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Rakhri in lockdown: How Indian-Australian brothers and sisters plan to celebrate amidst coronavirus

Darwin's Vijay Dhiman (Centre) and Bandu Bhimbral (Left) celebrating Rakhri in 2019. Source: Vijay Dhiman

While brothers and sisters from the Indian community in Northern Territory feel fortunate that COVID-19 hasn’t dampened their festivities, those in Victoria are preparing to strengthen their bond on video chat.

Vijay Dhiman and his sister Bandu Bhimbral, who live in Australia’s top end, are all excited for the Indian festival of Rakhri or Raksha Bandhan, which falls on August 3 this year. Northern Territory, after declaring itself coronavirus-free earlier this month, is open to intrastate activity as normal.

The brother-sister duo considers themselves fortunate to live in the Territory and feel for many like them who live in other parts of the country who won’t be able to celebrate this festival like them.

raksha bandhan
A traditional Rakhri platter.
Aanchal Prabhakar

On this day, which falls on the full moon of the Indian lunar month of ‘Saawan’, sisters tie a sacred thread on the wrists of their brothers, who vow to protect them. This festival also marks the start of India’s fabled ‘festive season’, which lasts till Holi, the festival of colours, that falls in March or April.

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“We have a large family here in Darwin and we are very lucky that our lives were not disrupted by COVID-19 as we have been seeing in other states. Many other Indian families across the country won’t be able to celebrate Rakhri, especially in Melbourne,” says Mr Dhiman.

Ms Bhimbral says she’s all set to be pampered by her brother on August 3.

“Vijay and his wife will cook an array of dishes for me. I’ll receive gifts and we’ll have fun like every other year. Now our next generation also celebrates Rakhri with us. My nieces tie Rakhri to my son’s wrist. We are able to carry on with our tradition,” she says.

However, down in Victoria, where the continually rising number of coronavirus cases have kept the state in lockdown since mid-July, all kinds of gatherings are banned and punishable by law.

Stage 3 restrictions are in place in the state, with the use of face masks mandated for the entire state.

Aanchal Prabhakar and her cousin Abhinandan Seth live less than five minutes away from each other in Melbourne.

ap
Abhinandan Seth (Left) and Aanchal Prabhakar celebrating Rakhri the usual way in 2019.
Aanchal Prabhakar

“We celebrate every festival together but this year, the very first festival will have to be celebrated on Zoom,” says Ms Prabhakar, who lives in the western suburb of Tarneit with her husband and two children.

Mr Seth says that while he will miss the dust and din of Rakhri, he understands that abiding by the law is above tradition.

“I can’t put my cousin’s family at risk just for any reason. She has young children who learn by observing how their elders act. Hopefully, soon we all can get together and celebrate when the state is coronavirus-free,” says Mr Seth, a student.

Ms Prabhakar fondly recalls last year’s Rakhri and laments missing out on the fun this year, no thanks to COVID-19.

“My sister lives in South Australia and brother in Western Australia. Last Rakhri, we all were together and had a blast. This year, we have been planning to get together since April. COVID-19 has dampened our festivities. Let’s hope we are able to celebrate the festivals that follow,” she signs off.

To listen to this podcast in Punjabi, click on the audio link in the picture at the top.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at http://www.sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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