When my daughter was born, I saw an unbelievable side of educated, middle class Indians. Right there in the delivery room, moments after I heard her first, lusty, cry, I found sympathy flowing my way, “Never mind, this is your first baby, you can try again!” When I realised what they meant, I was seriously outraged! I had always thought such things happened to our illiterate, economically backward, domestic helpers (and I had always supported them, by talking to their families.)
Can you imagine how this could affect the psyche of a new mother and her self righteous, traditional, and all powerful, ‘in laws’? Here I have just come out of labour, still marveling at the miracle of birth, feeling like this was the proudest moment of my life, and just relieved that labour was over! I had just thanked all present! And they are saying, “Better luck next time.”!
I knew my mother was hoping for a grandson, but knowing me she said nothing. She knew what I’d say, “Caught you! I always knew!! You only love your son, you did not want us!?” Don’t all Indian daughters want to ask this question? It’s true. She does love him more, but as we grew she learnt to not show it too openly. I think she also realised how nice it was to have us, the daughters. She is too God fearing not to feel guilty. She knows it’s wrong of her to love us less. Do all mothers know this? Can they pray in a temple, perform hawans, make pilgrimages to Vaishnodevi, Shirdi and Tirupathi and still go ahead and kill an unborn daughter? Do such people believe they have their religion and their God’s sanction to commit something so heinous? I will not kill or even hurt a baby rat, a kitten or a puppy or a piglet…..But they think they can kill their little girl and there will be no retribution? Hindus will not kill a cow. They will not kill a cat. But they will kill a baby girl. If my mother had a choice, while I was still a foetus in her womb, would she have …Maybe not me, being her first pregnancy, but my sister? She would have considered the option, I don’t doubt that. Our Indian values are very practical. Maya before mamta. They want a hundred sons, and not a single daughter.
These days when I see families with young daughters, I look at the parents with respect. I know they had a choice. When I see families with too many young boys, too much of age difference between the boys or only boys in the family, I am very suspicious. I wonder if I am speaking to a baby-girl killer. Such are our times!
When my daughter was five months old, in 1991, I was watching a TV show called PUKAR, a series of stories about women who fought against oppressive social customs. It should be shown again. There was this story of a Rajput woman who was expected to kill her own daughter – a third daughter. I had my baby girl in my lap as I watched this mother being compelled to kill her new born daughter. She was writhing in labor, when her mother in law warned her that the baby had better be a boy this time. Once the girl is born, the mother tries to buy time. She had persuaded them to let her first two daughters live, but this time no excuses were going to be tolerated.
I watched as the day of the killing came closer.
They take the mother and new born daughter to a Kali Temple. She lays the baby on a stone in the temple. And surrounding her are the brave Rajput men, goading her husband, considered a ‘joru ka ghulam’ for having two living daughters in a village where girls were either drowned or fed poisonous sap from aankra plant. Women watched her, terrified, remembering and reliving their own traumas.
And then she is given the sword by her best friend, who assures her that she had sharpened it so the death would be quick, and wouldn’t hurt the baby too much. This woman takes the sword in her trembling hands, she looks at everybody and lifts up the glittering sword and looks at all the faces, “I am a brave Rajputani and I will not hesitate to use this sword”. She brings it down swiftly beside her sleeping child, “At anybody who dares to try to hurt my daughter.”
I bursts into tears of relief and delight, my sister came running (I was at her place) – “What happened!!? Must be postpartum blues, can make you over sensitive… It’s perfectly normal.” And she saw me smiling. That little baby-girl in that remote village in those dark times, could definitely say, “Mere paas ma hai!” [Translated : I have my mother by my side.]
(I have been thinking of what to write for Unchahi… and these are just some rambling thoughts.)