By Shambhavi Saxena:
“I hope it’s a boy. I just hope it’s a boy. No more girls, please. No more girls.” These haunting lines were delivered by Iman Ali in the 2007 film ‘Khuda Kay Liye’, praying for the health of her unborn child, but also reflects on the traumatic experience of womanhood she has had, and capturing the general attitude society has towards daughters.
Daughters, it would appear, require constant surveillance and disciplining, in strict adherence to rules of caste, class, propriety and respectability politics. With daughters, there is no equivalent of “boys will be boys” for a breach of conduct. In India, the preference given to boys over girls, from freedom of movement to education to work opportunities, is systemic. The economic and political worth of men, as breadwinners, heads of families, and the predominant demographic in executive and legislative bodies, simultaneously casts them in rigid roles, as well as dis-empowers women who are economic dependents or, as most people see them, deadweights. As far as generations upon generations of parents have been concerned, raising a daughter is laborious, impractical and offers no returns. Daughters get teased, harassed, raped, work in lower paying jobs, wear provocative clothing, and can drag the family name through the mud with their “loose” behaviour.
Now we can switch from active to passive voice and back all we want, but the fact of the matter is that we sit up worrying about our daughter’s lives when the sun goes down, or when their phone batteries run low, or when they’re unaccompanied because the world has always given us reason to do so. The very knowledge that a woman’s body moving through public space is quickly deemed public property by lecherous creeps of varying caliber is enough to make a parent wish for a son. Because apparently, it’s easier to have a son – for whom the patriarchy ensures multiple social safeguards – than remodel society to respect women, women’s bodies, and women’s choices. It’s easier having a child who more or less has it made when the doctor says, “ladka hua hai.”
Our daughters are receptacles of honour. Our daughters mean an illegal bride price we can’t even afford. Our tendency to discredit, devalue and dismiss the experiences of women goes hand in hand with our tendency to treat even the most deplorable acts by men with impunity. Our favourite films warn us: “akeli ladki khuli hui tijori ki tarah hoti hai.” Our rapists declare: “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night.” Our peers respond to our harassment by saying we don’t know how to set boundaries. Our daughters are a source of constant worry and trauma for us. So we want sons, instead. We want sons, because we can’t ensure our daughters’ rights to live safely and with dignity.