the birth of a girl

A little girl was born yesterday in a big hospital in Delhi. It should be a moment of celebration and joy but the news filled me with extreme sadness as I shuddered at what life held in store for this new child of the God of Lesser beings. Here is why.

She is the granddaughter of Ram Bacchan the security guard of our women centre. Ram Bacchan’s story is a must read. A few months ago an agitated staff member came to me imploring me to convince Ram Bacchan to call his elder daughter to Delhi as she would otherwise die in the village.

I tried to calm him down to get to the bottom of the story. It seemed Ram Bacchan had an elder daughter aged about 19 who lived in the village. She had been married at 16 and had a little girl of 2. She was now pregnant and ill and her in laws did not care about her and forced her to go into the fields and work even if she had high fever. The husband was in Mumbai and totally indifferent to the situation. Needless to say the girl and her little daughter were brought to Delhi. She was in a shocking state.

She was slowly nursed back to health. Every one pitched in to help and soon the emaciated child started looking better. The husband and in laws however were not happy with the situation. They had lost a hand in the fields and could not understand the fuss. But we put our foot down and insisted that the child be born in a hospital in Delhi. So the young mother to be and her child spent the next few months in the tiny hovel that is home to this brave family and was looked after.

The child saw the light of day yesterday. It was a little girl. You can imagine the reaction of all around. There was no celebration at all. You see the birth of a second daughter is never feted even in better homes. A girl child is always thought of as a burden. The little babe still lies in the hospital unaware of what lies in front of her. And I feel totally helpless knowing what awaits her. In six weeks, as is custom, she will be shipped back to her village, an unwanted burden who will be chided and riled at every step. Her mother will have to resume being the beast of burden for her family. Her quiet pleas to secure vaccinations and medical care for her new baby will go unheard. The child will have to survive on the milk the poorly fed mother will produce and will grow into a weak and undernourished child like millions of her sisters across the land. There will be no school for and she will learn to play along with her sister till the sister is considered old enough to partake in household or field chores, then she will play alone or turn surrogate mother to the next child born.

The mother will have to bear the snide remarks of her in laws as is the case of any woman giving birth to girls. I often wonder why family planning programmes worldwide do not insist on the fact that the gender of the child is solely determined by the father. If that were the case many women would not suffer the humiliation they have to when giving birth to little girls. No one will counsel her on family planning and she will give birth to more girls till a boy does come by or she is to used and worn out to give more births. And the girls will follow the pattern of the mother and be married at a young age and become mothers before they become adults thus perpetrating a vicious circle there is no escape from. Such is the plight of millions of women across our land.

I do not know whether the God of Lesser Beings has charted out a different story for her. I find it difficult to believe as in this case even we do not have a larger role to play. Had the family been living in Delhi maybe we could have intervened. But as I said earlier I am helpless and that is why I am filled with extreme sadness.

The birth of a child should be a moment to rejoice and yet I am feeling despondent and dispirited. There is so much I would want to do but my hands are tied by social mores, illogical traditions and societal conventions and above all lack of resources. If I had my way I would gather the little girl in my arms and give her all she truly deserves. At present I can only pray to the God of Lesser Beings asking him to conjure one of his miracles. But then why is it that I feel that this time I will not be heard.