Recalling A Million ‘Deaths’ On National Girl Child Day
India – young girls increasingly ‘disappear’ in this country of great cultural integration and interconnectedness; more than 50 million girls go missing in an atmosphere marked by technological and scientific advancement; daughters are killed even before they are born, by the same people who otherwise worship them as goddesses on earth; while parents are forced to ‘abandon’ their own baby girls, as they happen to preach the ideal of Atithi Devo Bhava (Our guest is our god). Paradoxical, yet not fictional, it is a shameful development to acknowledge the deaths of numerous girls in India by their own families, in the name of ‘son preference’ and the resultant issue of Gendercide we’re faced with, despite initiatives of the Government to declare 24th January of every year as the National Girl Child Day in India.
It wasn’t long ago when a young baby girl was identified as ‘abandoned’ in the country, after her body was found dumped, and consequently chewed by stray dogs. Some of the newly –born are even left outside police stations, in railway toilets, orphanages or even wrapped and placed on a busy road, as a convenient manner for families to shed their responsibilities for giving birth to a girl. While few families, with the irrational expectation of a male child do not hesitate to illegally perform the selective sex determination and kill the embryo if identified to be a ‘she’, other couples heartlessly decide to erase ties of affection and relation, by declaring her as an orphan.
So how do we understand this phenomenon?
Not surprising, but one of the many Indian proverbs express the disdain for daughters more ‘colourfully’, in the following manner:
“Raising a daughter is like watering a shady tree in someone else’s courtyard.”
A culturally driven understanding believes in the hardships for raising a girl, who, in the Indian context is often relegated to the sphere of marriage, and more so, of dowry expectations attached with it. Interestingly, the cultural fabric makes it quite normative to generate prophecy, which amusingly becomes one of the prime reasons for not only female foeticide, but early school drop outs of girls and the early marriages of girls with older men, amongst others.
However, let us not forget to analyze what, in fact, constitutes culture. Culture ultimately develops in its relational process, specifically through interactions within social institutions and a specific context. It is only when certain interpretations of it, often propagated by ‘few’ individuals and groups, reign a hegemonic hold as ‘universal values’ to be upheld, relations of blood and sentiment are thwarted in the name of performance of culture, or in different terms, fearing to perform the custom of dowry presentation. With the absence of any standardized understanding of this cultural norm, young girls are met with a fate they have no authority to choose or raise their voice against.