Dear Lord, I beg you, I fall at your feet and implore you, “In my next life, don’t give me a daughter….give me hell instead” …. So go the words (translation) of a folk song from Uttar Pradesh, India. And in case you’re shocked by this here are some facts:
India witnesses more than 27,00,000 child deaths a year, with the figures for female children being much higher than male children
53% of girls in the age group 5 to 9 years are illiterate
75% of married Indian women were underage when they got married
One in every two girls in India is malnourished
Out of the 12 million girls born in India, 1 million die before the first year of life
One out of sixth girl child dies due to gender discrimination
One out of every 10 women report instances of child sexual abuse (CSA) – (Source)
Yes, in India the girl child is unequal at birth, unequal growing up, unequal when she becomes a woman.
Today is Women’s Day and this year we are called to focus on gender parity and to pledge for parity (click the link to pledge). For this to have any import, we must pledge to do something meaningful that will help make it easier for women to be on par with men. Each of us must find how we can make this a reality. It could be through advocacy, financially supporting the education of girls, helping to make a group of women ready to be employable, employing women, making sure that women are treated on par with men in our workplace……The possibilities are endless…the need is pressing…the time is NOW.
I would like to share with you a story of a brave young woman who I’m proud to know – Gayatri Aptekar – a girl born unequal, but a woman who has fought hard to be who she is today. This is Gayatri’s story as it appeared on Humans of Thane.
‘This time it’s going to be a boy’ the astrologer told my Amma. She was excited to receive her 2nd child, a boy… but was totally devastated when she saw me, a girl. After few months my maternal grandparents took me to Thanjavur, a small village in Tamilnadu. I grew up seeing other kids with their parents and wondered, ‘Where are my parents?’ but never received a convincing answer. Before my 5th birthday, I was brought to Thane, because schooling in Thanjavur wasn’t great. I still remember my Amma’s first words when she saw me ‘Why did you bring her here?’
What followed was 5 years of verbal and physical abuse. Every time, I tried getting closer to her, I was pushed away, neglected and denied love. I don’t remember hugging or cuddling her. Few years later, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. One Sunday morning, just before my 10th birthday, her body started to turn blue. We were both alone at home. She asked me to place her head on my lap. She looked at me, said ‘sorry’ and then it all ended, right there on my lap.
When my grannie, who had looked after me for first 5 years of my life, came for her daughter’s funeral, she held me by my shoulders and asked ‘Are you happy now? You killed my daughter.’ Those words pierced my tender heart. I didn’t realise why she said that. It was later that my Appa told me that the same astrologer who had wrongly predicted about the boy had told my Amma that because of my stars my Amma would die. And that was the reason just after my birth I was sent away.
My Appa, who was compassionate towards me till then, changed after my Amma’s death. Maybe he also believed the prophecy. All that filled me with guilt. I started having hallucinations of my Amma, as if she came out of the photo and begged for forgiveness. Over time it grew more and I could hear her voices everywhere. My sister, Vidya, who was 8 years older to me was my only support at that time. She would talk me out of it. But one day, dad told me that even she is getting married and going to Dubai. That broke me. I lost interest in life. Lost my appetite. I didn’t want to get out of the bed. My Appa thought I was being lazy. I used to bunk college and go to Marine Drive. Suicidal thoughts would clung to me as I’d sit there watching the waves hit the rocks, incessantly. I even tore my college I-card so no one recognised my body. In fact, after my sister’s marriage, I attempted suicide twice. Once by cutting my wrist and second time by trying to hang myself with a dupatta. It was a difficult, lonely phase of my life.
But in spite of all these problems, I managed to clear TY Bcom with 75%. I really don’t know how I managed that. Post college, I started working… and that’s where I met Swapnil, my husband. Love smiled at me for the first time….but soon my demons visited me again.
After my daughter was born, I started having visions of my mother. I had no clue how to love and pamper my child, as I never received love from my Amma. I wept continuously and wanted to stay in the darkness of my room. One day, while chatting with my gynaecologist, Dr Date, I poured my heart out. He told me that I was going through acute depression. Till then, I had no clue what was happening to me. But when I researched online, I realised I was going through similar symptoms. Initially, I didn’t want to tell my husband about it because I feared that he will leave me. But eventually when I told him, he said ‘Whatever you’re going through, I will get you out of this.’
He started taking me for long walks, started spending more time with me and my daughter. Enrolled me for Kathak and introduced me to art. There were days, when I didn’t want to get out of the bed but he pushed me. In that process, our relationship grew stronger. The love I craved for as a child, I got in form of my husband and my daughter. He encouraged me to write again and helped me in starting my blog. And when I connected with the virtual world, I realised there are many people like me out there needing help.
I researched for cognitive therapies that helped people overcome depression and came across NLP therapy. After completing NLP [Neuro Linguistic Programming] in 2013, I totally came out of depression and I decided to help others. I quit my job and started working on emotional well-being of people. From children to housewives to teenagers with suicidal tendencies, I am helping them all. I am currently working on my memoir and hope to get it published by end of this year.
I asked Gayatri if she thought that her family paid so much heed to the astrologer because she was born a girl, and might they have consulted another astrologer if she was a boy instead. She responded, “I guess the environment in which my parents, especially my mom was born influenced her decisions a lot. Her beliefs and values shaped her decisions. I don’t know what she was going through at that point of time. I never got a chance to ask her, so I can’t comment on this.” A fair answer.
I know it’s speculation on my part, but something tells me that things would have been so different. Remember, Gayatri was the second girl child and there must have been social pressure on her mother to give birth to a boy. I have seen a lot of women going to great lengths to make sure that they produce ‘male heir’ in order to please their families and society.
When I asked Gayatri what single piece of advice she would give mothers, she said : Mothers, you are gifted with this amazing responsibility of raising a child, so ensure that you create an environment where your child can grow blissfully. Shower them with acceptance and gift them a life with an empowering mind-set and strong belief system.
There are many little girls out there – unwanted, neglected, denied their basic right to proper nutrition, education and development. Who will act on their behalf? Who will speak for them? Today we must pledge to do all we can to make gender parity a reality.
My post today is in response to a tag from Richa Singh of The Philospher’s Stone who passed this on to me from Nabanita Dhar of Random Thoughts. I now pass on the tag to Anamika Agnihotri of The Bespectaled Mother. This is an initiative of Write Tribe to focus on women through the entire Women’s Day week.