By Tanima Banerjee:
“India Shining”: isn’t that what the governing bodies and diplomats are fancifully calling the country’s progress to modernization in the present decade? Ironic that in the face of such economic progression, the mindset of many Indians have actually denigrated further than it ever was. At a time when education has reached larger masses than before, attempting to inculcate right values and questioning of accepted norms and stereotypes, yet the message hasn’t reached across everybody. Stories of gender discrimination and exploitation in the vilest forms still fill up numerous columns of our newspaper. And they are reflective of a dark, grim reality of our society.
Very recently channels and newspapers were flooded with the story of Baby Falak, a battered 2 year old baby who was admitted to the AIIMS hospital, with human bite marks all over her body, broken arms and a partially smashed head. All these injuries are speculated to be inflicted upon her by the anti-social people in whose hands she has been passing through since her birth. Though this little baby succumbed to her injuries, it opens up the much-debated issue of gender discrimination by mirroring the neglect, torture and biasing that a girl-child faces.
Another case of a 3 month old baby, namely Neha Afreen was found brutally injured in Bangalore on the 10th April, with teeth bite marks on her neck, and suffering an internal brain haemorrhage. She was allegedly battered by her father, Umar Farooq, 37, accused of trying to kill her thrice, all because he wanted a son. More recently, a total of 14 female babies were dumped in public places in Bangalore. It reveals the monstrosity of those who do not care to value their own children, and fail to see beyond the lines of gender. The heinous and cruel treatment afflicted to innocent children, with no mistake of theirs to be born to people with such a negative thinking and attitude towards women, is not only a crime against these children, but a crime against humanity, against nature.
Gender has always been a problematic issue in our patriarchal, misogynist society, where gender roles are pre-determined and accepted unquestionably by all as the normative. When a baby is born in a household, be it villages or cities, the question of whether it is a boy or a girl precedes over everything else. It becomes a huge issue, and most annoyingly, puts a lot of pressure on the parents, many of whom conduct illegal gender determination tests to find out whether they would have a cause to celebrate ( boy-child) or a reason to feel wronged by God( girl-child). The entire social structure is based on the purview of viewing the boy as the upholder and the heir to the family, who would probably marry bringing in a lot of dowry to the family, and the girl whose “burden” the father has to bear till she is married off with large sums of money. It doesn’t see girls capable enough of achieving anything, whose education would mean nothing, who would ultimately be married, and who would not be carrying forward the family name.
Such notions, ridiculous and narrow, if one may call it, are actually the germs behind the numerous incidents of female feticide, female infanticide, domestic violence, rapes, murders of women, sexual abuse and exploitation. India has one of the highest female infant mortality rates in the world. Unchecked illegal sex selection abortions have led to a skewed sex ratio – 112 boys are born for every 100 girls in India, against the natural sex ratio at birth of 105 boys for every 100 girls. Women are merely seen as sexual objects, to be eternally servile to the men, and expected to silently accept every kind of treatment that suits the men. Because women have to bear all kinds of suffering, brutality and injustice, the birth of a girl-child is seen as a bad omen. Even if they are not killed while still in the womb of their mother, the life which is granted to them is worse than the experience of death.
The story of Baby Falak and Afreen are few of the cases which could come out in the media, and bring across the seeped in gender prejudices of the people. These incidents suggest that the attempts to promote gender equality through awareness and education have yet to cover long miles. There is an urgent need to bring a change in the thinking and understanding of the people. ‘Save girl child’ and ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ are baby steps towards the elaborate process of bringing about a change in the way a girl child is perceived. There is a need for rigid laws to persecute the practitioners of such terrible inhuman acts.
But that is not all. What one needs to address here are some basic question. Why in a country, which is developing, where more than 50% people are getting access to education and media, does gender bias exists? In an age where one sees women reaching the skies, entering into every kind of profession, competing with men on an equal platform ( if that is granted to them) , why does another side exist, wherein women are not even granted life, let alone freedom ? Why after centuries of exploitation, women are still enduring the torment, and allowing themselves to be available at the disposal of men? Why did Afreen’s mother continue living with a man who has attempted three times to violently murder their baby daughter? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves and the society we inhabit. The solution is right in front of us. But to traverse the road towards that solution is difficult, long, challenging. We need to face this challenge in every possible way we can, and deal with the darkest side of ‘India Shining’.