A mail about little Radha's plight dropped by this morning. It asked some stark questions:when you run in to such cases have you been able to get any insight in how the parents intended to support so many children? what were they thinking when they had 4 children in one room? is there some way you have found to communicate that there is no difference between a girl and a boy?
I wish I had answer to these questions. But this is one of whys for which we have sadly not found answers till date and yet it is one of the most deafening ones as therein lies the solution to many of the problems that plague our society. Yet it is almost one of the most inaudible ones too!
Parents like Radha's produce many children often in the hope of the one or more son that seems to be the touchstone to gage the credibility of women in our land. And this definitely transcends all classes of society and all creeds. As they produce one child after the other they are not aware or thinking about the future of these children or about they would support them. That is often left to God! The paradox of this quest for the elusive son is that they are all aware of the reality that each girl that comes along the way is a burden as she will have to be one day married but that does not stop them.
The flip side is darker as is proved by the terrifying figures of the sex ratio in cities like Delhi where the rich can find ways to abort their unwanted girl child and the poor just abandonned them in garbage dumps or door steps. According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen there are 38 millions missing women in India. So in a way Radha's family should be lauded as at least they did not get rid of the unwanted daughters.
To the question about how they intended to support these kids in a tiny room the answers are again baffling and multiple. Having many children stems out from an atavistic past where many children died in infancy, children were extra hands on the land, where life was self contained and did not need stepping out from the habitat of origin, where families lived in clans and support systems were many. Sons were prized as they ensured continuity and protection of the land. The feudal system ensured protection of farm hands and those who did not own land as their being was a matter of honour.
When society changed and land got divided and could not feed the families it belonged to and as cities grew and were in need of labour, rural exodus started and simple illiterate families came in search of work and a better future. But the urban dream turned into a nightmare and with the total absence of any regulation and above all any housing policy, slums mushroomed helter- skelter and families found themselves living in dark hovels. Radha's family is still small, sometimes over 10 people live in such places. I remember one case where the father was so tall that he either had to sleep at an angle or keep the door opened for his feet to stick out.
Life is a matter of survival in urban slums. In many cases people are daily wagers and the meal depends on what is brought home each day! It comes to a stage when people stop thinking beyond the day and live life one day at a time. But traditions, mores and atavistic instincts remain. Maybe they become a sort of lifeline in a world too strange to fathom. The yearning for boys is kept alive in spite of the fact that it has lost its meaning, the obsessive need to keep every ritual remains. I was horrified at the money spent for all the death rituals of an old woman who past away recently. The family, simple scooter drivers, fed almost 1000 people for 3 days. On the other hand the poor lady who died was never looked after. I shudder to think at the amount of money that is now owed to the loan shark.
So coming back to the questions asked by my friend and particularly the last one: is there some way you have found to communicate that there is no difference between a girl and a boy? The answer is sadly no, in spite of screaming one's self hoarse and standing on our heads. There are more than 50 posts on this blog about the girl child and her plight some chilling beyond words. Every day the government announces new programmes for the girl child but rarely do they reach deserving beneficiaries because of complex paperwork, and often do not address the real problem as they are often looked at as simple monetary sops.
If we truly want to find viable solutions in my opinion one needs to be addressed are core issues. One of the main reasons girls are unwanted are that they need to be married and that marriage is a huge money drainer. Boys on the other hand bring money, cars, scooters, fridge, houses etc. Politicians, religious leaders and we the so called educated class should be the ones to set the right example. But sadly the now (ill)famed big fat Indian wedding is turning obese! And what is even more tragic is that in today's India brides are being killed or forced to commit suicide because they have not brought enough dowry. This happened less than a month ago to young Astha whose parents had given a Mercedes car as part of her dowry. Till weddings mean money girls will not be wanted and boys welcomed.
This of course explains the different ways in which boys and girls are treated in families: education, food, pampering et al!
The other factor that I feel is never talked about let alone highlighted and is the cause of much pain in the lives of women is the fact that the woman is not responsible for the sex of the child. The X Y chromosome story is one that is never told. One cannot begin to imagine the number of women even rich ones who are derided and scorned for not producing that prodigal son. This is even true in rich and educated families. A simple campaign highlighting this could make a world of difference. We are all aware of the hue and cry raised by the so called conservationists and upholders of moral values when sex education was introduced in India. Not only is this essential is a country where AIDS figures are becoming alarming, but could be a way of also explaining how a child sex is determined and who is responsible for it.
There are solutions, but where is the political and social will to seek them, let alone implement them.
A deafening why no one is willing to hear!