In the current era, when India is running awareness campaigns like “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao“, the desire for sons remains strong among Indian parents. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) has dropped continuously since Census 2011, coming down from 909 girls per thousand boys in 2011-2013 to 896 girls in 2015-2017, says the latest SRS Statistical Report. This data suggests that girl children are still unwanted by the majority of Indians.
I am almost five months pregnant, so the most frequently asked questions are, “Is that a boy or a girl?” and “Do you want a baby boy or baby girl?” These questions are really disappointing and sometimes even depressing. Why do people fail to understand that it’s not in my hands to produce a child with the gender of my choice? And how can it matter to a mother if it is a boy or a girl? Why is it necessary to know the sex of the child?
I am just surprised at how rarely anyone asks a question related to how my pregnancy is going, whether the baby is healthy and hearty, or how I feel being a new mother. Almost 95% of the time, people tend to ask gender-related questions only. And these questions infuriate me. Is it really anyone’s business to know about the sex of my child? Even when I was just 12 weeks pregnant—when the sex of the child is still not known, people wanted to know whether my child had a penis or vagina. I wonder why people don’t ask questions like “How is your pregnancy going?”, “What are your plans with your baby?”, etc. Rather, it is being suggested to me with trickery that I should deliver a baby boy.
Someone from my family suggested that I should keep Bal Krishna’s picture with me and see it every morning so that the baby I am expecting would be just like him. Someone else, quite close to me, suggested that I visit some Ashram to seek the Swami Ji’s blessings so that I am bestowed with a beautiful baby boy. And this literally made me laugh as I did not find any logic in it. Another relative of mine said to me that she would get herself involved with my child only if it were a boy. She had the audacity to tell me that she would avoid coming if I gave birth to a baby girl!
Determining the sex of the child is a serious crime in India, and several laws have been made to ban it, but it seems to be completely ineffective nationally. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 banned the use of sex-selection techniques in India to prevent sex-selective abortions.
People have also started guessing the gender of my child by various symptoms that manifest in me, and every time they come up with a guess which suggests the potential birth of a baby boy. Here are some of their predictions which suggest the delivery of a boy:
“Your face is glowing these days; it seems like you will give birth to a boy.”
“If you feel the baby’s movement on the left side, then definitely it’s a boy.”
“The shape and size of your belly suggest a baby boy.”
“Some of your food cravings are indicating that it’s a baby boy.”
“Your mood swings suggest that it is a baby boy.”
“Even your fetal heart rate is indicating the delivery of a baby boy.”
I politely brush aside these statements, but sometimes I do feel really disgusted. It’s only me who is far more concerned about my pregnancy and the delivery process than the sex of my child. All I want is a healthy baby. These barrage of assumptions and predictions have got under my skin. Like a lot! Hardly anybody asks about mine and my baby’s health.
I also realise that this is not just my story but probably the story in almost every Indian household. A male child is always given preference, irrespective of the strata of society that the family belongs to; it does not matter whether they are educated or not, if they are wealthy or poor, if they are in their 30s or 60s. The story is the same everywhere!
So when I asked the people around me about their preference of baby boy over a baby girl, I got answers that made me desperate:
The traditional, patriarchal social fabric suggests that a son is the main breadwinner of the family. Everyone expects a boy to earn and take care of his parents in their old age, but the same is not expected of the girl. When we are in an age where most of the girls are financially independent and earning their own living, people still continue to say, even if the girl is working, how could her parents depend on her? What would her in-laws think?
So even if the girl wants to and is capable of helping her parents, she is discouraged by the so-called society.
Again, it is society’s belief that it is more expensive to bring up a girl child. The repulsive truth of dowry being still practiced in most parts of the country comes to mind. It is not only that you have to educate your girl and make her independent, but you also have to save up huge amounts for her big fat Indian wedding, and perhaps for other occasions in her life.
Girls are still considered an additional responsibility. No one realises that it is not the girl’s mistake, but the high incidence of rape and sexual assault in India that makes her appear more vulnerable. In many parts of the country, one always has to be on tenterhooks when a girl goes out alone.
This reason was mostly given by the elderly people in my family, a traditional belief that has been prevalent since ages. According to Hindu tradition, it is the boy who has the right to perform the last rites after the death of an individual. Of course, this is the inherent patriarchy which has given bestowed this responsibility on the son. This is still something which haunts the bulk of the people, even though girls are now coming forward to do the last rites of their parents. I was a bit consoled when the young educated individuals I spoke to didn’t put forward this reason. The patriarchal norm also always prefers a son over a daughter for centuries because the former bears and continues the family name—a matter of great prestige.
In these few months of pregnancy, I have learnt that schemes will be launched in plenty by the government for creating awareness in the society, but what really needs to happen is a change from within each one of us. At the grassroots, we need to come up with new thought processes and advocate changes for the betterment of society. It is only then that we would be able to fight against this deep-rooted gender bias. In this age and time, I don’t find any difference between the abilities of a boy and a girl, as I don’t think there are any milestones left that a girl child hasn’t been able to achieve.
So can anyone tell me what mistake is it of the girl, if she comes into this world? Why are all of you so afraid of giving birth to and nurturing a baby girl? In 2019, why do we still think that a girl child is a curse and a burden to bear? Why isn’t she welcomed in the same jubilant manner a baby boy would be?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I don’t believe in any of the patriarchal norms which deny a girl her rights and opportunities. So finally I can only say, embrace and welcome a baby girl just as you would a baby boy. Please don’t discriminate!