest of the family. No, they would beam proudly as I, the strong young man, would open a jar or pick out something from a high shelf for her, the weak young woman. They loved that. To them, it showed affection and bonding.
    But we never bonded that way.
    Our bonding happened on branches of tall jamun trees and on cool rooftops under the starry skies and in old high-ceilinged rooms with overly long ceiling fans that just shifted the sultry Delhi air around. We bonded, as friends and companions, and then something deeper, something simpler. Heck, we were just two teenagers, misfits in larger society, oppressed by our own culture and yet, drunk on the heady mix that was 1980s India. We talked and chattered and disagreed, then talked some more. We abused the people we hated. We oohed and aahed at our shared idols. We fantasized about life as adults…and our family could never, never understand this bond. They never could go beyond those silly rituals and jars and high shelves. They never could see her as just a person, instead of a sister and a future, wife, mother or whatever. Their loss.

    I guess I’ve gone off on a tangent here but spending eight hours in a conference with bankers does that to you. :/

    Sisters in themselves are just – people. They can be awesome, and they can be horrible, just like non-sisters. Let’s start treating them like ordinary people. Yer.

    Great. Lets start treating sisters as people and women as humans. 🙂
    Hey, your sis is just DG in different avataar. 🙂 Always loved climbing trees even today never miss a chance.



  1. Indian Bloggers express opinions on various topics and issues. - April 26, 2011

    […] : Desi Girl What : Desi Sisters: Nemesis of Brothers Tangy : Desi Girl has pointed out a very interesting point. Often we see, that in a typical Indian […]


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