When old is gold…

We had a get together last Saturday. A fun and delicious dinner with friends, made spicier with an interesting discussion.

Some of us ended up discussing Feminism, and as is usual, there were a lot of views. Predictably most of the men felt that it was ‘unnecessary’. I have to say rather proudly, that I have a feminist of a husband – he was only man who openly supported us girls 🙂

While a lot of things got discussed, one which I wanted to analyse here was ‘History’.

Just because historically patriarchy seems to be the norm, people seem fine with accepting it as the best thing. I was told a lot of times that we, women need to understand the ‘history’ behind it. And if it works, why are we trying to break the balance. The question for me is, does it actually work? What was difficult to get most of them to understand was that it works only for some sections of society. If it were working, we wouldn’t need to change it.

Also, the fact that the Western world followed patriarchy is always thrown in for added measure. It always makes me laugh that most people who would deride ‘Western Values’, have no problems with using the example of patriarchy in Western Society as an excuse or a justification.

So going back to the issue, I was surprised to see how vehement the men were in opposing any change to the current situation. Most of them were ready with examples of women torturing men, with women abusing dowry laws, citing these, as reasons why men have more to fear than women. Nuclear families, of course, were the worst example of low-life, the moral corruption that women getting powerful, is leading us to. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that the people spouting all this are all NRIs who are most certainly not staying with their parents.

And of course, most of them saw nothing wrong with women being considered ‘paraya dhan’. It was natural, was the claim. Girls leave the house, and the boys bring their wives into the house. Perfect, according to them.. What if there are only girls in the family.. Well, that is of course, unfortunate… but what can be done. ‘Sex selection, perhaps?’, I had to ask!

I wouldn’t have worried if these were views expressed by our parents’ generation, but when my generation is so vehement about it, it makes me wonder if education, makes any difference at all.. It made me want to send the IHM’s blog to open their eyes to what women(and men) go through in our society. I wish I could explain to them how patriarchy shackles both men and women. But sometimes, people don’t want to listen, they don’t want change because it works for them at the moment.

You know what was the saddest part? At the end of the night, I was taken aside and told that all this talk of women empowerment is of no use. You can’t change anything.There is a reason society evolved like this, and we should know better than try to upset the apple cart. If at all things have to change – they will change by themselves!

You know what, I was sad, but not for us, women. I was sad for people who thought like this. Who refuse to accept reality, who think that by closing their eyes to it, they can pretend that everything is fine. What a sad existence, don’t you think?

Why every little helps..

Deeps’ post and this post on Women’s Web prompts me to write on this subject again.

A lot of times when I start discussing the topic of the condition of girls in India, I get that ‘There she goes again on her feminist track’. The thing is,whatever I say, I feel that it is not enough. It will never be enough – until the date that people stop this yearning for a boy. It will not be enough until people stop treating girls as the unwanted sex. Until a girl child is welcomed just as much as a boy child is. Until people stop saying things like, ‘Pehla bacha ladka ho to santhusthi hai’ – this was said to a friend of mine.

How will mere words help, people ask. Well, I think, words help in its own way.

For one, some people accept it as part of culture. Having seen the boy child preference practiced all around, they take it for granted. They assume that it is normal for grandparents to love grandsons more than granddaughter(I have come across people claiming this- educated people, by the way). So when they hear/read people talking about the injustice, and the why it is so wrong to shun a girl child, they might turn a deaf ear initially, but slowly, I think it will make a difference. One of the people, who used to loudly proclaim how her son was the favourite of his grandparents, has now toned it down. She is now careful not to mention things like that in public again. Probably after she realized that not everybody thinks this way. Hopefully her thinking might have changed too.

I have seen this happen right in front of me. While people might not change their thinking right away, they might start to understand that culture is not a justification for everything.

The same goes for dowry. The more people talk about it, shame it, publicly, and stop treating it as part of our ‘culture’, the more likely it is to die away as a custom.

I am so vocal about this, that nobody in my friends/acquaintance circle dares tell me to have another child to have a boy. Somebody I know told a friend of mine to try again, maybe this time she might have a boy. Only to be told on her face, that she doesn’t care if she has a boy or not – she is happy with her daughter. That was the end of it.

Will all this talking make any real difference. I think it will. I think it makes people think – even if it goes against what they have always seen. And even if one person rethinks what they have grown up with, it makes a difference, don’t you think? At the very least, they might think before speaking in front of vocal people like us, some may remember not to let subconscious discrimination enter their actions, some might go even further.. From the place that we are at – any progress is better than no progress, wouldn’t you agree?

Relocating back to India..

.. and the cultural baggage that comes with it.

IHM’s latest post triggered this, but the ‘going back to Indian culture’ bit, I keep getting from people around here. We are relocating back to India this summer, and the most common conclusion that people jump to, is, that we are relocating because of daughter – so that she gets inculcated in ‘Indian values’.

