Sneha was born three days before Vikram from the neighbouring house. Relatives and neighbours arrived with gifts, sweets were distributed.
But the cacophony started only three days later. There were dhols and people dancing to the dhols at the neighbouring house, more guests and more sweets. Things went back to the usual the next day.
Sneha was already luckier than 3.3 lakh girls who were never born that year.
Sneha and Vikram got enrolled in the same school when they were five. Sneha was dropped by her dad on his motorbike to the school. Vikram used to take a 10-minute walk with two of his friends.
After school, Sneha would come back home with her father for lunch. She would help her mom with lunch and go to her room once her father would leave for the shop.
That year, only 53% girls in India joined school, and Sneha was one of them.
Meanwhile, Vikram would not be home yet. After school, he’d usually go to the playground with a few of his classmates to play football. He’d go back home only after his ritualistic ice-cream. As soon as Vikram would reach home, he’d be asked to sit at the table with his dada and dadi for lunch that his mom would serve. After a chat at the table, he would go to his room for a nap.
Both Sneha and Vikram would meet in the evening with a group of friends and play in the park. Vikram would be called home by 9, Sneha by 7, except on day when her mother would be menstruating. On these days, Sneha would be asked to stay at home and help her dadi cook since her mom couldn’t enter the kitchen.
Sneha was 13 when she got her first period. She was attending school when she felt discomfort and found her skirt stained. Her mom came to pick her up and explained what periods mean and showed her how to use a sanitary pad. That is when Sneha understood why her mother would not enter the kitchen four days of the month. She cried to her mom for having to miss her class test the next day.
Little did she realise that she was among the luckiest 22% of girls in India who had a sanitary pad in her almirah.
She was served dinner in her room once her dad was home. She could use the washroom only once her dad had freshened up and had gone to his room to sleep.
Sneha missed school for a week and went back once her period was over, unlike the 23 million girls the same year who had dropped out after their first year.
Vikram scored 40 out of 50 in that class test and earned himself a toy car. He took the toy to school the next day to show off to his friends. He wondered why Sneha was not present in class to play with her toy car.
By the time Sneha was 15, she had been taught how to wash clothes early in the morning, clean dadaji’s room after school and cook rice and sabzi for dinner. In between, she would find time to finish her homework.
Vikram would do his homework at night. He had his football practice after school, he would learn how to ride a scooty with his friends in the evening, and he would sit with his notebook after dinner.
By the time Sneha was in Class 12, she was already among 1% of all the girls in India who joined primary schools and reached Class 12.
A week before her Class 12 board exams, she felt irritation near her vagina. Her mother had to make an excuse to the father before she could take her savings and take her daughter to a gynaecologist.
Sneha skipped her group study session with Vikram and others that day, without giving them any reason. Vikram, on the other hand, had not missed a day of their group study sessions. He was unhappy when his parents pushed him into science in Class 11, but decided to score well in his board exams and get into a course of his liking.
Sneha’s ambitions were as high – she took up science and wanted to be an engineer. But her parents wanted her to stay at home after completing school. She could help her dad with his shop till she gets married. Sneha’s visit to the gynaecologist had got her worried not just about her health but also about her exam performance. If she doesn’t score well, she wouldn’t be able to go to college. The gynae gave her medicines and asked her to use a cleaner toilet. She had avoided going to school because of unclean toilets there. But there were days when she could not avoid school.
This got her worried about how and from where she would buy expensive medicines. But she had her boards to worry about first.
Vikram scored an 88.6% and got into an economics course after fighting with his parents. He wanted to work for MNCs. Meanwhile, Sneha scored an 88.4%. She was dejected for long. She knew she could have scored above 90%. Her dad let her go to college for first year, but she had to drop out when her parents got her married.
Sneha could never complete college and got pregnant with a son a year after her marriage. Meanwhile, Vikram finished his degree and got a job in Delhi.
Sneha is among the lucky few who got the chance to live and go to school. Even today, many girls in India are not given the right to live; they are killed before they can see the world. Out of those who do come out alive, many are abandoned, given away or sold off. Very few get to attend school, live a healthy life and find some sort of social and financial independence. This National Girl Child Day, let’s talk about the challenges that girls in India face and stand up with them in their fight to reclaim their rights.
Note: The article is a fictional representation to raise awareness of challenges faced by an average girl in India.