How Galwan Clash Snapped China’s Ties With The Indian Rakhi Market This Raksha Bandhan

How Galwan Clash Snapped China’s Ties With The Indian Rakhi Market This Raksha Bandhan

by Sumati Mehrishi - Tuesday, August 4, 2020 05:41 PM IST
How Galwan Clash Snapped China’s Ties With The Indian Rakhi Market This Raksha BandhanIndigenous rakhis sent by people to soldiers of the Bihar Regiment at a forward post in Ladakh.
  • For India, 2020 should be remembered for rejecting China-made rakhis — the year when our brothers went down fighting the enemy in Galwan and for putting a final halt to importing rakhis.

Raksha Bandhan 2020 has turned up with good news amidst the Covid-19 scenario. India seems to have taken the first step towards becoming aatmanirbhar in the manufacturing of rakhis.

The violent standoff between India and China in Ladakh's Galwan area, and the resulting call for the boycott of Chinese products by Indian consumers and traders, has managed to finally halt the prospects of China-made rakhis in the Indian market.

China has reportedly received a big blow this year, with India turning to its good old creativity, material and goods available at home; more than anything else — the hands that create.

The call for strengthening the resolve for a "purely Hindustani Rakhi festival" came from the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a traders' body last month. CAIT called for the boycott of Chinese products in the wake of the violent standoff and China's aggression.

Within the boycott of Chinese goods, they included a resolution — for a "Hindustani rakhi". This call in particular seems to have set the ball rolling and winding (of the carpet) for China's rakhi-centric business in India.

CAIT pushed for the manufacturing of rakhis in India by looping in "women working in the commercial sectors, at homes and in anganwadis", and that seems to have taken care of the demand. DNA has reported that 1 crore rakhis were made, and none imported from China.

The designer-rakhis (a term used for rakhis more intricately embellished and more fancy), too, were created using hands and material Indian.

Understandably, the media seems to be celebrating the moment. While this author celebrates the development, there is something unsettling about the whole situation preceding 2020. The fact that India was depending on China for rakhis — the one symbol of sibling bond and love — seems no reason for enthusiasm. It seems hard to gulp, and frankly, is embarrassing.

For The Brothers In Galwan

What seems to have moved the traders' body, towards calling out and cancelling China-made rakhis, is the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers in the Galwan clash. The public has responded to the boycott call.

Today, the families of soldiers, who went down fighting the enemy, are in mourning. From Raksha Bandhan, we will move towards a festive season, and still ask the same question.

Why did we allow China to grab, squat on, and nibble on our people's opportunity, choice, income and festive fervour with cheap — sastaa — products?

In a moving gesture, CAIT said that it would hand over 5,000 rakhis to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh — these — for soldiers guarding the country's borders.

The gesture has revealed the patriotism that drives the traders' community.

However, questions remain. Why could China not be walled by exhibiting the same emotional steel and patriotism earlier? Why was China allowed to flood the Indian market in the first place?

Time To Snap The Thread

Rakhi is one of the Hindu festivals, besides Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Diwali, to have been accommodating low quality, cheaply painted and accessorised materials meant for puja, gifting and exchanging. Nothing to blame China here for.

This author has recently written on how China-made toys have killed the Indian market for indigenous toys. Rakhis — emotionally and culturally important to a country and civilisation.

A shrewd businessman will push a terrible product where he sees the market for it, out of habit. Full marks to China for being good at making and selling low-quality products meant for Indic festivals, to, of all markets, Indian.

Indians have accepted the reach of the China-made products targeting Indian festivals to such an extent, that we witness campaigns dedicated to rejecting them. The "Hindustani rakhi" is a good example twined in irony.

Here is what could have been helping China as far as rakhi is concerned: deteriorating belief of Indians in the indigenous; low expectation in choice; low respect for authenticity and aesthetics; the inflow of cartoon-series inspired rakhis and other themes, the inflow of cheap and unconventional materials for rakhi, the lure and allure of the "sastaa".

Also, cheap imitations of elements such as the rudraksh, beads, sandalwood pieces; and trendy customisation.

For example, I remember seeing a rakhi made of a stretchable rubber-like material designed to look like the Twitter logo. Rakhis made of such material are designed to attract kids. They are popular. They seem cut, sized and moulded for any cartoon series you name — into rakhi look-alikes.

In Delhi-NCR, a good number of these rakhis would be passed off to the Indian customer in the garb of friendship bands from the leftover stock after Raksha Bandhan. Such products naturally, were made of and carried toxic and non-biodegradable, non-environmental friendly stuff. Then, there is worse.

Showing Cultural Appropriation The Door

Recently, it was seen how a material that is traditionally not part of Hindu rituals, and offends religious belief of the Hindus, was projected as material for rakhi.

A controversy erupted surrounding some banners that came up in Gujarat and the messaging on these banners. Leather, it is clearly known, is not used in rakhis.

