A Son is Born

It happens so often that I wondered why it irked so much. A pale, undernourished, breathless, fully pregnant women walked in for her first!! antenatal checkup. On being told that it was her fourth child I asked her why she was risking her life producing so many children. The question elicited the usual response. She summarily dismissed her three previous born, “Sab ladkiyan hain ji. Unka kya hai, apne ghar ki ho jayengi” ( All are daughters, they will leave for their marital homes ). A prevalent belief despite the fact that repeated studies have shown that though sons take health decisions for them, daughters are the primary caregivers of elderly parents.

4D87BD66-BEF8-425C-90E3-3BA94817AE75So when there was nothing unusual about it why was I so annoyed. Was it because the patient didn’t know better or was it because her husband had greeted me with a cheerful “Jai Mata di”, a common salutation in this region during the Navratris . In any case I couldn’t decide whom to feel more sorry for. The women who thought she would be redeemed if she produced a son, her hypocritical husband who worships the female form on a pedestal but not off it, the three daughters who don’t even count or the unborn whose life is ruined either way.

If it’s a girl she will join her sisters in a lifetime of despondency and bias, that is, if she survives the initial neglect of miffed parents. Surprisingly, things will be no better for a boy. The coveted son, the bearer of their name, the carrier of their protoplasm, the protector of their honour, the provider for their old age and the igniter of their funeral pyre. He, who will grant them a life worth living and a death worth dying for. He, who will rescue them from the cycle of rebirths and help them attain salvation. With so much pinned on him, he is doomed too.

But ‘Great Expectations’ are only part of the problem. A child that is seen as a saviour, a messiah , will be treated as one too. Fawned over by grandparents, waited on hand and foot by parents and indulged, perhaps grudgingly by siblings. The entire clan, grateful for his birth, catering to his every whim and wish. Is it surprising that he grows up with a sense of privilege and entitlement? That he thinks of himself as a blessing to his family, to mankind itself. A boy who grows up getting preferential treatment over his sisters is bound to think he is superior to them. It is only natural then, that after being spoilt rotten when he is unleashed on society he will join the force of misguided, misogynist men who undervalue women.

Driven by putra moh we needlessly pamper our sons turning them into male chauvinistic bigots who berate women. This attitude has far reaching consequences. We can cry ourselves hoarse chanting Beti bachao, beti padhao, but little will change. In Haryana, the female literacy rate has risen to 65% over the last twenty years, but the sex ratio continues to be abysmally low. Although education increases their potential, daughters need to be empowered socially and economically to fight the deeply resistant malady of son preference. Vlassoff, who has authored Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India, Blessed with a Son has observed that to produce a son, women were willing to have upto three daughters, two of them unwanted. He further says that social and economic empowerment have a greater bearing on the number of daughters a woman is prepared to have in the hope of having a son than economic development which is quantified by the assets a family owns.

Social empowerment is an outcome of education, freedom to travel and make decisions. Economic empowerment is symbolised by a woman’s employment status. These two can not be achieved unless gender perception changes and women get an opportunity to grow. To create a society conducive to this we have to rethink the way we bring up our children. Pick up any school textbook and it is filled with misogynist filth. It could be seemingly innocuous things like showing girls with rolling pins and boys with stethoscopes which send subtle messages of gender roles, or asserting that ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘girls are weak’. We need to stop bombarding the pliable minds of children with this redundant patriarchy. Gender sensitisation has to start in our homes and schools. Only when we catch them young and make them grow will we have a generation of truly progressive youth.
The other day a man brought his sullen face ‘prodigal’ son for an ultrasound examination. When I asked his name the man laughed and said ‘ Sawa Lakh’ ( 1.25 lacs). “What type of name is that?” I wondered out aloud and the man chuckled happily. “Teen betiyon pe haath laga sai, mhare mein aise ko sawa lakh bola karein.” ( He was born after three daughters. We call such sons 1.25 lacs). I controlled my irritation, something which I rarely do. As I was finishing the scan, in some context, the father lamented, “Doctor sahib tham hi samjha do isko. Ke karein?Jo hum kuchh bolein toh mhare ko kataan bhage .” ( Doctor please explain it to him yourself. If we try to teach him anything he runs to bite us. What can we do?). Barely hiding my sarcasm, I retorted, “You can begin by not calling him Sawa lakh.” Giving extra credit for an extra appendage has its pitfalls!

