By Priyata Khushbu:
In the gender war, the girl has always been at the receiving end. She has to suffer pain, shame and ill treatment just because she is born as a ‘girl’. Even though she is bestowed with the power to procreate, her birth is not celebrated with happiness, but with gloom. As a goddess she may be Lakshmi, Kali, Saraswati and Durga but as a human she is an ‘unwanted girl’. This is the sad reality of our society.
Statistics show a continuing preference for boys in India. The gender imbalance has widened every decade since independence in 1947. According to the 2011 census, there were 914 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, compared with 927 for every 1,000 boys in the 2001 census. The preference for a male child has led to skewed male- female sex ratio in states like Maharashtra, which itself is one of the states with the worst sex ratio.
The desire for a male child had led to the origin of yet another humiliating practice of naming the girl child as ‘Nakusha’ or ‘Nakushi’ which means unwanted in Marathi. This practice suggests deep- rooted prejudice against girls, and was carried out with great faith and belief for many years. The explanation given was that naming a girl as ‘Nakusha’ or ‘Nakushi’ helped break the bad omen, and blessed the couple with a boy next time. If children are considered to be gifts from God then why should there be discrimination between a girl and a boy? Why should preference be given to one over the other?
But change has made way into the lives of these Nakushas, who have now been liberated from the ignominy of being called unwanted. The administration took a step in the right direction by organising a campaign against this traditional practice where all the girls named ‘Nakusha’ were renamed according to their choice. A new name, a new identity embraced the life of around 280 girls in the Satara District of Maharashtra.
The government imitated a step towards change by identifying the names of all the girls named as ‘Nakusha’ and later organised a naming ceremony. The function was organised by the Zilla Parishad (ZP) of the Western Maharashtra district that identified 280 girls named as ‘Nakusha’. The act of renaming is a small but a positive step that will go a long way in changing the mindset of the people and improving the sex ratio. Satara, where the ceremony took place, has one of the country’s lowest female populations, with 880 females to every 1,000 males. The girls were in the age group of one to twenty.
According to Varsha Deshpande, a local social activist working for women’s rights, parents resort to such derogatory treatment of girls because of their inability to access sex determination tests due to financial constrains. They therefore give vent to their anger and frustration caused by the birth of a girl by following this superstition. If the next born child is a boy then the veracity of the superstition is established. The age old practice of dowry is also responsible for the inhuman treatment of girls which compels parents to view them as burden.
The stigma attached to being referred to as unwanted cannot be overlooked. What has a child done to deserve such a name which is a constant reminder of the fact that the parents do not love her? Girls named ‘Nakusha’ have often complained of the sadness that grips their heart every time they hear somebody calling their name. The situation is worsened when their own friends tease them by calling them unwanted.
It was a life changing event for all the girls named ‘Nakusha’ when the administrators approached them with the invitation of choosing a name for themselves or being renamed. A 15 year-old chose the name Ashmita for herself. An elated 16 year old Nakushi More will now be called Sanchita. Nakushi Bhise who belongs to Naralwadi village in Patan taluka will now be called Poonam. Aishwarya, who was earlier named as Nakusha Rathod is in the seventh sky because she shares her name with her favourite actress and is also beautiful like her. These are some of the happy stories that have been possible because of this campaign of renaming girls.
Name is inextricably linked to an individual’s existence. This small act has made a big difference by transforming lives of all those girls who were earlier haunted by a name which made them feel unwanted. We have to go a long way in eliminating such gender discrimination and giving girls their due position and respect in the society.