Last week, a friend of mine came visiting. Seven months pregnant, she was on her way home to UK from India. Glass bangles sparkled from her slender, henna-dyed hands, and she looked every bit a radiant mother-to-be.
Her transit was brief, barely a few hours. So we strolled in a mall close-by catching up as much as we could. The conversation veered to her seemantham (god-bharai) in India. Strangely, she didn’t sound very upbeat about it.
I was surprised. She’d had functions in three different cities to accommodate all her relatives and well-wishers. And going by the photographs, all of them had been grand affairs.
When I said so, she vented, “You know, most of those who came to bless me said – ‘Come back with a boy.’ Why, couldn’t the baby be a girl? And then, there were others who said – ‘Come back with a boy… Or a girl.’” (The modifier added as an afterthought.)
But more was to come. From her grandmother who, on being told the sex of the baby, made no effort to conceal her disappointment. Instead, she chided – “Such a mistake you’ve done. Your brother has a girl. Now you too are bringing forth a girl child!!!”
I stopped in my tracks, incredulous. She certainly did not deserve this…
My friend nudged me in a matter-of-fact way, and we moved on.
Obsession with the male child is still a sad reality in India. It thrives in the nooks and alleyways of our mindsets, cosseted by centuries of conditioning. Like a shape-shifting amoeba, it manifests in many ways, in different contexts.
We find it in the all-too-common refrain – ‘May you beget a son.’ (Alternate version: ‘I want a grandson next year.’) In the well-meant (but often unsolicited) advice of elderly women who tell you – just which rites on what days will please which god to beget a male child. In the benediction heard often on Janmashtami – ‘May a baby Krishna fill your household with his tinkling footsteps next year!’
Even gods aren’t spared by this obsession. Sex determination is illegal in India. Yet diagnostic centres find their way around with this devious usage of codes – Jai Shri Ram for a male child and Jai Mata Di for a female child. Need I elaborate the fate of the poor foetus identified by the name of the All-Powerful Mother Goddess?
Some years back, a family friend delivered a baby girl. The birth of a baby is an occasion for rejoicing. Only her mother-in-law marred the occasion by blurting out – ‘Arre, Ye To Ladki Hai!’ (Oh, it is a girl!) As if the baby were an uninvited visitor!
Why is it a stately reception for a baby boy but a grudging admittance for a baby girl?
Why is a girl child accorded a second-class citizenship even before she is born?
Why do we send the wrong vibes to the female foetus with our insidious prejudice?
Female foeticide is a crime, a heinous one at that. But to me, even hostile reception of a baby girl is a crime, because it amounts to an act of gender discrimination, articulated or felt.
Let us put an end to this perversity, inherent as much in our minds as in practice. Because notwithstanding our narrow outlooks, we are a country of talented and intelligent women making rapid strides in every sphere of life.
Let us wish an expectant mother – ‘May you have a safe delivery and a healthy baby.’ She carries a little spark called life within her.
Let us give the female foetus a chance to grow. And live. Before you know, she will turn out to be a doctor, a scientist, an athlete, an artist, a writer, why even the Secretary-General of the UN.
Let us make the world a welcome place for the girl child.
Pic credit: Grace Family (Used under a Creative Commons license)