It was owing to some alert social media users that PETA was compelled to take note that leather is not used for rakhis and is a strict ‘no’ in rituals and the puja thali.

Mischievous and devious smoke screening on the rakhis will continue and is bound to continue, unabashedly, if Hindus fail in sticking to the resolution for using indigenous rakhi.

The rakhi, in thread, material and soul is Indic, hence, its being indigenous (in make) is an unconditional rule of use, celebration and propagation. The PETA controversy helped. It alerted the ordinary folks.

During the last two weeks, social media has erupted with visuals of a variety of rakhis made from material locally available. Among these, the rakhis made out of fresh flowers, for deity rituals, or seva and shringar, as some of us call it, may go mainstream. That's good use.

China's presence in the rakhi market, and the devious appropriation of rakhi for anti-Hindu campaigns, have given out a message. It is: using a version of rakhi, other than the truly indigenous Indic rakhi will, hereon, stir confusion, cultural appropriation, obfuscation and give the aggressor, a reverse advantage.

What's the reverse advantage? Where outrage from Hindus over cultural appropriation of their festivals, rituals and elements of celebration (such as rakhi), yield or transform into publicity, even donations for anti-Hindu campaign and campaign makers. Business rising and riding on cultural appropriation.

It's time to snap that thread.

The Force In The Delicate Counter Coercion

Pause for a moment at this Times of India report. Back in 2017, the Indian consumer, especially women, settled for India-made rakhis instead of the China-made ones.

In the video, they say that the Indian rakhis are more expensive, yet they prefer those. They are better products and better made, the women point out, also giving the cost difference. For Rs 20 more, they are ready to go for the Indian and reject the Chinese.

It would be unfair to blame the consumer for choice, when the occasions for letting her choose are limited or few.

Rakhi, in emotion and make, is a thread. A simple thread with delicate embellishments — mostly derived from nature or natural fibres. In many households, the rakhi, even today, is made of the kalava — which is the sacred thread, and offered to the deities.

CAIT has brought to the notice of the media how China was gnawing the trade. India's expansionist neighbour was not only allowed to flood the Indian market with finished rakhis, but also "rakhi-making products like foam, paper foil, rakhi thread, pearls, drops, decorative items..."

The Chinese dominance on the rakhi market is stunning. When CAIT decided to call out China-made rakhis after the Galwan incident, and called for their boycott, it was reported that the traders' body is meant to dent the "estimated Rs 4,000 crore of trade during the festival".

On its part, CAIT is reported to have "40,000 trade associations and seven crore members across India as its members". It said that the move will create opportunity for the indigenous artisans. The word from the traders' body was: "should not be sold".

The Business Standard report wrote on the matter: "The CAIT said that according to an estimate a trade of Rs 6,000 crore takes place every year in India on Raksha Bandhan in which China alone contributes about Rs 4,000 crore."

Even if we take these numbers with a pinch of salt, we cannot ignore the concealed beauty in the numbers that suggest China's share in the Raksha Bandhan trade.

It takes this author by surprise (rakhi to the author means — tying kalava rakhi to the deities), bitter awe and a good sense of anger.

There are reasons for outrage and strong self criticism.

1) India — a country rich in natural textiles, natural fibres, traditional trinkets in glass, wood, metal, cloth, for accessorising, was depending on China for finished rakhis and for raw material.

2) India outsourced the expressing of an emotion and a symbol used for expressing that emotion to an aggressive nation.

Pardon me. Entrusting the killer of brothers and income killers with bringing rakhis for Raksha Bandhan, is a sign of our own cultural deterioration, intellectual, emotional, creative bankruptcy, lack of civilisational pride and laziness.

3) India has allowed China to cripple the opportunity, space and creativity of our immensely gifted artisans.

Here is what India needs to do:

1) Take Raksha Bandhan 2020 as the lead to consolidate folks working in raw material settlements in districts across India. Discard remaining stocks if any — the environment-friendly way.

2) Connect these with women groups, self-help groups, and anganwadis that work on diverse ideas and materials, but more importantly to consumers for a continuing Covid/post-Covid festive scenario next year.

3) Traders' bodies could propel products from small rakhi-making units and think about adding regional fervour to rakhis.

4) Let states reach states — for the plethora of design and material diversity.

5) Make interesting rakhis that attract children, the cartoon-theming can be done with aatmanirbharta. But if you want to go for the real, inspiring rakhis that are worth keeping, and preserving, involve great minds and go pan India. Make rakhis part of the Indic counter op. Encourage a cusp of family stories, sister stories and Indic stories.

There is no bond that can rest on a thread made in China.

For India, 2020 should be remembered for rejecting China-made rakhis — the year when our brothers went down fighting the enemy in Galwan and for putting a final halt to importing rakhis.

Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

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