Sometimes you are surprised. Surprised by the depth of conversation, by the impassiveness with which the truth is spoken or by the naivety you hold thinking of yourself as the protector.
Along with our regular curriculum, I began conversations on Gender Equity in my class. It has been less than a week and I am surprised by own students. Today we discussed the difficult topic of female infanticide. I was very worried about how I am going to explain this to my students. How do I tell my 8 year olds that such a barbaric practice exists or the fact that there are people who do not value all children equally? These were the questions in my mind on my bus ride to school.
I began the conversation by saying that there are homes and families where a girl child is not welcome. There is sadness and no joy for she is seen as a burden and not hope. There was sudden murmuring and I saw a lot of raised hands. I could not fathom what all these students have to say at the same time. And that is how the stories began to pour.
Malini was the first to speak on how her mother laments and curses her every day about how having two daughters and no sons. Then Aravind spoke of how his father was very sad when his sister was born and would come home drunk everyday to squarely blame the mother for this misfortune. Stunned by the openness of these students, I shared the sex ratio in India of 933 females per 1000 males and asked where are the remaining girl children. Tippu quietly said “They dead, Miss”. Roshan and Karan spoke of their villages where the new born baby girls are buried in the farm the reason in their words being “girls so much money give marriage, too much tension father mother do not want”. Santosh said in his village an old lady sees the stomach of the woman to tell the sex of the child and even grinds some leaves to give the mother if it “feels” like it is going to be a baby girl. Divyadarshini spoke of how even if the child is not killed, the parents and extended family continue to express discontent. She knows this because when her brother was born her grandmother gave so many gold chains and rings to her mother but when she was born her mother got nothing because she did not deserve a prize for after all giving birth to a girl child. And every birthday, Divyadarshini’s mother is told how she could have done better.
When I was 8, I had the luxury of not knowing. It saddens me that my children have experienced the pain of feeling unwanted firsthand. It hurts to see such all knowing 8 year old eyes. It makes me so angry to think of those parents who willingly, unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly make their children question the value of their very existence.
When we ended our conversation today with how girls and boys both need to be loved and cared for and how it is not a mother’s wrongdoing for giving birth to a girl child Jayarani, one of the quietest girls in my class raised her hand to ask “Miss, mother also girl then why miss mother no fight for her girl child?”. I had no answer to give her other than telling her that she needs to be much stronger than those mothers and fight for what she believes in.
Devika, Divya, Fathima, Thulasi, Malini, Jayarani, Meenakshi, Thrisha, Nandhini, Srija and millions of other children deserve better. We need the change to happen. We cannot wait for times to change. It has to happen NOW and I see its beginning in 26 pairs of resolute eyes.