Being a girl child in India

The Indian constitution today treats women and men alike and bestows upon them the same rights and duties. There are also many initiatives promoting the welfare of the girl child in India.

However, the majority of religious communities of India, hence societies continue to place higher importance on a male child over a female one. A girl child is considered a liability while a male child is an asset to the parents. To any rational person, this may come across as silly at the least and abhorrent at the most. I fall towards the latter side of the spectrum.

I believe that the girl child is made into a liability by societal design rather than by nature. Let me explain how.

When women marry in India, they are expected to leave their parents’ home and enter the home of their spouse.  And here, she is expected to adopt her inlaws as her parents and is made responsible for their well-being, health and prosperity. She can be an independent working woman but is obligated to serve her husband and her inlaws first and foremost, sometimes even at the cost of the wellbeing of her own parents.

Until recent times, parents needed to save up for the dowry of the girl child, which many parents start putting together putting their own retirement needs at stake. This brought tremendous expectation anxiety to the girl’s parents. Fortunately, this practice is now made criminal in the country. Although the dowry system has taken a back seat, a new demon has taken its place viz. the bridegroom’s expectations that the bride has educational credentials that can sufficiently supplement the family income. So now brides are assets for the groom’s family that provide payback by way of professional income to grow the family fortune in the years to come.

This is how a girl child is made to look like an ungrateful child by design.  Parents in India treat children as an investment and insurance for their old age. Women although attached emotionally attached to their parents are financially barricaded from them. Men on the contrary can be emotionally attached as well as financially obligated to support their parents. Unfortunately today even many educated women have bought into this idea and have internalised it.

No sooner a girl child is born, than the parents are flooded with investment schemes to plan for the girl child’s wedding expenses. That girl child is a liability is almost institutionalised. People who have a girl child are encouraged to have more children in the hope of bearing a more ‘useful’ male child. The system is simply rigged against the girl child.

The most popular TV soaps in India are the ones that show the conflict between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. Now I can see one reason why. Their conflict is simply an outward expression of an inner conflict. Both have been separated from their parents, uprooted from their culture and their loved ones, to start a new life in a new culture, among new people, with new responsibilities, in a new place they must call home where both don’t belong. The new home becomes a cockpit where only one of them can survive or thrive. Moving out to become a nuclear family becomes the only solution- another compromise for both the women.

Eventually, they become bitter, insecure, anxious and nagging. It doesn’t have to be like this.

I may have digressed here. The point I am trying to make is, is that it is a hard life for women in India, from education to opportunities, to empowerment, to financial independence, to finding inner peace: is a long and arduous journey. Very few indeed make it to the end.

I am sure not every family believes in this age-old societal design and like every rule there are exceptions. I am suggesting you can be part of that exceptional world.

This can change- starting with you, your family and with your girl child. Raise your girls to be strong, independent, resilient women- who can stand for themselves, for what they love and are well capable of choosing life and a lifestyle that works best for them.

Of all the gifts that life has bestowed upon us, Aanya, our little daughter is by far the best.

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