One of my favourite stories is of my father telling me how, when I was born, he liked nothing more than to take care of me from evening until the morning.
Mommy was busy with my older sibling so daddy took over, keeping everything else aside for me.
When my brother was born, my grandmother was thrilled. It didn’t strike me at the time just how much of a “trophy” having a boy meant. But it did not bother me, probably because my father was with me and I meant everything to him. He never really subscribed to the whole gender issue.
A lot of girls found me different and happy – I now realize that there were many who lived with the perception that they were not wanted and that it was the boys who had a license to be happy.
The gender imbalance in our society really came home to me when I grew up when I fell victim to our society’s inherent gender bias against the girl child – it was most stark in the little things, gestures, comments, that kind of thing. And it was those little things that would chip away at your happiness little by little.
At boarding school I met girls from different households. The stories I heard.
One such story involved two sisters. The “better-looking” one stayed at home while the other was sent to my boarding school.
“At least an education would cover her looks and make it less problematic for us to get her married off”, her mother would say.
So the main concern for her family was marriage and if the girl is pretty, half the battle is won!
It was an incident that nagged at me for years but I never had the maturity to articulate what the problem was.
One of the cruel realities behind this whole psyche of parents is the social pressure of the dowry. Yes, I realize that it is utterly incongruous in today’s world but it is an issue that is a pervasive problem across all socio-economic classes in India. Just to give you an idea of the scale of the problem, according to official statistics, more than 8400 cases were registered under section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code covering dowry-related deaths in 2014. That figure was up from just over 8000 the previous year.
Those were the cases that were registered so it doesn’t bear to think how many went unreported.
For many families, having a male child is equivalent to a blank cheque whilst for those with a girl child, marriage becomes a sort of business venture with the girl’s father going out of the way to make sure the girl marries into a “good” family which would involve him taking a gargantuan loan or selling family property.
And this is not something – contrary to popular perceptions – that afflicts the “rural poor”. I know many affluent families who struggle with this issue.
The business of the dowry is but one of the reasons for the continued discrimination against the girl child in India. Another important reason is “inheritance” which again is deemed the right of the male child.
I’ve spoken to plenty of women pregnant with their first child and a majority hope and pray for the first to be a boy to get rid of the tension of having an inheritor in the family.
I have sadly even come across some people who don’t consider themselves grandparents until they have a male grandchild.
I have seen brothers fighting over property with their parents, old age homes do have old people from affluent families and so many times a grandmother is just a nanny to her son or may be a cook in the house.
In a society like this, it’s refreshing to see families who changing their mentality.
When The gynaecologists I speak to say that although a large percentage of people wishing for a male child is still high there are now many who cry out to have a girl child. I too am a mother of a girl and I know how incomplete my family would be without her.
The other big scourge facing girl children across India as they grow up is that of rape and molestation. On this I would request all mothers to teach their sons to respect the opposite sex and not just that but to stop defending bad behaviour that is otherwise accepted as “ordinary” – particularly from childhood.
All of us mothers must bear some of the responsibility for this scourge.
A mother’s education should start with an appreciation of how precious a child and in particular a girl child is. We as a society should focus on educating her rather making plans for the dowry the moment she’s born. Instead, love her, educate her and make her self-sufficient.
I was moved to write this before Navratri because it is up to each one of us to make our voices heard – to end this hypocrisy in India of praying to nine deities, fasting in their name them but on the other hand not wanting a girl child in your own home. And then on the eighth day looking around for little girls to come to your house as ‘Devis’ (Goddesses) so that you can worship them trying to please the aforementioned gods!
There are many segments of Indian society who remain ignorant and rely on absurd superstitions – often the result being that they will keep expanding their family in the hope of eventually having a male child. This, in turn, leads to financial burdens not to mention an even unhealthy expansion of our already heaving populace, human trafficking etc etc.
Thus it remains the duty of those with a modicum of education and awareness to spread that education and awareness among those who haven’t had the privilege of both.
As every drop of water contributes to the mighty ocean, if each one of us contributes to our society and stand up against those norms that are unhealthy and useless to our society it would be sufficient to make our country healthy again.
‘Bhaarat Maa’ needs us all.
Mother India is also made up of many little girls – sisters, daughters and mothers.
She comes to this world to be loved and pampered. Don’t crush her dreams and smile on the grounds of her gender. She plays all the roles beautifully from a sister to a mother. Believe me, your life would be incomplete if you don’t have a daughter.