2019 Raksha Bandhan Saw Sisters Tie #MeToo Rakhis To Open Up About Their Trauma Of Sexual Abuse

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The festival of Raksha Bandhan has been prevalent in Indian society for centuries. The primordial tradition carried the essence of the beautiful virtues of love and care. However, in an inherently patriarchal society of the medieval times, ‘Rakhi’ came to be recognised as an occasion where women ceremoniously thank their brothers for being their eternal protectors or ‘Rakshak’. With time, the patriarchal undertone of the festival have faded, and Raksha Bandhan has evolved to be a celebration of the deep love between siblings. 

At present times, women in India are no longer safe, continually being at the helm of sexual abuse, harassment and misdemeanour by the opposite sex. The notion of men being their protectors holds dated today, especially at a time when even male family members are not hesitating to abuse the girls and women in their families. The ongoing Me Too movement has given the necessary attention to the plight of the women survivors, who struggle with their trauma often for years. 

Priyal, an artist and poet from Goa, decided to blend the age-old tradition together with the voice of the Indian woman. Thus was born the Me Too Rakhis – aimed to be a symbol of trust, empathy and a promise to put an end to the abuse.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

The Me Too Bro campaign

The concept of Me Too Rakhis was birthed in 2018 and has evolved to a much larger scale this year. The star of the event is undoubtedly the Me Too Bro Rakhis – which sisters would tie around their brothers’ hands. The fundamental idea is to welcome the brothers to a gender-neutral platform for survivors of abuse. By donning the Me Too Bro Rakhi, a brother automatically vows to denounce the sense of ‘ownership’ of his sister, instead be an active supporter of her freedom and choices. At the same time, he ideally becomes integrated into the cohort of Me Too supporters, who condemn abuse in each and every form.

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The Rakhis come with the tagline – “This Raksha Bandhan, Let Your BRO Know What You Need Protection From.” Each of the Me Too Bro rakhis come with a heartfelt letter to the brother, urging them to consider their own ‘thoughts and actions’ with other women and always prioritise respect for the opposite sex.

It could be something as simple as laughing at rape jokes,  gawking at a woman on the street or enjoying objectification of women on the silver screen – these simple actions often go a long way in developing a misogynistic mindset. “When a sister is tying a Me Too Rakhi around her brother’s wrists, it is a moment of introspection for the brother whether his activities or actions are somehow nourishing the culture of sexual abuse,” reveals Priyal.

To Create A Network Of Support & Love

“Instead of upholding the pseudo idea of protection, if men strive to create a safer space for women by controlling their own actions, then we do not need protection after all,” she explains.

Amid the depravity of present times, the Me Too Rakhis vouch to create a network of empathy and support, allowing survivors to open up about their trauma to someone they trust closely, be it a friend or a family member – on whose wrists they choose to tie the beautiful and unique Rakhis.

“The campaign endeavours to create a secure space to begin conversations about abuse and harassment. And what better way to convey the message than a beautiful festival which nurtures love and care at its core?” Priyal adds.

This is why the relevance of the Me Too Rakhis do not stay limited to one day of the year; rather they can be worn and tied around all year long, whenever someone decides to open up to a caring soul about their agony of abuse.

Me Too Rakhis Are Completely Sustainable

The Me Too Rakhis are simplistic and elegant, sporting the powerful phrase in big, brave letters. Sans ornate embellishments or motifs, the Rakhis stand out in their own uniqueness, accentuated by the fact that they are entirely eco-friendly.

“Each of the rakhis is handmade from tetra packs and jeans, up-cycled in the process” – reads the description on their Facebook page. The sustainable rakhis are handmade, carefully curated by a group of eight women from Anjuna village in Goa.

The ‘Main Bhi’ Rakhis

The Me Too movement has taken the world by storm, with social media being a hotspot for starting the much-needed discussions and actions against sexual abuse, molestation and harassment. In cityscapes of India, thousands of women have come forward to open up about their #MeToo experience over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forums.

However, a substantial number of women from less privileged backgrounds are often victims of regular domestic atrocities and sexual violence. Hailing from remote villages and bred in toxic patriarchal communities, their screams for help are seldom heard. The #MeToo outrage is yet to make inroads in their lives.

Me Too Rakhis

Taking their horrific distress into consideration, perhaps for the first time, the makers of Me Too Rakhis have come up with ‘Main Bhi’ Rakhis – a vernacular version with the same aim.

Non-English speakers can identify with the concept easily and finally have a chance to make themselves heard.

A Future Society Free Of Abuse

The true goal of the Me Too Rakhis is to sprout a society so beautiful and balanced, where the need for a Me Too movement becomes redundant. However, that day is a long way into the future. As of now, the Me Too Rakhis envision to take the #MeToo movement to its apex and uproot the whole culture of abuse.

Raksha Bandhan might have been over a week ago, but the Rakhis will be available throughout the year at this link: https://www.instamojo.com/MeTooRakhi

For more details, visit their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/metoorakhi/

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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