( published as a part of my column ‘ So Ordinary ‘ in the Tribune on 31/3/2018)

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20 thoughts on “A Son is Born

  1. Dr Anita Jain says:

    Well said,Last line was too good…extra credit…..true,original and aptly set…polite and scientific,gist of your write up in one line,like in poetry each word is a sentence and thought itself….good going ,loving it,hope to see more of them ,often
    high time people shifted focus and treated people beyond genders and myths of past

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Oh Anita I cannot tell you how much your noticing the line means to me…I laughed when I thought of it…so sarcastically funny!….I think it is one of my best

  2. Mitra Saxena says:

    Yes that s your style Manju Wit and Sarcasm side by side ..
    Who else would have thought of putting it subtly as well as blatantly. ..
    If you miss it …it’s gone…if you get it …it’s loaded …

    Enjoyed every single word.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Ha ha Mitra…you understand me so well…I love to keep it subtle…despite the fact that I constantly worry that the reader might miss it

  3. Mr Alok Mittal says:

    Good afternoon dr Saab, harshness of ‘age old belief’ hits me hard every time i read about it. So deep rooted it’s, people refuse to accept the evidence against it. Though almost every human society on earth has witnessed this discrimination, unfortunately we still are unable to get rid of it.

    Wonderfully well written. Keep writing!

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks for your constant encouragement sir. I do believe that repeatedly writing about gender discrimination will slowly but surely bring change……we have to start from our own homes……

  4. Anju Singh says:

    Yessss…..!!wonderfully represented the ageold mindset which is so evident in every nook n corner of every indian spirit…..but the solutions never came out of bald statements n slogans…..people need to be given set examples of self-reliant daughters taking care of their aged parents as sons…….public will remain resistant to ‘Beti Padao..,Beti Bachao’….unless it is established…-‘Bahu ko bhi apne Ma Baap ki Seva ka haq h…’

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Absolutely true….don’t expect your dil to give up her maternal home for her marital home…..and don’t bring up your son as if he is the ‘king of Sheba’…. I think we have already made progress on the self reliant daughter front.

  5. Dr Vandana Pahuja says:

    well written manju…i sometimes feel helpless explaining and arguing about the gender discrimination in every nook and corner of our society…recently went to devi mandir during navratras with both my kids…and somehow reached inside the barricades for the aarti…my husband and my son were allowed to do aarti…but myself and my daughter not allowed near the alter…and the deities…but am glad my son objected to this practice of only males doing aarti on our way back and was visibly annoyed…a solace to see a male objecting to gender discrimination…hope more do…to bring a change in this society.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Congrats for instilling the right values in your son….slowly but surely things will change…we just have to stay on course

  6. Dr Girish Chaitley says:

    Beautiful birds coming out of a magician’s hat – one, two, three, four , furr furr furr furr ………………

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Girish Chatley I have been wondering are you referring to my articles ( how I wish that is true) or are you talking about daughters….traditionally compared to birds who fly the nest……please explain

  7. Dr Girish Chaitley says:

    The word magician should have clinched that The magician is you , the birds are your articles and the speed with which they are being pulled out is for all to see.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Girish Chatley thank you so much for such a generous compliment…you are quite a wordsmith yourself

  8. Dr Swati Singhal says:

    A truly delightful piece to read as always. Sadly this bias is so strongly imprinted in the minds of Indian people. I guess an equal credit goes to a the bigoted religious practices. A woman who has had no son, is no woman indeed. And I feel that women get extra credit to perpetuate this mentality. They feel that this bias is deserved, just and well placed. As long as women feel that they are lesser, weaker sex, the situation is not going to change

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      I agree with you albeit partially, most women ( at least the ones I come across) don’t have a voice or an opinion. They are just the messenger but the message is not theirs. Of course it will take time to uproot such a deep seated malady …but it can be done. We just have to inculcate the right values in our children.

  9. Sunita Singh says:

    Well crafted Manju. But I feel the mindset is changing though slowly.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Sunita…I agree the mindset is changing…..very very slowly

  10. Dr Manju Puri says:

    Good going manju. Proud of you . There was always so much in you I am glad that it has got a portal for expression. Straight from heart. My take on gender discrimination is to silently let the changes seep in children through their mothers and teachers. Adult behaviour is difficult to change if not impossible. The investment in children would have rich dividends

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      I agreee…..but I would prefer a more active ‘ hammering it in’ to a slow seepage…..

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