Don't let me be born a girl in my next birth
-'Padh likh kar kya karoge? Tum paraya dhan ho-' (What is the use of educating you? Your future belongs to someone else) is a statement you will come...
Patna (Bihar) : "Padh likh kar kya karoge? Tum paraya dhan ho" (What is the use of educating you? Your future belongs to someone else) is a statement you will come across in every second home in rural India. This statement is very often used by parents in reference to their daughter.
A 21 year girl living in Patna, the capital city of Bihar, is one of those many girls whose lives have been formed simply on the basis of this sentence. She recounts her story on the condition of anonymity.
Recalling memories of her childhood with tears welling up in her eyes, she narrates her story saying, "What is childhood? Childhood is something I have never experienced. My only experience of childhood has been through the books and novels that I have read. My life did not give me enough time to understand the true meaning of childhood. We are three sisters and one brother. My brother is the eldest. From the age of six, I have been helping my mother in household chores. I used to do all the work happily because my mother told me that this is a girl's work and after me, even my sisters would have to do the same. This always calmed me and was enough to make me continue helping her in the house".
She continues her story by saying, "From a young age, I have been very busy in my life".
She stops for a while and then laughs and says, "Our country is extremely strange - the legal marriageable age has been fixed at 18, however, there is no law stating at which age household responsibilities should be undertaken by girls. If a law such as this was formulated, then girls like us would have had it easy. As a result of this law not being there, girls are not able to enjoy their childhood and not even able to focus on studies. Ever since I was eight, every time I came back home, the only free time I ever got was to eat lunch, the rest of the time I was involved in the kitchen and house work. After school, the only time I could look at my books again would be very late at night. At night, everyone in the family would enjoy TV except us sisters. The next morning, the same cycle would start. I would wake up early every morning to complete household chores and my brother would wake up early to go for a run."
"I would make the breakfast and lunch in the morning and meanwhile my brother would watch TV and after coming home from school I would have to go to the kitchen to get my food while my mother waited for my brother in his room with his food. After lunch, I would go to the kitchen to work and he would go for coaching. He would get an evening snack while I would be given the dirty utensils to wash. He would start studying at sunset and I would have to wait for the night to come to be able to study. Every night, my brother would watch cricket on TV and I was only allowed to watch TV on Sunday's."
"My mother would give him almonds every morning and I never even got the rind of it. After dinner, my mother would often give my brother a glass of milk, which I was never fortunate to receive. She would tell us that our brother requires it more than us because he's going to become an engineer. He ultimately never became an engineer but that's a separate matter."
"What I wanted to become was something that only my father knew, however he never gave me the opportunity to become that. He often said, 'You all will grow up and go to your in-laws house and your only brother will be the support in our old age. Anyway, a sister always does this for her brother and hence you will continue doing this because you are a girl."
"I don't know how this sentence has been associated with girls or rather should I say that as a girl is born, this sentence automatically gets associated with the girl. The troubles of being born as a girl are expressed by the family first and the society later reiterates this. However, if I ever give birth to a daughter, I will not give her a reason to hate herself only because she is a girl but raise her with pride."
In Bihar's Chapra district, 24-year-old Munni is also among those girls who had to face immense difficulties in her life, simply because she was born as a girl.
She says, "I am from an extremely simple family where I did not get an opportunity to study simply because from the age of 10, my parents sent me to people's houses to work. Both, my sister and I worked, took care of our five younger brothers and helped my father run the house."
"My mother had told me that a girl's wedding requires a lot of money and that is why we should work and collect money so that when the time comes, we have enough money to get married. I never realised when I grew up and when I ended up getting married. When my elder sister got married, within six months her husband left her because she wasn't beautiful enough."
"I have been married for the last five years and I am the mother of two sons. From the very first day in my in-law's house, I was told that the daughter-in-law's always ate last. They continuously reminded me to give birth to a son; giving birth to a daughter would make them send me back to my parents' home."
"When I was pregnant, I was extremely scared to give birth to a girl. It was God's grace that even my second child was a boy and because of this, I have earned the little amount of respect that I have in my home. However, I still do not get a proper meal that will fill my stomach completely."
"Sometimes, when I go back to my parents' home for a while, I work in a few houses to collect some money so that for a while after that I can eat properly. Sometimes to get a proper treatment, I work and collect some money and this is how I have been living my life. How long I will be able to live like this I don't know and sometimes I wish that I was born a boy. Being born a boy I would have been free of a lot of trouble and responsibility that being a girl is making me go through."
"All through my life, I have been made to believe that being born a girl is like a bad deed that I have committed. I am thankful to God for not giving me a daughter because years later, she too would have to suffer the same way that I am suffering."
According to Vinita Sahay, an experienced gynaecologist, "In the last 30 years, I have come across many families who bring their wife or daughter-in law for check-ups, who often, without even knowing, refer to the unborn child as a boy and say, 'Is my son/ grandson alright?'."
"Quite often I ask the parents how they know that the unborn child is a boy. They answer by saying, 'Madam please don't say this, we have prayed a lot and we are absolutely sure that the child being born is a boy.' Therefore, when a girl is born, she faces the discrimination that was practiced even before she was born. It's even more shocking to see when rich and well educated people act like this."
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 and its targets refer to gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by the end of 2030.
5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including tracking and sexual and other types of exploitation
5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
The future of girls born in rural India will certainly improve with the efforts and steps being taken by the Government and with the behavioural change being brought about among these families.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Nikhat Perween of Charkha Development Communication Network.