My C-section was scheduled. Just two days left, and my fate was sealed as I was on the verge of being a mother for the first time. Then it happened.
Pratibha Bhabhi (name altered), one of my elder sister-in-laws came to meet me to offer her blessings, “Pray God, to have a baby boy Debajani” she said with a grave face, “as mother of baby girls have no stature in this society. I had to abort fetus twice as came to know they were girls, I was forced to and I hate myself for this sin. Hope you have better chances”. I could not believe my ears. Was this for real? Was it happening to me; an engineering graduate, a senior software professional who had travelled across half of the world by that time?
Many years down the memory lane. May be I was ten years old or just nine. It was a small town, may be Cuttack or may be some other place in Odisha, where I had spent first few years of my life.
“What’s that Maa?” I asked my mother pointing to a well-decorated Chawra while passing by.
“That’s the well-known Sati Chawra” my mother replied grimly.
“What is Sati, Maa?” was my next question to which she didn’t reply.
Years later I found a Sati Ghat in West Bengal and heard how the Yug Purush Raja Ram Mohan Rai put an end to this evil practice. And then finally in year 2000 I found another form of it, during my visit to Rajasthan for the first time.
It was JAUHAR, preference of death over dishonor by Rajput royal women in the middle era. In war while facing defeat from people of a different religion the royal women used to practice Jauhar or self-immolation to avoid capture, enslavement and rape at the hands of invaders. In the palaces of the kings there was a special room for Jauhar that is known as “Jauhar Kund”. The women before jumping over to the fire would come bedecked in their jewels, fineries of bridal costume and leave their vermilion stained handprint on wet clay on the wall surrounded by the Jauhar Kund for prosperity. The women would not scream or cry as the flames ensnare them consuming their bodies alive.
The Sati handprints that I saw in certain forts of Rajasthan had brought tears to my eyes. Inside my mind I visualized thousands of them burnt alive before me one by one as the guide narrated devastating stories of self-immolation in that era. By the time we finished listening to him I was crying quite openly. Even though my mother reasoned to me that this had happened at a different time, a different context, different social order, different everything, it didn’t change the fact that the women were human beings and were burnt alive. I was quite shaken and it took me a long time may be days, weeks or months to compose myself. I had not felt such intense pain when I saw a statue of Rani Laxmi Bai in U.P., I felt proud of her as she didn’t end her life so helplessly like those ill-fated royal women inside that fort.
With Sati, Jauhar another variance of it was condemned by Raja Ram Mohan Rai as he with the help of the British formulated laws to curb these evil practices for ever. But did the pain end there?
With time and advance of science this practice of “Death over Dishonor” came to us with a new face, a new Avtar i.e. “Gender detection and female feticide”.
Sacrificing female lives in the name of dishonor shifted from the “Jauhar Kund” to radiologist’s “Ultrasound Chamber” followed by abortion by a gynecologist.
Parents who abhor giving birth to girls illegally bribe radiologists and get rid of their troubles forever. Surprisingly these are the people who are well-educated, financially well-off and belong to the elite section of the society.
Since adolescence it had remained a mystery for me to know what’s going on behind the mind of a mother who prefers to get rid of her unborn daughter so mercilessly.
“Never wish an aspiring mother to have a baby girl. ‘Putravati Bhaba’ is the correct form of blessing in society” a relative chastised me when I was a child.
“I do not wish to give birth to a girl Debs, I do not wish her to face similar treatment that I had to face from my in-laws and husband” A female senior software professional as well as a colleague of mine told me some 15 years back in England.
“I do not hate baby girls, but do not wish a daughter for myself as I can’t see her in pain. A daughter has to go to someone else’s family and I would have no authority on situations” I heard this from a senior civil servant many years back.
“Girls are burdens to their parents. We have to save for their dowry from the day they are born and send them to a different family. They can’t help the parents financially or at the time of need, without the approval of their husbands. In fact as per the scriptures we can’t even drink water at our daughter’s place” Another elderly relative told me once.
Now let’s see the impact of such thoughts on our society. The following table presents the child sex ratio data for India’s states and union territories, according to 2011 Census of India for population count in the 0-1 age group
|State / UT||Boys (0-1 age)
|Girls (0-1 age)
|JAMMU & KASHMIR||154,761||120,551||128.4|
|DAMAN & DIU||1,675||1,508||111.1|
|DADRA & NAGAR HAVELI||3,181||3,013||105.6|
|ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS||2,727||2,651||102.9|
2011 Census sex ratio map for the states and Union Territories of India, boys per 100 girls in 0 to 1 age group.
Please note that the states that have the best male female sex ratio such as Mizoram, Puducherry, Kerala etc are the ones where women are hardworking and strong bread earners. They do not need the assistance of NGOs to save themselves from dowry, domestic violence or abuse. They are self-sufficient to handle their pain on their own.
Sex detection that is currently an illegal Rs 1,000 crore (US$ 244 million) industry in India is not illegal in USA market where 40% Of US households have women as sole bread earners. While many even in a country as USA are not very positively receptive of working mothers and claim “such women find it difficult to raise children”, I strongly feel a woman should secure her life first before thinking about others. With facilities like crèche at workplace, long maternity leave as well as benefits women can fulfill both their responsibilities with ease. Time has come when we inspire our girls not only to complete their education but to stand on their own two feet i.e. be financially independent and act as a provider before thinking of the commitment of marriage.
The “Jauhar Kund”, be it inside the walls of Chittor fort or within the ultrasound cabin of a radiologist, let it remain an evil practice of the past.
Author: Debajani Mohanty
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