Breaking the cycle..

… Or to be more accurate, why breaking the cycle is so difficult..

Our friend Bikram raised some questions in his post here, and I thought I’d try to answer.

Bikram questions ‘The mother-in-law knew how his son was treating the daughter in law , yet she did not say anything Rather she was calling up the Girls father to give more, I mean WHY.. Did she go through the same when she got married and came to the family..

Let me explain with an example. I met a young woman here. She must be in her late twenties or at max, her early thirties. She grew up in India, but got married to an NRI who was 34 at that point in time. She was 18. She says her parents had no plans to get her married but when the proposal came up, it felt like a good one. She has three children, and lives in a typical joint family type of environment, here in the UK. One day we were talking and she started telling us about how tough it is for her. She works, but once she is home, she is expected to be the obedient, dutiful bahu, making tea for everyone, clearing up. It might not sound like a huge deal, but as she says, if you end up spending 45 mins for having a simple cup of tea- it becomes a big deal. Especially in a country where she has no maids or anybody to help out. If she fancies a cup of tea and makes it for herself without checking with the rest of the family, it is considered quite rude. A small example, but it affected her badly enough for her to share it with us. Then she went on to say, ‘What can I do, I can only wait for when it will be my turn to be the mother-in-law’.

I was stunned to hear that. Surely one would think that she would try to break the cycle rather than have it continue? But then I realized that, for her, it is just a fact, an accepted reality. As a daughter-in-law, she has to accept what is given to her, and she has to wait until her son gets home a DIL before she gets to throw her weight around. She does not think of breaking the cycle because she has accepted the system for what it is.

What horrified me, was just a statement of fact for her. Why? Because that is the system they have been brought up it, that is the system they are familiar with. They don’t see a problem with it. A boy will bring home a wife, while a daughter will be sent away. I have heard this justification from so many people.

Dowry is justified too. People think that it is perfectly legitimate. These days it is termed as ‘gifts’ which the girl’s side gives ‘willingly’. I don’t understand why gifting is only the woman’s parents prerogative? Then of course, people will explain that a daughter is going away to her ‘real home’ so her parents would like to ‘gift’ her things. That to me is the root cause of this whole thing. The imbalance in society which is brought about by the concept of a male child being ‘apna’ and a female child being ‘paraya’.

The system is also the reason a parent dreads the birth of a girl child, dreads the day they will have to shell out huge amounts of money to get her ‘married off’.

The only way the evils like sex selective abortions, dowry etc can be eradicated is the system itself changes. If both sons and daughters take up the responsibility of looking after their parents, if parents of daughters are not left destitute in their old age, if a daughter is not taught that no matter what, once she gets married, her marital home is her home, and not her parental home.

In fact in the program, in both the first and the third episode, we had women expressing how it is so horrible for a parent to have their married daughter coming back home. It broke my heart to listen to that. I can’t even begin to imagine how helpless they must have felt. Where could they have gone? How could they have walked out on their marriages when all that has been drummed into their heads is that their parental home is no longer their home?

The moment that stigma goes away, we will find a lot of women comfortable about standing up for their rights. When they know that they will not make their parents unhappy if they land up at their doorstep. When women understand that they don’t need to accept everything that is thrown at them. When they are brought up with the belief that no matter what, their parents will always be there for them. That they are no ‘paraya dhan’.

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?

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’.