We have some reasons to relocate to India, but daughter’s cultural well being, is definitely not on that list. If anything I worry if it is the best decision for her. In fact, I think for her, UK might be a better place to grow up in. The other day, I went to watch ‘Ek main aur ek tu’ with some friends. One of my friends remarked that it is going to be so difficult to bring up daughters when movies promote having boyfriends,sex and all that. She claims that it is easier in India -because of the ‘culture’. I couldn’t help asking her if she really thought that all this does not happen in India? Yes, people might keep things under the wraps – but it does happen. Just because parents refuse to acknowledge it, does not mean that things don’t happen. Yes, it is out in the open in the Western world – but as a parent, wouldn’t you prefer that you know what your child is up to, rather than live in blissful ignorance. And hopefully, she/he might be able to take you into confidence, and you might be able to explain why getting into a relationship at that time in life may not be the best thing.

Someone once told me that it is easier to ‘stay in touch with India’ than it was some years back because we get all the Indian channels here. She lets her child watch Indian serials so that she is comfortable with ‘Indian values’. Yes, those saas-bahu serials, those are just perfect, totally appropriate for 4 or 5 year old! Nice way of inculcating ‘values’, I should say! And what glorious values too!

One of daughter’s friends told her that they are learning Bharatanatyam to learn how to be ‘good Indian girls’. I was shocked when I heard that. I then explained to her that she is learning it because she enjoys it – not because learning a dance makes you a ‘good Indian girl’! Whatever that means, anyway! I had no ideas that there were such parameters to measure the ‘goodness’ of Indian girls!

But living here, I can see the tightrope some parents are walking, They want to do everything to prove that their children are as ‘Indian’ as people back in India. They live in dread that their children will compare unfavorably to cousins/friends back in India. So much so that they compare everything from cultural values(that they believe matters), to the education system. They also refuse to believe that India has moved on since the last time they visited.

They refuse to believe that in India we might face different challenges and sometimes the same challenges. Of a teenage child rebelling, of children testing their boundaries. At the end of the day, it is going to be the test of our parenting skills, no matter where we live.

When I see the way daughter is growing up here, as a confident person, who is never told that she is different because she is a girl, exposed to age appropriate things – I sometimes, wonder if I am doing the right thing, by moving back. Of course, there are other compelling reasons to move back, and I do believe that she will be fine, even if we have some initial hiccups. One thing is for sure, it is not because of the ‘cultural benefits’ that we are moving back.

All I know is that I want her to be a confident young woman, who is in a position to decide for herself what she wants in life. That I believe would be the same, no matter where I live. I certainly do not want her to be a puppet who does things because they are expected of her. I want her to know that any relationship she gets into, she should be happy and that she need not be a doormat to be happy. That any relationship that expects her to change into some other person, is probably not right for her. That things change, and if one has to walk out of a relationship, it is not the end of the world. And that no matter what, her parents will be there for her. And these things, I think, should not change, no matter which part of the world we live in.

Deadliest place for a girl

So India is officially the deadliest place in the world for a girl child. Apparently

Newly released data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world

And I am sure most of us are not even surprised. Of course not, it would have been more surprising had it not been the deadliest place in the world! After all, don’t all know people who say,

– Don’t worry, next time, it will be a boy

– If the first born is a boy, then it is a huge relief

– My first is a boy, so I am comfortable in this pregnancy

– We want a three child family. (This statement when they are told that they are expecting a second daughter. Funnily, when the child was born, and it turned out to be a boy, they were immediately happy with two!)

– You have a girl? And you don’t want to have another child? Don’t you have pressure from your in-laws to have a boy?

And all this from professionals, people who are educated, well-traveled, and who you would think would know better! And all this from people my age. Not age old aunties or older people set in their ways, but young people, who have had the benefit of education, and awareness, who have no real excuse for thinking this way! Despite the circumstances, the preference for a male child remains strong across classes. When we have such negativity, it is not difficult to understand why the girl child’s mortality rate is higher than a male child’s in India, despite the fact that biological factors actually favor the girl child.

Is it any surprise that India is a country where we would do anything to not have a girl?

All you need is a son..

.. to enhance your position in your family…

Remember the baby shower I had mentioned some time back? One of the women had her baby. She had been told it was a girl, but the baby turned out to be a boy instead. She already has a daughter.

The woman’s mother was elated, apparently because now her daughter’s position in her family( read in-laws’ family) was cemented. Apparently they were worried because the in-laws never ‘accepted’ her completely( their’s was a love-marriage). Her mother was worried that they(the in-laws) might persuade her son-in-law to leave her daughter and marry someone else – just because she had two girls! Now that she had a son, all was nice and rosy.

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was from a woman whose daughter was independent, she is a doctor – totally capable of taking care of herself. And yet, the mother worried about her daughter ‘staying married’.

