The latest buzz across the country seems to be Bollywood star Amir Khan's latest talk show Satyamev Jayate. The first episode
titled daughters are precious took on the issue of female foeticide. I guess it was, as many have held, a safe bet. Female feticide is an issue that does move one and all, or so one would want to believe. At least the programme would get women on his side! I did not watch the show when it was aired but saw it on line. Though one got to know some startling facts the most shocking one being that female infanticide was started as a government scheme in the 1970s, during the population explosion in India, the show failed to move me. I for one do not get starry eyed in front of super stars! True we were treated to all the pathos imaginable: heart wrenching stories of women who had born the brunt of the terrible practice, even a woman who had been bitten repeatedly by her husband, startling statistics, bits and pieces of sting operations and needless to say the tears shed by both the audience and the anchor.
The entire show was, unfortunately aimed at bashing different sections of the population: the perpetrators be it the family or the medical practitioners, the indifferent or even collusive administration, the antagonistic judge and so on. Each story was accompanied by the required exclamations of surprise or horror. We were also introduced by satellite link to a bunch of almost middle age lads from a village in a state known for its skewed sex ratio who merrily informed us that they were bachelors for want of women to marry. The motley band seemed more kicked by being on a reality show then by the seriousness of the issue. But some interviews with local activists brought us back on course as they shared statistics, the practise of bride import and above all the terrible plight of these 'foreign' women that scarily resembled the plight of the young protagonist of Matrubhoomi
who is married to one but shared by all brothers in a terrifying reinterpretation of the Mahabharat. What is scary is that a film set in 2050 tells the story of what is happening today! It is a must watch!
The show did have its required effect if we are to believe the hundreds of thousands of SMSses. The pulse of the India audience was tickled pink as the show was high on emotional drama. And the aftermath was expected with Amir Khan being labelled the India Oprah (sic) and satyamev jayate a movement! A little OTT in my humble opinion. The show ended with a pledge to take up the issue of female foeticide in the state where a sting operation had been undertaken against doctors who are a party to sex determination. At the time of writing these words the Bollywood star had met the political one to set things right. I presume it means booking the medical perpetrators caught on camera.
But let me get back on track as this post is not meant to be an eulogy or attack of the new kid on the TV block. What prompted me to write this post was to share my take on the abhorrent practice of female foeticide and my humble suggestions. Bashing anyone will not stop female foeticide. Dredging facts and figures will again not get anyone to change mindsets. Appeals and projects to 'save the girl child' have and will remain unheard. Th bottom line is quite different and the question one has to ask one's self is why are girls unwanted. The answer is simple: they are a financial burden mostly because of exorbitant marriages. Reason gets clouded by the burden of costly nuptials. All else is forgotten. That they are potential wives, mothers strangely becomes secondary. And to make matter worse, by some absurd interpretation of scientific laws, sex determination gets reinterpreted to suit a patriarchal society and the woman is made to bear the unfair and unsubstantiated burden of being responsible for 'making' girls. A girl is unwanted in our land but there is also another side to this dark coin: the same girl, if she survives and gets married will be punished in all sorts of manner if she gives birth to a girl. In India across the social board it is believed that women determine the sex of the child. The show's anchor did make a en passant
remark on sex determination but it was lost in emotion.
So let us try and take it from the top. We in India a country where women are worshipped as Goddesses by one and all do not want to have daughters. Seems strange doesn't it? Yet we, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, dislike daughters so much that we are prepared to kill them in the womb, throw them in drains and rubbish bins, leave them in hospitals or dump them in the cradle of orphanages, and even kill them
. We punish there mothers in every way imaginable from subtle taunts to murder. If we do decide to raise them, we give them minimum care: less food then their brothers, less medical care, cheaper of no education. From the time a girl child is born she is labelled paraya dhan
So it all points out to two issues: the marriage expenses and the sex determination. One is social, the other scientific. And the need of the moment is to address the two in an empowering manner. True that many want a boy in a patriarchal society boys are preferred and there is always the matter of carrying on the name etc. Quite frankly it works with kings and nobles but how important it is in a family that can barely survive is a matter of opinion. But the sense of false pride remains and is evident in the way the birth of a son is celebrated in the poorest of homes. The girl on the other hand is often welcome by wails and long faces.
To set things right it is important to try and free the woman from the weighty and unfair burden of being held responsible for the sex of the child. The XY chromosome story needs to be told. It needs to be told to one and all in wide ranging campaigns on the scale of family planning ones and polio eradication ones. I personally feel that it should be told in a way that empowers men. Wow how great you guys are, you have the power to decide the sex of the child. You must take ownership of this scientific reality, this gift God has given you, what incredible power. You get the picture. What I am trying to say that one must package the message the right way. I am sure that it will change some mindsets and at least free women from unjust and cruel abuse and maybe even give daughter a better deal.
But we still need to address the dowry issue as it all boils down to money. We all knows that laws have failed and even if some have been punished the practise of dowry is alive and kicking. True people have the right to spend their money on weddings and nuptials but the problem occurs when you are made to spend money you do not have. The problem arises when boys are commodities the girls' families have to pay for in cash and kind, where it becomes of matter of honour, negotiations and brokering. Many will say it is an infernal spiral you take for your son and pay for your daughter. All this is nothing short of repulsive but so ingrained in social mores that changing the equation will take time and patience.
Today, dowry have lost their relevance. Girls are educated and have equal inheritance rights. They are assets to the family they marry in and should be considered as such. What shocks me is that the young and educated are party to this inane custom. They should be the ones to herald change by putting their foot down and insist on simple weddings. But marriages have become showtime. It is OK for those who have the required resources but for others it is a millstone around their neck. It is time religious preachers who appear on TV channels and have and blind followers take up such issues instead of preaching superstitious rubbish. It almost makes me want to don saffron robes! These are people who have the power to bring about change and yet they do not. They are busy perpetrating customs that enrich them by robbing the vulnerable.
Project Y (excuse the pun) has to be launched. I wish I had the resources, the contacts and the capability of doing it. Women have suffered too long, it is time they got their rightful place in society.