And motherhood dragging a doll by the foot

If we Indians could take off our minds, eyes and ears from silly slaps by overpaid cricketing heroes and ensuing debates about the quantum of retribution; or stop debating about the appropriateness of the dresses imported and highly paid cheer leaders should or or should not wear - wonder who would pay for the new ones - ; or the inconvenience created by a new transport system, we would be compelled to see the horror that has been and is enfolding around us in the past few days.

Two baby girls are found abandoned in our own city, one barely a few hours old. A 12 year old is raped by a cop, a 5 year old by a so called uncle, a 36 months old by a relative and his friends, a 7 year old by another neighbour. 5 rapes of children and no one bats an eye lid.

Yesterday the prime Minister of India addressed a meeting on "save the girl child". Time someone did: the latest figures are alarming, the sex ratio is declining: 927 to 1000 is the all India figure, 782 to 1000 is South Delhi's figure. According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, there 100 million missing girls!

The PM made one valid comment: But it is not government alone that can address this problem. Though Government must be active in mobilizing public opinion in this regard. We need active civil society involvement in the national campaign to save the girl child.

This should make us stop and think. The startling figures of South Delhi are ample proof of the fact that we cannot any more brush the problem under the carpet and say that this only affects rural areas or the 'poor' as we like calling a large part of our own land. Rest assured we many not be guilty of throwing our new born baby in a dump or leaving her on a doorstep. We have the resources to beat he law and kill her before she is born.

I have often written about the plight of he girl child based on what I have seen around me. I remember a letter written to a child that died in the womb of her mother, or the post written on one of the days when India worships little girls. One must not forget that we are the greatest worshipers of the female form and energy and yet we kill, rape and abuse little girls with impunity. Is it not time to look at ourselves in a mirror with honesty. We all pay lip service to the save the girl child appeals, even make it our cocktail banter of the day and yet we are the ones that surreptitiously ask the name of the local doctor willing to perform a sex determination test for our pregnant daughter in law, whatever the cost!

The poor have another recipe: they keep producing daughters till the male child arrives or the mother stops being able to bear children. I have known of families where there are 11 girls and one boy! I am not going to go into the plight of the girl child, I think we all are aware of it. This post is meant to try and address the problem that is now alarming.

What is it that makes us abandon baby girls? This trend is of course more prevalent with the poor. The question is simple: a girl means marriage that means money in vast quantities. Boys are an investment they can bring all the coveted things; girls a drain because you are the one to pay for the coveted things. All laws banning dowry have failed. The demands are getting larger by the day. Even in slums people talk of cars. One of our teachers who is not very pretty and a bit plum and now 26 remains unmarried as her family cannot afford the Honda Accord that was asked! In states like Bihar it is hard cash. Our rickshaw driver married his daughter to a much older man because the dowry was only 100 000 rupees plus the cost of the wedding where there were 500 guests! The girl is just 18. So the simplistic solution would be rather than give the girls child cash incentives for her marriage as many of the proposed government schemes do, give cash incentives to those who spend little and give no dowry!

But things run much deeper: we are dealing with customs and mores and age long religious diktats and decrees that no politician would want to touch. And let us not forget the law applies to all so who wants to be deprived the right of a lavish wedding for his or her own child. Some of the latest trends are galling: helicopters for the bridegroom, international starts to perform and food imported from the world over and then thrown away as the display itself gives visual indigestion. So I ask are we really serious about saving the girl child.

As for child rape it is something beyond my comprehension in spite of the fact that child abuse is rampant even in he best of homes. Does it come from our so called prudish attitudes a legacy as was aptly said by someone of Victorian England as are we not the land of the Kama Sutra. And the only thing that could protect children - though maybe not 2 years old - would be a healthy sex education programme, but that is rabidly opposed by our politicians! Child abuse, far too often perpetrated within homes is protected by the code of silence and honour, something that has to stop.

Maybe it is time we looked at ourselves with honesty and bluntness and answered some disturbing questions even if it makes each one of us look pathetic and ask ourselves what we can do to save the girl child that leaves every moment of her life amidst unknown yet terrifying fears.

I will end this post with the words of Alan Beck:

"A girl is innocence playing in mud,
Beauty standing on its head,
And motherhood dragging a doll by the foot."