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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.)
I could understand why my friend was irked. And hurt. Staying abroad, she’d learnt she was carrying a baby girl. And this insistence on ‘coming back with a boy’ infuriated her.
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)
New mommy on the block.
Bookworm, nature-lover and wayfarer in the suburbs of imagination.
Very good and relevant article. I have seen women who go to congratulate the parents and family members of the new born and on learning the child is a girl, they utter, “chalo to kya hogaya ladki hai, aajkal koi farak nahi padta, AGLI BAR LADKA HO JAYEGA.” Oxymoronic statement..
Yeah, that’s a truly oxymoronic statement Say Chees!
I so wanted a daughter and was waiting to welcome her with open arms and also say tchah! to anyone who thought she would be anything but! Unfortunately, I started giving my sons a complex by talking about the daughter I never had that I had to stop.
“‘May you have a safe delivery and a healthy baby.”
Yes, that is all the blessing a pregnant woman needs!
This is indeed a sad state of affairs – how will we ever progress if we continue to think of baby girls as second class citizens? Very well written article – brings home the fact that prejudice is not limited by class , education or exposure.
Until and unless we can change other social evils targeting women, especially dowry (even if it is not known by that name, and just called gifts), people will find it hard to accept a girl baby as an equal, because in our country a large percent of the population is not bothered about the profession, career, independence of the woman… its all about her marriage, the house she marries into. And due to that one fact, a baby boy brings joy and vice versa.
It is sad, but till date the biggest blessing is considered to be “may you have a thousand sons”!
You nailed. Unless the root cause is driven out, this attitude will persist.
So so true…I can really identify with your friend, went through absolutely the same thing during my pregnancy! This obsession is so deep rooted in our society, even the most common blessing to a married female being “sowbhagyavati, putravati bhav” !!!
This irks me so much. When I was pregnant, I escaped most of it because thankfully my family is much more sensible. But there was this priest who blessed me to have a boy. I couldnt resist asking him to bless me with a girl instead, because I wanted a daughter. The funny thing is that he couldn’t even bring himself to say that- he just blessed me with a healthy child. As if he couldn’t even wish a girl on someone.. that hurt me and stayed with me forever. Is having a girl so bad ?
here we are who do not have the fortune to have a girl, yes i have 3 boys, i realize the difference a girl makes to a house when i see the attitude of my sons. Yes, a girl child is a blessing. Cherish her for she is a precious gift to chosen ones.
Beginning of December, a program aired on ABC 20/20 about India’s deadly secret. It was about 40 million girls who have vanished. All aborted before they could take their first breath. Their crime was that they were girls. As you know the gender ratios is India are terribly skewed about 914 girls per 1,000 boys. In Punjab it is about 833 girls per1,000 boys. Unfortunately this happens amongst the privileged and the educated also. The only woman who has brought cases against her in-laws and husband is Dr Mitu Khurana. Please watch her story and sign her petition for justice. Please give those 40 million girls silenced forever, a voice. Please forward this to as many friends as possible.
After you sign the petition, there will be a request from the site for a donation. This donation is totally discretionary and does not in any way or form affect or benefit Dr Mitu Khurana. All she is asking for is your support (signing this petition) so that pressure can be put on the Indian authorities that the whole world is watching them in total disbelief as they make a young mother run around in vain for four years in search of justice.
somethings never change- does it ? and it doesn’t matter whether people passing those unwanted comments in question are well educated or illiterate… Personally, I had to endure quite a few and I was actually surprised at the audacity of it all. Insensitive suggestions ranging from shunning certain food to stop chanting/reading lalitha sahasranamam(ode to Goddess) and instead chant vishnu sahasranamam (praise to Lord vishnu) were made with utter shamelessness. I wished for a girl and am a proud mother of an 8 year old angel. It’s a pity that a country developing unhinged on all fronts has still not moved away from a pathetic medieval mindset.
It is not so easy for Indian society to settle down with equal treatment or fair chance for a girl child. The century old traditions of sati pratha, dowry and inhumane conditions of safety and cleanlines for a girl amakes even their mothers and grand mothers want for a boy. After all they have never learnt to fight on their own, for themselves, for their betterment. They were and are always dependent. Unless we can positively educate (not just bookish education and degrees but education that enlightens and strengthen a girls physique, mind and soul ) all the girls of this country we can not stop people wishing for a healthy baby boy and not just a baby.
