I remember clearly when our biology teacher, a religious Catholic woman, taught us that if anyone is responsible for determining the sex of a child “biologically” (although, no one consciously gets to decide), it is men as they have both X and Y chromosomes while women have only XX in their cells. So when mitosis or primary cell division takes place, the sperm cell (male) decides whether X or Y chromosome will be released to pair with the X chromosome of the egg cell (female). Yet for centuries, Indian women have carried the burden of ensuring the birth of a male child and born the brunt of traditional blame for begetting children of the wrong gender. Women are mistreated, sent back to their parents’ home, suffer ill health due to consecutive forced abortions while men re-marry or practice polygamy (more acceptable a few decades ago) for the want of a ‘male child’.
One of my friends who visited a famous temple in South India with her husband after her marriage, was eagerly blessed by the priest saying ‘hope you have a male boy’(sic) emphasizing doubly on the masculinity of the unborn child to leave no room for confusion (can there not be be a ‘female boy’ or a ‘male girl’?!, much less a female girl -the horror). When female foeticide became punishable by law, there were different practices of infanticide practiced in different regions of India – directly by poisoning female infants with juice from the madar plant or indirectly causing their deaths by starving them or leaving them unclothed in winter under the a running fan so that they wail themselves to death. To counter this practice in Tamil Nadu, the state’s Chief Minister, Jayalalitha (a fierce female leader, fondly known as Amma or mother) initiated the ‘cradle scheme’ where crèches were started in towns and cities where people could anonymously leave their newborn female children, thus saving their dignity in disowning of their daughters (it is ironic that recently, the same state elected a woman as their leader for the second consecutive time).
All this is done in the name of having or preferring a male heir (instead of wasting resources on the unworthy female child) whose principle duty (the logic given by the more traditioi inal people) is that he will light the funeral pyre of his parents thus getting them a short cut to heaven. It is disturbing that one’s route to heaven is strewn with dead bodies and wails of numerous infants. Some find it hard to believe that a mother could murder her child, or allow others to let her child die. They make the mistake of assuming more agency of the woman that she possesses, because she is collectively coerced by a giant patriarchal structure comprising of the mother-in-law (who went through similar oppression herself once, and having bought into the patriarchal bargain thinks such an expectation is justified), father-in-law, the husband, other relatives and at large the society which sadly sighs while offering sympathies to hear of the birth of a girl. It is also pertinent to ask what kind of fatherhood okays such execution of female children.
There was a recent report in the news about a ‘techie’ who demanded divorce from his wife after the birth of a female child and saw no problem in sending his wife back to her home after she bore a female child – as if she was a product he ordered on Amazon. The incident comes in the wake of a judgment from the Supreme Court of India that asks for daughters-in-law have to be treated like family members and not servants (although the wording is problematic because it implies that it is okay to mistreat ‘maid servants’ or domestic helps). What surprises me most is that this is not really ‘news’ because this practice is far more common in India than we like to admit and it is not limited to the rural ‘illiterate masses’, rather sometimes more prevalent in educated, affluent urban circles (the number of female foetuses aborted in South Mumbai – the most posh region of India- were higher than rural ‘uneducated regions’).
The so called ‘techie’ who probably did study basic biology and the rational, hard sciences still manages to fall prey to such irrational misogyny (of course education does not translate into enlightenment). What is worse that this happened outside the structure of an arranged marriage, where the woman had consciously chosen to marry this guy. It is not uncommon for men to mistreat women who have left their families for marrying someone out of love because they are aware that the woman often does not have the same support system of her natal family to fall back upon. How about selfies with unborn daughters or disowned wives and daughters for an actual #betibachao movement?
It is about time we as a society, stop glorifying or encouraging men who left their families to achieve greatness whether spiritually or materially. Whether it is our PM who disowned his wife immediately after marriage for pursuing a greater political goal in life, while she had to accept a life of imposed choices. Could a woman imagine leaving her husband and family and going off in the search of the eternal truth like Buddha who left behind his wife and son without saying a word? If a woman choses to quit her marital life to begin a political career – often she has to adorn the garb of a ‘spiritual leader’ like the plenty of Sadhvis (female Hindu ascetics) active in the political scene in India or has to do it while proving she is a good wife and a good mother- while no such demands are made on men. At the same time, it is not men who are responsible but a larger social structure which creates an expectation out of a man to humiliate his wife by ‘sending her back’ if she fails to bear a male child, or upsets the marital home in any way. One is reminded of following conversation from the short story ‘Stench of Kerosene’ by Amrita Pritam, where the male protagonist Manak, is forced by his mother to enter into a second marriage and send his beloved wife Guleri back to her natal home because she failed to bear him a child:
“Why do you croak like an old woman”, asked his mother severely. “Be a man”.
Manak wanted to retort, “You are a woman; why don’t you cry like one for a change!” But he remained silent
This is a structural problem that silences men and women equally.
But I’m only stating the obvious, back to clicking selfies.
Photo Credit- Francois Decaillet (Flickr)