What does it take to be an independent, radical, and outspoken woman in a male-dominated misogynistic society? I have seen the answer to this question in the lives of many unknown women around me in India. Women who have been rebels, who never accepted the social norms, who are wresting against the odds to keep their heads held high despite the insults and the demeaning words that they face at home, in the workplace, and even while walking down the roads. Life is a constant struggle, a fight against everything and everyone around you, a fight against the high tides to keep afloat.
The battle for life commences right from the day a girl child is conceived in her mother’s womb. Her existence, her survival, is as unpredictable as the game of Pitch and Toss. The metaphor stands justified if one gives a quick glance towards some statistics, which tell you that around 10 million female fetuses have been aborted in India, and the sex ratio tells the true story: 927 girls for 1000 boys. The scenario is grim.
When all across the world the pro-choice women are demanding the rights for abortion, it is tragic to know that most of these cases of aborting the female fetus are forced, but somehow, it seems to be a bigger tragedy when a mother, for whatever reason, ends the life of a child merely because she is a girl. Whether the decision is taken under social or familial pressure or due to the influence of the age-old culture of woman hatred in the country, the fact remains constant that a girl child is unwanted in India.
To study the problem in a detailed manner, we need to dig deep into the roots. If one analyses the basic social practices in a common family in India they might just get all the answers.
The first problem that I have seen throughout my life is the perception of a woman in the country. She is nothing but an object for fulfillment of a man’s sexual desires, and the provider of a womb to bear his children. Even after years of struggle against this, little change is to be seen. I am not denying the existence of progressive mindsets—they are growing in numbers, continuously—but this is the perception of the population in general. This mindset is the primary murderer of the woman’s rights, as it takes away her right of being known as Human with feelings, thoughts and choices. No family would prefer to raise a girl child who doesn’t have a social existence. A male child is hence preferred.
The second issue is of the concept of a surviving family name. When a girl gets married, she is expected to sever all ties with her own family where she was born. She is expected to be devoted to her husband and in-laws. The kids she bears carry the name of the husband’s family, and the blood relations reach only as far as the family tree of the husband reaches. The identity of the girl and her own relationships are lost in the process. In extreme cases, the father of the bride is forbidden even to have water at his daughter’s place. In this kind of a social set-up, the struggle to keep the family name alive makes it compulsory for a couple to bear a son, and for a family with limited resources multiple children are unaffordable. So they chose the gender of their kid; only the male child survives.
The next reason is the problems that a family faces while raising a female. In India, a girl is a symbol of a family’s dignity. Her character is open to the comments of the entire society. Her decency lies in how meek she is, how easily she follows the instructions given to her. The purity, sanctity and modesty of a woman lies not in her heart, not in her brains, neither in her kind words, nor in her good behavior—it lies in her virginity. A slight rebellion from the strict path and the girl is no longer worth a decent boy; that means no marriage, and an unmarried girl is a curse for her entire family. When such strict social conditions are imposed upon a girl, she becomes a liability; most parents would chose to shy away from such a responsibility. The solution is: no female child in the family.
Another custom that is a curse for the women in India is dowry. In most families, a boy is educated to fetch a large amount of money as dowry when he gets married. The higher the salary of the boy, more the dowry he demands from the girl’s family. Owing to this custom, most families do not educate their girl children; if they spend on the education, saving for the dowry becomes impossible. After the marriage the girl cannot take up the responsibility of her parents as she belongs only to the husband, hence all the money spent on her up-bringing goes to waste. So essentially, raising a girl child is equivalent to investing in a failing business and raising a boy is an assurance to a lottery win. Who in their right minds would give birth to a female kid?
All these factors conspire together and create a fool-proof plan of the heinous crime against the womanhood, “female feticide”. Despite the efforts by our government, the practice is far from dying. The laws are stringent, but they aren’t helping, illegal abortion and sex determination are being carried out all across the nation as I am penning down this article. People who belong to the educated and the enlightened section of the society are working tirelessly to change the social outlook, to help the government and the lawmakers. But it is difficult for the laws to be implemented, because the police, the doctors, and the families all belong to the same society, they nurture similar beliefs. What is needed is a general change in the mindset of people, a change in their outlook. We Indians need better education, more awareness, wider perspective, a better social structure that doesn’t rip an innocent girl of her life, and a mind that doesn’t discriminate.
The change has initiated and is seen in many voices like mine that condemn such practices within our country, vehemently. But still, there are miles to go before we sleep.
Written by Sriti Yadav
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