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Unequal At Birth #PledgeForParity

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.
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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.

 

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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.

Connect with Gayatri :  Blog – FacebookTwitter.

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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.

27 Comments

  1. Esha Esha March 10, 2016

    What a story, Corinne…thanks for sharing this heart-wrenching but life-affirming story of Gayatri with all of us here! I salute her spirit for putting up a brave fight and heading in the right direction with getting herself an education which I feel has changed the entire course of her life! Come to think of it, what a waste of talent and potential when we think of all those underage girls who get married even before they have realised where their capabilities could take them in life!!! Shame on the system and the culture that continues to remain so regressive even after so much is being done to encourage the education of the girl-child!

  2. Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

    Thank you Corinne for featuring my story on #WomensDay πŸ™‚ I feel so special and honoured to be a part of your blog. Let us pledge to take care of our mental health and also speak up against abuse…in any form.

    • Corinne Rodrigues Corinne Rodrigues Post author | March 9, 2016

      Thank you for being such an inspiration, Gayatri and for generously allowing me to share your story here.

      Yes, we must pledge to speak up for against all forms of abuse.

  3. Suzy Suzy March 9, 2016

    Gayatri Aptekar is an inspiration. I came across her story on youtube a while ago and have only admiration for her.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Thank you Suzy for such loving words πŸ™‚ Hugs <3

  4. Anamika Agnihotri Anamika Agnihotri March 9, 2016

    I came across Gayatri’s story on Facebook, a couple of days ago and it was heart wrenching. It must have been real tough when the parents, who are considered an epitome of unconditional love, themselves discard the child at birth because she is a girl child. It is cruelty.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Anamika thank you for reading my story πŸ™‚ When I first thought of sharing it, I wondered who will read it, but today when I see women around the world taking inspiration and even sharing their stories with me, I feel blessed πŸ™‚ Maybe this was the purpose for which all this happened. I share a very loving relationship with my dad now and he wants me to share this story to more parents, so that they become aware of the way their thoughts and beliefs and shaping their children’s life.

  5. Vasantha Vivek Vasantha Vivek March 9, 2016

    Great post as usual, Corinne !!! Gayatri ‘s story id mind blowing. Thanks for sharing. Congrats for this series !!!

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Thank you Vasantha πŸ™‚

  6. Carol Cassara Carol Cassara March 8, 2016

    My heart goes out to her. What a powerful testimony. Corinne, thanks for doing this post and sharing this story. Sometimes, we don’t realize how things are in other countries. I am so inspired by her strength, her courage and her ability to overcome. Blessings to her.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Thank you Carol for such a heartfelt note πŸ™‚ Hugs πŸ™‚ It was a challenging phase, but with my husband’s support and my daughter’s love I got over it πŸ™‚

  7. Laurie Laurie March 8, 2016

    The worst part of this story is its not unusual. Beyond sad, but what spirit Gayatri has displayed. I’m not sure what the answer is except hoping the world gets more compassionate, something that won’t happen immediately. We can still hope and try, however.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Yes that’s what I hope too…Laurie, a world where people are more compassionate and accepting. Thank you for reading my story and for these lovely words of appreciation πŸ™‚

  8. Parul Parul March 8, 2016

    Thank you for bringing Gayatri’s story to us Corinne. I first watched a video that she had narrated sharing this painful yet true story and that day, I cried. Gayatri’s husband and her doctor helped her find herself and she is an inspiring woman.
    I always think of those women who don’t find such support and eventually give up. It’s so sad. Imagine little girls abandoned near temples and washrooms. πŸ™
    No wonder parity will take 117 more years,

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      That’s what makes me sad too Parul, that what will women do when they don’t have such a strong support. Many go ahead and end their lives or many keep living not knowing that they are going through depression or any other mental illness.
      I believe change can happen only when we women take care of our emotional wellbeing. When we learn to interpret our lives in an empowering way, we get the strength to carry on πŸ™‚

      Thank you Parul for reading my story πŸ™‚

  9. rajlakshmi rajlakshmi March 8, 2016

    Gayatri’s story gave me chills but also at the same time resulted in frustration that these things still happen. But I am glad she came out strong… happy for her. It’s heartbreaking that a girl has to go through all this during her lifetime. I was in school when I first started writing about women emancipation … and even today I am writing about it. When will times change πŸ™

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Times will change Rajlakshmi, if we change our mindset…and that will happen when all women decide that they will stop treating other women badly. When women start supporting each other we will see an empowered society. Thank you for reading my story πŸ™‚

  10. Alana Alana March 8, 2016

    This saddens me tremendously, that we women continue to suffer so much. Sharing. I was so naive as a teenager in the turbulent 1960’s,thinking it would be all better now.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Many women from many parts of our country go through even more worse situations. In sharing our stories maybe we will heal and also get the courage to stand up for what’s right. Maybe we will put an end to this suffering!
      Hugs πŸ™‚

  11. Nabanita Nabanita March 8, 2016

    The statistics and Gayatri’s story both are so hard hitting, Corinne…I’m actually scared and upset thinking about all the women who go through emotional and physical abuse…I’m scared for my child too…

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Nabanita, after I shared my story, so many women shared their stories with me and each one made me wonder, when will we learn to stand up and say that ‘Its enough’ It’s time we raised our voices against abuse in any form.

  12. Lata Lata March 8, 2016

    Corinne, heart broke reading this especially because according to Hindu astrology I am born under one of the three worst nakshatras (stars). But my parents never let on that they were worried. I learnt about it only in my 20s. To my parents I was their child and anything else had to be faced. I salute Gayatri and thank the stars above that she found such a wonderful husband and the inner strength to overcome such childhood trauma

  13. Lata Sunil Lata Sunil March 8, 2016

    Corinne, I just can’t take this – ‘75% of married Indian women were underage when they got married’. All dreams quashed, not even letting them flutter their wings. That is a root cause of many of the other problems. Because, when a girl learns, she educates the whole next generation.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      So glad to hear your story Lata. I appreciate parents who don’t let their beliefs shadow the lives of their children. I owe this new life to my husband and my daughter πŸ™‚

  14. richa singh richa singh March 8, 2016

    I have gooseflesh. I literally do.

    Thank you Corinne for writing this. And Gayatri more power to you always…

    • Corinne Rodrigues Corinne Rodrigues Post author | March 8, 2016

      I felt the same way the first time I read her story, Richa. Hugs.

    • Gayu Gayu March 9, 2016

      Thank you Richa πŸ™‚ More power to us πŸ™‚

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