Recently, the Maharashtra government ( West Indian state) held a name changing ceremony in the district of Satara for more than 300 girls. This ceremony was special, almost symbolically transformative, the girls were unwanted by their families, and named ‘Nakusa’ or ‘Nakushi’ meaning ‘unwanted’.
This makes me wonder about India’s dwindling gender ratio. According to this article in the Economist, the ratio stands at: 914 girls for every 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years.
So what is actually happening ? Why is the sex ratio at such distressing levels despite of India’s booming economy, growing middle class and rise in overall literacy?
Pace. As silly it may sound, but it’s the pace of social development that does not match the pace of economic development. While urban India rejoices the benefits of being part of the middle class, the rural India seems to have left behind. But even the urban India cannot let go of its draconian stereotypes about daughters. A doctor from Pune, western India, was recently accused of illegally running a business of sex determination. It’s evident that urban India still has the urge to get rid of their unborn daughters. Although it’s hard to corroborate this with statistics, but growing up in middle class India exposes you to different stereotypes that exist among families related to gender bias.
Having said that, it’s important to acknowledge the transformation that has created a generation free from any gender biases. Girls are excelling in academics and sports equally, and exploring avenues that India had never offered them before. According to the 2011 census, the states of Kerala, Pondicherry and union territory of Pondicherry have achieved higher female ratios in India, 1077, 1002 and 1029 to every 1000 males respectively.
Did education and urbanisation act as a catalyst in this process? They did to an extent, but what about the other set of urban and rural people who STILL determine the sex of their unborn child, and STILL think female foeticide is a normal practice? It’s bizarre, but the answer may just lie in the details. It’s not just what is taught, but who is being taught. The females in a family need to be educated first.
While patriarchal control is common in some households in India, it’s usually the females who reinforce gender stereotypes, leading to the source of this problem – hypocritical traditions and unsaid rules – man is the bread winner of the family. Of course he is, and it may not change in very conservative parts of India for many coming years. People hate sudden changes, they do not want to accept something immediately, it takes persuasion patience, and the openness to change.
This brings me to eco feminism – Vandana Shiva – a renowned activist and ecofeminist. She stresses on the importance of engaging and empowering women into the agricultural system of India to combat food security. So hypothetically, if women are consulted more, or participate more, will it affect the broader gender discourse in India? Shiva’s theory may hold the key to problems faced by developing India. If the society does not include one of its main contributors, it may result in complete loss of balance and power. Girls should not be protected because they are the source of reproduction, but because they contribute to the society which is in-substitutable.
Many readers may think I am categorising India in a very ancient traditional compartment, but the truth is that no matter how many slut walks, pink chaddi, or pro girl child campaigns are out there, do they catch up with the stagnant pace of the pig headed, intolerant, prejudiced patriarchs (which includes women) of India?
The name changing ceremony is refreshing, reminding us of the smallest of the details that can signify a lifetime of a change for a generation in this Maharashatrian village.