Whereas birth of a son is celebrated; there is, instead, a sort of mourning or a resigned acceptance on the arrival of a baby girl in most Indian homes. Sadly, this is neither the beginning nor the end of prejudices against the females. In fact, discrimination begins much before birth as thousands of girls in the country are eliminated in the womb itself. Highly skewed and plummeting child sex ratio in India is testimony to this tainted Indian psyche cutting across socio-economic backgrounds.
In the gloomy scenario where girl child is subject to discrimination and faces the threat of elimination, I have begun to feel the winds of change in the attitude of the parents towards their daughters. The change may be slow but is increasingly being reflected in the way parents have begun to value their daughters. The special bond which the parents share with their daughters, especially the grown up married ones is indeed amazing. There is a saying ‘A son is a son till he gets his wife but a daughter is a daughter all through her life’. I may not endorse this view fully but it is a fact that the kind of bonding and intimacy that the parents experience with their daughters is perhaps not the same with their sons. Not only the educated and the better off, but even the poor and underprivileged class has begun to recognize this.
While Sunita sweeps and mops the floors, she often complains about the uncaring attitude of her married son who stays with her along with his wife and a small child. While she often grumbles about insensitivity of her sons, both married and the unmarried, she is always singing praises of her daughter Preeti, on whom she banks upon for physical and emotional support. When the sons loiter around, the daughter completes all the household chores after her school to give her mother some respite. While the mother is away toiling hard to earn a living for the family; the daughter cleans and cooks in her absence.
Sunita’s case is not an isolated one. Murti, who washes utensils, has a similar story to narrate. Anything handed down to her –a bed sheet, a saree or a suit, would be carefully kept aside by her to be passed on to her married daughter. Her married sons with their families may be staying in the adjacent jhuggies (hutments) but she is least bothered about them. Perhaps they do not care for her either. Whether she is Sunita, Murti or Rani, there is a common thread in their story –fondness and soft corner for the daughters and disillusionment with the sons.
It is incredible how this initial ‘son craze’ eventually gets transformed into ‘girl preference’. Is it not a marvel that the girl child, who is often unwelcomed and faces the threat of elimination and discrimination, eventually becomes a darling daughter of the doting parents? Alas! This realization comes too late.
As to when this affection and fondness for daughters will translate into a more balanced child sex ratio I cannot say, but undoubtedly the winds of change have already begun to blow, and that gives me a ray of hope.
Published in HT Chandigarh March 31, 2014