India – young girls increasingly ‘disappear’ in this country of great cultural integration and interconnectedness; more than 50 million girls go missing in an atmosphere marked by technological and scientific advancement; daughters are killed even before they are born, by the same people who otherwise worship them as goddesses on earth; while parents are forced to ‘abandon’ their own baby girls, as they happen to preach the ideal of Atithi Devo Bhava (Our guest is our god). Paradoxical, yet not fictional, it is a shameful development to acknowledge the deaths of numerous girls in India by their own families, in the name of ‘son preference’ and the resultant issue of Gendercide we’re faced with, despite initiatives of the Government to declare 24th January of every year as the National Girl Child Day in India.
It wasn’t long ago when a young baby girl was identified as ‘abandoned’ in the country, after her body was found dumped, and consequently chewed by stray dogs. Some of the newly –born are even left outside police stations, in railway toilets, orphanages or even wrapped and placed on a busy road, as a convenient manner for families to shed their responsibilities for giving birth to a girl. While few families, with the irrational expectation of a male child do not hesitate to illegally perform the selective sex determination and kill the embryo if identified to be a ‘she’, other couples heartlessly decide to erase ties of affection and relation, by declaring her as an orphan.
So how do we understand this phenomenon?
Not surprising, but one of the many Indian proverbs express the disdain for daughters more ‘colourfully’, in the following manner:
“Raising a daughter is like watering a shady tree in someone else’s courtyard.”
A culturally driven understanding believes in the hardships for raising a girl, who, in the Indian context is often relegated to the sphere of marriage, and more so, of dowry expectations attached with it. Interestingly, the cultural fabric makes it quite normative to generate prophecy, which amusingly becomes one of the prime reasons for not only female foeticide, but early school drop outs of girls and the early marriages of girls with older men, amongst others.
However, let us not forget to analyze what, in fact, constitutes culture. Culture ultimately develops in its relational process, specifically through interactions within social institutions and a specific context. It is only when certain interpretations of it, often propagated by ‘few’ individuals and groups, reign a hegemonic hold as ‘universal values’ to be upheld, relations of blood and sentiment are thwarted in the name of performance of culture, or in different terms, fearing to perform the custom of dowry presentation. With the absence of any standardized understanding of this cultural norm, young girls are met with a fate they have no authority to choose or raise their voice against.
Popularly misconstrued viewpoints about sons to continue the legacy of the family, or being the only caretakers of their parents in their old-age are however exposed to scrutiny, thereby revealing their shallow roots. Furthermore, the issue of girls being less preferred to boys is not a South-Asian issue of crisis, as many must have conceptualized it to be. Rather similar experiences and sentiments of son preference over girls are revealed even in the United States of America, which then goes to question the process of globalization and exchange of not only goods, but cultural beliefs and preferences.
Nevertheless, the situation in India remains appalling. Having led Campaign Rebirth- a student led girl child rights campaign, has made me sensitive to the issue of the right to life and equal opportunities that every girl deserves in India, and the complex issue of legal provisions, constitutional rights clashing with a superficial understanding of culture and ethical values that are simultaneously getting institutionalized and re-conceptualized. It has also enlightened me about the tremendous enthusiasm and hidden talent that is embedded in the girls at various shelter homes in New Delhi, who fail to receive the opportunities to flourish and realize their aspirations. The situation isn’t a disappointment – there are inspiring organizations such as Action Aid working in this regard, courageous personalities like Dr. Mitu Khurana who has been fighting for the rights of her twin daughters, in the hope for effective implementation of the Pre Conception Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (1994), there are girls with immense perseverance in the shelter homes who wish to create a difference and become empowered. All we need is to celebrate young girls in India and across the globe, beyond this specific day of celebrations; and along with these girls, it is mandatory to encourage their mothers to stand up for their daughters.