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Why this gender bias towards womankind?

Not only the poor, even the middle classes and the rich in India are biased against the girl child and women. Foeticide cases are commonplace. 

17 August 2004

When Radhika (name changed), a 25-year old, delivered a bonny girl baby last month, no one from her husband Rajesh's (name changed) family went to see her or the new-born. Not even Rajesh. The reason: They didn't want a girl child. No, this didn't happen in one of our rural places or remote villages. This has happened very much in Mumbai and that too in the heart of our city. 

Also, this didn't happen in a lower class family where such incidences tend to happen. The family was very much from the middle class. And Radhika was one of the earning members of the family. Then, why this aversion to girl child? 

Female foeticide, female infanticide, girl child being abandoned such instances are many. What's wrong with a girl child? In this era of gender equality, why this sexual discrimination? In an age when females have left no stones unturned in almost every field, there are people who still accord a lower status to women. 

Ask psychiatrist Rajeev Sharma why such treatment is meted out to girl children: "In some of our Indian societies, while a childless woman is perceived as incomplete, one who has given birth to daughters is partially complete. Only the one who has produced a son enjoys a status of sorts." 

The problem is intimately related to the institution of dowry. Says Jaideep Shah (name changed) who works as a senior assistant for a publication house and whose wife is expecting: "If it's a girl child, we will have to spend first on her education and then on her marriage and dowry... It doesn't stop there. We will also have to meet some of her expenses after marriage. How I wish I get a son!" 

The bias against females is also related to the fact that sons are looked at as a type of insurance. Says Senthil, a labourer at a housing construction site, who has a daughter and son: "When our son was born, we were very happy. After all, in the long run, he is the one who is going to provide us his income and take care of us in our old age." 

Even our religions have been prejudiced towards women. According to Manu (2000 BC-2000 AD), a woman has to be reborn as a man to attain moksha (redemption). A man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his pyre. A male offspring alone guarantees moksha. And he attains eternity through a grandson. Also, it says a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year of marriage. 

Such gender bias leads to incidences such as female foeticide and female infanticide. According to Malavika Karlekar, Editor, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, "Those women who undergo sex determination tests and abort on knowing that the foetus is female are actively taking a decision against equality and the right to life for girls. In many cases, of course, the women are not independent agents but merely victims of a dominant family ideology based on preference for male children." 

Says a doctor at a private nursing home who takes up sex-selective abortion cases: "There is nothing wrong in attending to the needs of families who want a boy baby. If it's not me, then someone else will be doing it. Let it happen. By this, the value of women will only go up and in the future, a girl child will be in demand everywhere." 

But this idea is no justification to what's happening at some places now. Shouldn't we reserve a place for females in our homes and hearts before we reserve a seat for them in Parliament? 

Coming back to Radhika's case, it seems somebody who went and saw the baby at Radhika's parents' home, informed Rajesh that the child was looking very sweet and resembled him! After this piece of information, he couldn't wait to see his child. But her in-laws are yet to go and meet them. 

If only I meet them some day, I'd like to try and make them understand that times have changed. If they are still adamant then I guess we can only pity them.




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