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Happy Birthday! Oh, But Not If You’re A Girl

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Birth is a very important and happy event for all communities. Every society celebrates the birth of a newborn baby in their own way as per their culture, value and norms. The same way in Haryana, the birth of a newborn baby is celebrated with folk songs, folk dances and customs.

It is a big celebration for every family, no matter the caste and class. However, there are some differences based on the sex of the newborn baby. This bias starts from when women conceive and most of the family starts wishing for a baby boy. The family expects that the pregnant woman is going to provide a ‘varis’ (hier) to the family. We can see blatant gender biases in the customs related to birth. Here are some below:

Thaali Bajana

According to a custom in Haryana, when a boy baby takes birth in the family, a local Dai or woman of the family start ‘Thali Bajana’ (beating a plate). After that, the family distribute sweets in the community with the great happiness. During a training with Anganwadi workers, I asked them the logic behind this tradition and they replied by saying that it is a good way to declare and show happiness to everyone in the community.

But when a girl child born no one performs this tradition. Most don’t even want to share the news that a female baby is born.

Bheli Bhejana

Upon the birth of a baby boy, the in-laws make a customary visit to the home of the parents of their lactating daughter-in-law to inform the latter that they have become maternal grandparents (nana-nani). This tradition is known as a ‘Bheli-bhejana’ in Haryana. No such ritual happens in case of a girl child.

Dudh Dhuwahi

As per this custom, the sister-in-law of the lactating mother comes and does the customary washing of the breast of the lactating mother subsequent to which, the mother can start breastfeeding her child.

The sister-in-law then gets an expensive gift viz. gold, a television set, refrigerator etc.  However, owing to increasing awareness, people start breastfeeding their child as early as possible. But the custom continues. In case, it is a female child, then it becomes a bit difficult for the sister-in-law to come and visit.

Chhatti Manana

The sixth day of the birth of a baby boy is celebrated. This day is called ‘Chatti’. On this day, the family members invite the community and distribute ‘mithe chawal’ (sweet rice).  They also sing folk songs all night and they believe that on that night ‘Bhagay ki Devi’ (goddess of fate) will come and write the destiny of boy.

Chhatti’ also celebrated in an event of the birth of case of a girl child but there are some differences. During the ‘Chhatti’ of the girl child, the family members don’t sing folk songs and neither do they invite their community.

Piliya

On the birth of a baby boy, the family of the lactating mother visit her marital home with sweets, toys, jewellery, clothes of boy baby and family.  This tradition, in Haryana,  is known as ‘Piliya’.  The family of the lactating mother takes a loan for this if they are economical not so privileged.  In case of the birth of a girl child, the maternal grandparents get less number of clothes and sweets. According to the community, only two pieces of clothes should be given to the newborn girl because the belief is that if they give more,  then more girls will take birth in the family.

Deswa

Deswa involves celebrating the 10th day of the birth of the male child. On this day, all the relatives,    members of the community come together for a big celebration with lots of food, sweets, wine and music.  Women dance to folk songs.  However, nobody celebrates daswa after the birth of girl child.

‘Kua Pujan’

‘Kua Pujan’, is a custom that is performed to welcome the birth of a male child by worshipping the well or a place from where they source drinking water from. During my interaction with Aganwadi workers, a  very odd custom came to light. In case of the birth of a girl child, people deposit trash on dustbins instead of ‘Kua Pujan’. It is a strong myth in the community that if they celebrate the birth of a girl child then more girls will be born.  That is why people don’t celebrate it. In addition, a lactating mother gets  45-days rest and intensive care on the birth of a male child but in case of a girl, she gets only 15-20 days rest.

We live in times where information and technology are bringing about immense changes in our lives. However, our mindsets towards girls and women have not changed as yet. There is a strong need to change our customs and traditions that are highly biased towards girl children. Birth celebrations should be equally important for children of both sexes.

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