And equally important, isn’t it insulting for a man to be thought of having no mind of his own? Surely, a man who chose his wife, would stand up for his wife and his children? Surely, he can’t be brainwashed by such nonsense, especially when he is a medical doctor himself? Especially, when there was no reason to doubt his intentions. And if he were indeed the sort to turn his back to his wife and children, because she had 2 girls, is it worth staying in the marriage at all?

I don’t know what makes me more wild, the mother thinking like this, or other women, educated, well-aware, understanding her sentiments, because that is how society works! That having a son, does indeed, makes all the difference to their ‘position’.

My biggest blessing..

is my little girl..

My daughter gave husband and me a ‘gold star’ each. Mine was for cooking her breakfast, and his was for feeding her 🙂

She gives us so much joy in so many ways, and these little gestures just make me want to gather her up and hug her for ever. We have so many dreams for her, biggest of which would be for her to have a happy fulfilling life, for her to be able to achieve everything that she sets out to do..

Would I have loved her more if she had been a boy? Does the gender make any difference for us parents? I would like to think not. Though, I always wanted a girl, I am sure that if we had a little boy, we would have taken equal joy in his antics, have the same aspirations for him, treat him just the same as we treat her. Why then, do we, as a society, set so much store by the gender of a child?

Though we worship the female form in the form of Durga, Lakshmi , Saraswati, we don’t think twice before aborting a female foetus..

Though we are claim to be more spiritual than the materialistic West, we pray for sons, for purely materialistic reasons..

Though, we are progressing in so many ways, we still have a heavily skewed gender ratio, with illegal gender determination clinics flourishing.

That people still assume that a having a daughter is a ‘sad event’ in one’s life.

Today, is supposed to be Daughter’s Day.  Apparently, sex selective abortions have resulted in ten million women being missing from the Indian population. Where sex determination is not possible, infanticide is practiced. And it is not the rural or poorer strata of society where the gender gap is growing – it is in the richer(and educated) classes that the gender gap is growing. So much for education and awareness.

All I want to hope is that a day will come when a daughter is not a curse, that people will not need to console parents who have daughters. A daughter will not be a liability- just a cherished child. When we just don’t pray to goddesses, but also treat women and girls with the dignity they deserve, not as unwanted members of the society.

A day will come, when son or daughter, we would be equally happy. Son, or daughter, will have the same opportunities. When girls will not be killed even before they are born. When daughter’s days will not be a reminder of how dire the situation of a girl child in India is.

Breaking the cycle…

A family broke up a few days ago.

They were a middle class business family, until the husband’s business failed and the wife was forced to start a ‘tiffin business’ to help provide for her family. With her persistence and hard work, she managed to get things going, educate the children – a girl and a boy and even support her husband to start another business. Today, we heard that apparently the husband raised a hand at the wife , said some stuff and she raised alarm and got neighbours and relatives to chuck her husband out of the house.

Well, I am certainly not getting into the rights and wrongs of this – I do not know enough to make any kind of a judgement.  What really shocked me was that they were planning to get the daughter married of soon. She just competed her twelfth. 19 years old. Apparently they just want to finish off that ‘responsibility’.

It just makes me wonder  – will this cycle ever break? This particular mother wants to marry off the daughter – because she has some money now and can afford it. She is not sure if she will be able to afford it later. The logic is that anyways, they don’t expect her to be a ‘doctor/engineer’ so why waste money and time educating her? We are ready to sponsor her education, if that will persuade them to allow her to study a bit more. But from the look of it, it looks doubtful. It just makes me feel so helpless.

Another child married off – simply because that is a responsibility to be ‘completed’. I wonder if anybody thinks of her aspirations, her dreams.. And more practical matters like getting her equipped to deal with whatever, that comes her way.  Won’t an education open up her mind, give her a way of supporting herself if need be? There are so many things that can be done – diplomas, courses that can help her support her family..  If she is ever, god forbid, in the situation that her mother is today, won’t she be better off with a little education. If not anything else, I think it will make her at least more confident, more likely to able to  take the right decision, than a 19 yr old getting married off to the first man who comes her way.  And also, likely to get a far better match. But no, a better future is something that is important only for the son… for the daughter, the most important thing is to get married off, as quickly as possible..

After all, if we do not break the cycle – it will never break, will it? If this girl is married off now, it is more than likely that she will have little say in the choice of a husband. She might have little say in a lot of things in her future too.. And she might end up meting out the same treatment to her children as well…

I have been told, that I am just not understanding their condition. That is, it is best that the girl gets married off now..  I’m sorry but I just cannot comprehend it – will this cycle ever break? Why do so many of us accept this so calmly?  Does a parent’s responsibility towards a daughter end as soon as they marry her off? Am I being too ’emotional’ in my reaction?