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Gender discrimination in India is a reality that we need to recognize in the seemingly ordinary occurrences around us, and help root it out.
Resmi was very happy when she came home from the hospital with Sanjay – her first child after two long years of marriage to Vickram. Their house was decorated with lights and all her relatives and in-laws were smiling. Every second person wanted to take Sanjay in their arms — much to his disappointment! Sweets, food, cold drinks, lassi and laughter were freely flowing. Resmi felt rejuvenated. She forgot her labor pains and felt like a proud mother. After the long day Vickram embraced her — his warmth making her feel safe and giving her a feeling of belonging.
Some time passed in this wonderful way.
One morning Resmi woke up with a feeling of nausea. Her condition continued for days and after eventually missing her period, she was diagnosed as pregnant. Days became weeks, weeks months, and by the end of eight months she found herself in the same hospital bed. This time, she gave birth to Sanjana.
The first time she saw the beautiful face of her daughter, Resmi began to cry. Resmi dreaded the moment when her marital family would come to know about Sanjana. She feared the discrimination she would have to face based on what had happened to her sister in law after she delivered her daughter Ritu. Each time she saw Sanjana these memories haunted her and she couldn’t even gather enough courage to even look at her new born. Resmi entered a gloomy home with Sanjana. She ran and picked up two-year-old Sanjay in her arms and both mother and son started crying, sensing something was wrong.
After a few days, her mother-in-law announced that Resmi should visit her parent’s home. Resmi was happy to go. She had been home last when Sanjay was a year old. She hummed while packing her bags. Her husband began honking the car. This was the Maruti-Swift which Resmi’s parents had gifted them during their marriage. Resmi hurriedly came down the stairs juggling the children when her mother-in-law came forward to help and picked up Sanjay in her arms.
Vickram had an urgent piece of work to attend to and he wanted to drop mother and children on his way. Resmi’s luggage was already in the car. She entered the car with Sanjana, Sanjay still in the arms of her mother in law. Her husband started the car without Sanjay. Resmi shouted for Sanjay, realizing what was happened. She began crying and pleading with him to stop the car. But he was adamant and kept on driving. Resmi was hurriedly dropped at her parent’s home as Vickram promised to come back in a few days with Sanjay.
Resmi has been at her parent’s home for the last one year. Neither Vickram nor Sanjay have come to meet her. Whenever she calls, her husband and in-laws make some excuse to avoid her. How is Resmi to blame? She is in the crossroads and doesn’t know how to get back to her marital home. She is unsure whether to file for custody of Sanjay and whether the law will even be on her side. Above all, she does not know how to deal with the social stigma and discrimination from her community for having been abandoned by her husband and in-laws for having a daughter?
This is a fictional depiction of a true story of gender discrimination in India that I encountered in a village in Haryana. Names have been changed to keep their identity secret. Resmi is one of thousands who represents the fierce and deep-rooted gender discrimination in India against girls and women.
In Haryana, there are only 830 girls for every 1000 boys, one of the lowest female to male ratios across India. This indicator of the gender discrimination in India occurs because of Gender Biased Sex Selection or the use of medical techniques to give birth to a son.
But change is happening. We encountered Resmi’s story because of Breakthrough’s campaign to end Gender Biased Sex Selection by changing the long held patriarchal beliefs that fuel the gender discrimination in India against daughters, and drive preference for sons. We are using mass media, leadership trainings, and community mobilization activities, to ignite the spark for change, with the hope that this spark will surely lead to a fire.
Can you in your individual capacity create change? Yes, you can.
Create awareness about Gender Biased Sex Selection in your home, neighborhood and workplace and celebrate the birth and contributions of girls in your communities.
Speak up against the blatant gender discrimination in India.
Do not tolerate violence and abuse against women and girls. Do not give or take dowry.
Stand up for equal property and education rights.
Stop sexual harassment.
And finally, only marry your daughters or get married into a household that respects women. Every mother and father wants to see their daughter happy in marriage. Every woman wants to be happily married. But can a family that won’t allow a girl to be born offer happiness to your daughter or yourself? Do not marry into a family that does not celebrate the birth of a girl child, that accepts dowry, that allows discrimination against girls, that does not respect women.
A version of this was first published over at the Bell Bajao blog.
Today’s changemaker that we’d like to highlight is Breakthrough, an organisation that works with local communities (including in India), using art, media and pop culture to spread awareness about human rights, and especially about the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, adolescent girls and immigrants.
Breakthrough has a particular focus on violence against women and girls, and their Bell Bajao campaign in India has been creating awareness about the hardly discussed issue of domestic violence. In particular, Bell Bajao also works with and among men to change the understanding of masculinity as related to power expressed through violence. You can donate to the Bell Bajao campaign here. You can also follow them at their Facebook page, or read more about their work through a volunteer’s journey here.
Image source: pexels