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Truly overwhelmed by your response. Thank you.
I was reminded of a powerful scene from the movie ‘Devdas’ where a disgraced and raging Kirron Kher (Paro’s mother) denounces Smita Jaykar (Devdas’ mother) –
Aayi To Thi Tujhe Duayen Dene Ki Tere Ghar Chand Sa Beta Ho
Par Ab To Yahi Dua Nikalti Hai Ki Tera Ghar Bhi Chandni Se Aabad Ho
Tere Ghar Bhi Beti Ho
(Roughly translated – I came to bless that a handsome son be born in your house. But now I can only wish – May your home too be deprived of happiness. May a girl be born in your house too.)
Did having a girl baby mean an invitation to taunts/tears/humiliation for life?
Surely times have since changed.
While we still confront shocking sex ratios and closed mindsets, one hopes that we can contain the malaise from percolating by the power of our collective voice/experience.
I am the single child of my parents! My father did not think of a second issue inspite of being bugged by my maternal relatives every now and then and that was al about 20 years back! Till today, every would be mother I meet, the wish always comes out as “Mey Hok” (Hope its a Girl, in Bengali) or simply Bring forth a healthy child! I wish someday the whole of India would say the same
I faced a similar barrage from not just my mother-in-law, but my own mother. The first thing that she said to me, when she visited me in the hospital was, ” Don’t feel sad. You have a daughter. The second child could be son.” There was a collective gasp from one and all-all elderly ladies who had accompanied her- when I retorted, ” But I am not sad at all. I am very happy.Can’t you see me beaming with joy?”
Perhaps that is one reason why I unconsciously avoided having a second child!
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In my experience it has been women (mothers and mother-in-laws) who wish for grandsons. Men don’t seem to be too worried about it. It was my mil who wanted a grandson for her vamsh to grow,and my mother who doesn’t want me or my sister to face all the talk she had to face when she had 2 daughters. My dad or fil or my husband have had no opinions except for a healthy child. My husband very badly wanted a daughter.
I think it is the women who should bring about the change they want.
In my experience, most women of the previous generation are the prime culprits. They seem to sincerely think that it is better for future women not to be born, because of the discrimination and the suffering they underwent when they were young.
I know it sound horrible, but as I grow older, I also wish that I had never been born a woman in India. I have had to face so much struggle, suffering, and discrimination because I was a woman. I decided not to be a mother, because I did not want to raise a daughter and see her undergo the same suffering and humiliation that I experienced.
It would have broken my heart to see my daughter disrespected by her husband and in-laws the way I was. I don’t know if my decision was extreme, but I see how my own parents have suffered because their daughter chose to divorce a negligent husband.
They have been blamed for not giving me the right “sanskars”, I have been blamed for not “adjusting” to my husband, but no finger has been pointed at my ex-husband or in-laws for their behavior.
So I would rather not give birth to a daughter and watch her suffer the same injustices that I suffered. May India never be blessed be daughters.
May a day come when the men of this country long for a woman in their lives, and find that none exists. This country doesn’t deserve women.
A reading of this link gives some insight into why discrimination against the girl child is enshrined in Hindu scripture
Good to see both women and MEN commenting on this. The one thing that I observed in the overall scenario is that it’s mostly women who expects a boy. Mostly mother in law or grandmother sort of people. So this proves that this issue is again women orients. There are two main reasons for this here. 1. In earlier times, men used to earn while women married and left. 2. If he is a boy, he will be there for you when you get old. Times are changing now. These days women manage themselves professionally and personally. I guess after this generation this conservative thinking will go down.
Putting forth a guy’s view… I am not a father yet, so just saying from observations. While I agree with the broader context of the article, I don’t think this discrimination is so wide. Back in my hometown, the Bengalis prefer having a girl over boy. I think in a World of choices, people want a say in this also. That said, my view is that the preference itself is dependant on the parents, your friends, family, Greater family and society at large. Have met very few people who can say that they are ok with either a girl or a boy. Everyone has a view. I am sure before your friend got to know it was a girl, she also had a view. Power of choices I guess.
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