The Girl Child Is Alive, But Does She Have A Life?

Posted: July 27, 2018

The ugly reality of India today is that we may magnanimously ‘allow’ the girl child to live, but we are very far from giving her a life of safety and dignity.

A decade ago I remember watching a movie named Matrubhoomi. This was a critically acclaimed movie directed by Manish Jha, which made the rounds of several film festivals and even won an award at the 2003 Venice Film Festival. But despite its talented line up of actors and well executed story line, I got up half way through the movie because it was disturbing and scary.

The movie was set in a village in the future where there are only men left because of years of female infanticide and foeticide. These men are aggressive and desperate to find wives for themselves. When a family of five sons finds out that there is a young woman in a neighbouring village, all five brothers marry her. Her life is a living hell after the marriage. I never got down to watching the climax of the movie, because the movie left me scared. But sadly, India is slowly nearing the day this movie warns about.

There will be many out there who would say I am exaggerating and even those who would say I belong to the group of people who only want to shame the nation, but the reality is that Mother India’s daughters are not safe and if the situation does not improve, they would soon be in peril.

A surfeit of ugly news

A couple of days ago, reading the news on the way to work, I chanced upon the news of a 11 year old child in Chennai having been brutalised by 22 men for 7 months. This left me in shock. A 11 year old child who is discovering life, and still probably sees joy in its simple facets, does not deserve this. The nation was still reeling from the shock of this brutal crime, when the news brought the story of a young lady in another part of the country, who was brutalised and also had to suffer police apathy. For a nation which claims to worship its women as goddesses, this is the ugly reality.

A friend remarked recently, “I am going to quit following the news, coz all that is there are incidents of rape and assault”. I had to agree with her observation, but her solution is not agreeable – ignoring the reality won’t change it. But it does bring one issue to the fore: at the age of 6 months or 60, no women is safe at present.

Our society has always encouraged girls to embrace their soft, feminine side, at most times only that. For years, the education, ambition or dreams of the girl child were never encouraged. She was trained to be just the nurturer. Never given an opportunity to develop a personality or have a chance of building the life she desires. She was raised with just a single aim to be married off.

Because of society’s desire to make marriage her life’s sole aim, she was labelled a ‘Paraya Dhan’. She was married off without having a shot at learning the ropes of survival or scope to earn, the husband and family she married expected to be compensated for looking after her. The amount of compensation kept increasing with the greed of the potential husbands. The society again came up with a brilliant solution – why raise a child who can’t be a part of your home and is only going to add to your expenses, so kill her or even worse, do not let her be born.

Barely staying alive…

Instead of correcting its follies the society dug a deeper pit for itself. The evil practice of sex selective abortion and female infanticide, resulted in a badly skewed gender ratio in the country. Finally, the Government stepped in and after years of save the girl child campaigns, girls are getting to see the world outside their mother’s wombs. But thanks to the grave dug by our society’s discriminatory practices, they do not have life, despite being able to stay alive.

The gender ratio in India according to the 2011 census was 940 females per 1000 males. This, though an improvement from the previous census, is still a worrisome figure. There are still many places and communities in the country, where there are hardly any girls. This is when the ‘Matrubhoomi’ situation turns into gory reality. We live in a society which still prides itself on ‘letting’ its girls be born – how then can we expect that they would be getting a life which is at par with their male counterparts?

While the boy growing up into a brat is a sense of pride, the girl is expected to be subservient. These boys grow up to be men, who think they can control anyone around them, specially the women. They see nothing wrong in going to any extent to fulfill their desires. They know they will not be blamed, it’s the women who are going to face the wrath. The society which wants them to feel grateful for being allowed to live, will tell them, they should have been careful, they should have dressed right, behaved right, coz the Raja betas and macho men don’t waste time on such frivolous things as consent, empathy and rightful behaviour.

Justice delayed is the norm

Our nation has not set any precedent for prompt action in cases of violence against women. In the Nirbhaya case which shook the entire nation, it took six years for justice to be delivered. This has resulted in complete lack of fear. In most instances the police personnel make it difficult for the survivor to approach the legal machinery for help.

The worst enemy is the wrong sense of shame and honour of the victim which is considered blemished by society. This again is a tactic devised to protect the perpetrators and let misogyny thrive, when in reality it is the perpetrator who needs to be shamed. The latest evil to have raised its head is communalism, which is being used by our political parties to dilute cases.

Solutions are also aimed at only the women: cover up, don’t step out unnecessarily, don’t socialise too much, don’t be too friendly. Really, is all this going to help? There are children in school uniform  who are brutalised and assaulted. There are 75 and 80 year old women being raped and murdered. It never was a result of their behaviour or choices, it’s the false sense of entitlement that society lets certain individuals get away with.

‘Beti Bachao, Beto Padhao’ is a slogan we see in every corner of the country. But for this saved beti to be successful, she has to live a life. It’s high time our Government and legal machinery stepped in. We need to ensure fast trials in cases of violence against women. Punishment meted out should serve as a deterrent.

Most importantly, society has to come forward and abolish the false sense of shame and loss of honour associated with the victim. Until then, the ugly truth will remain, that the nation has failed its daughters. In a country where a major part of its population does not feel safe to even step out without fear, any amount of economic prowess achieved will go in vain.

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