How about considering the girl child’s human potential? Her right to life?

Of Kanakabhishekams and beti-bachao schemes The curse on the Indian girl childImage: Pixabay
Voices Opinion Monday, May 23, 2016 - 17:08

Recently, Vipin, a techie from Bengaluru, decided to file for divorce from his wife, Sindhu. Apparently, he was enraged that Sindhu had delivered a baby girl and his grandmother was going to miss out on her Kanakabhishekam. I will save you the trouble of Googling for Kanakabhishekam – it’s a ceremony that’s performed by the great grandson for his great grandparents when there are four generations of first born sons in the family. Sindhu, by giving birth to a girl, had spoilt the grand plans that Vipin and his folks had made.

A note for the trolls: I’m sure you’ll tell me that there’s a ‘logical’ explanation for Kanakabhishekam in the vedas or elsewhere. It is ‘scientific’. And then you’ll ask me why I’m not talking about gender discrimination in other religions. So let me just say this and get it out of the way– almost every religion in the world has misogynistic practices. It is wrong whether it happens in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism or a yet to be invented religion that revolves around the worship of almond cookies. We’re talking about Kanakabhishekam specifically because that’s the reason that Vipin (who also seems to have slept through all his biology classes in school) cited for the divorce according to news reports.

When instances like this are not just commonplace but also justified and sentimentalized through traditions and rituals, it’s not surprising that the beti in India has acquired the status of an endangered animal. We put up placards to save her but other than keeping the beti in a cage or a ‘protected’ space, we’re simply not willing to create an environment where she can thrive on her own without anyone having to don their Superman cape. We continue to position the daughter as a victim who must be saved and which rational person wants a responsibility like that for the rest of their lives?

The falling child sex ratio is a cause of concern for the government and society at large. But the language of the programs and policies that are put in place to combat female feticide and infanticide is so fraught with patriarchal ideas that it is unlikely to change the fundamental view that girls are less valuable than boys.

For example, in 2011, Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, launched a revised ‘marriage assistance’ scheme for women in which 4 grams of gold will be given for free when they get married along with a certain amount of money. The money given is higher if the woman has an undergraduate degree or holds a diploma. Now this might sound progressive – it might encourage families to allow their daughters to study further but how can this be a long-term solution when it does not question the basic assumption that a daughter’s ultimate destiny is her marriage? It only links back to concerns and insecurities that families have about ‘investing’ in a child who will not give them any ‘returns’. It also supports the regressive social norm that the girl’s family has to pay the wedding expenses.

Take the Sukanya Samriddhi scheme that’s exclusively for the girl child. It allows you to close the account only when the girl is 21 years of age. Premature closure of the account can be done only if the girl has completed 18 years of age or if she’s getting married. Marriage is so inextricably linked to the girl child’s existence that it has to figure in the conditions for every scheme that the government makes for its female citizens. It’s true that the pressure of dowry and wedding expenses are big factors in the discrimination against the girl child and the government machinery needs to be practical about this. But if we keep looking at the girl child as a future bride and baby producing machine, nothing much is going to change.

Speaking at the launch of the ‘Beti Bachao-Beti Padao’ program in Panipat in 2015, Prime Minister Modi said, “Have we ever imagined that if present gender imbalance continued, then what would be the repercussion? For every 1,000 boys, 1,000 girls should be born. See Mahendergarh and Jhajjar districts where there are just about 775 girls for 1,000 boys and so about 225 boys would remain unmarried. If daughters are not born, where will you get your daughters-in-law from? We want educated daughters-in-law, but think so many times before educating our daughters. Educating our daughters is also our responsibility.”

We must not ‘save’ the girl child because the math does not add up and hundreds of boys will remain bachelors in future. I certainly did not give birth to my daughter so a boy somewhere in the country can have a happy married life in future. And as for those who don’t want daughters in the first place, how can someone else’s future happiness become an incentive for them to ‘suffer’ through the tragedy of bringing up a daughter and then ‘giving’ her away for an enormous price? Taking a selfie with the daughter isn’t going to help.

How about considering the girl child’s human potential? Her right to life? One may argue that all this won’t make much sense to ‘villagers’ but that’s turning a blind eye to the statistics that we have. The fact that female feticide/infanticide or other forms of gender-based violence isn’t restricted to the illiterate or to the rural or to the poor. It is everywhere. Among the educated, the socially mobile, the technologically aware. And it will not go away if we don’t question the long-standing view that a woman is worthy only if she’s someone’s wife or mother. We will only see many more Vipins in future if we don’t begin valuing girls for their productiveness and not just their reproductive functions. 

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