Beta padhao, beti bachao

Every third Saturday for the past few months, I visit some village school and interact with adolescent girls. It is a state initiative to inspire the girl child. Apart from the usual ‘doctor talk’ about puberty and menstrual hygiene I have been instructed to inspire the girls. So I ask them to break barriers, to dream and persevere to realise those dreams. I tell them about the importance of economic independence and personal space. I urge them to shun the patriarchal ideology that home is a woman’s only domain, that marriage and child bearing is her ultimate destiny. I return with a spring in my step, feeling that in a small way, I have empowered women kind.

The recent ‘stalking’ case in Chandigarh, a city that symbolises liberal India has forced me to think otherwise. Sexual abuse is almost a national trait and is rampant in different forms. Incidents of molestation are by themselves sordid but it’s aftermath is more revolting. The media adds insult to injury by reporting these cases in a thoughtless and melodramatic way. It isn’t concern for women and their safety which bothers us as a society, but the belief that we have been shamed and humiliated. That is why the typical response of the people in power is to blame the victim. It is their horrendous analogies and statements condoning these misdeeds which hurts the most.

And here in lies my dilemma. It is hard to believe that we will save a girl child, educate her, instil confidence in her, make her believe in gender equality, coax her to become self reliant, widen her horizons and yet expect her to conduct herself according to the distorted picture of a ‘ Bhartiya Naari’. I might be doing a great disservice by telling the girls to be ambitious and assert their place in society. They might be better off as the meek women they are destined to become, who don’t make eye contact while conversing, that is, if they speak at all. Perhaps it would do them more good if they were advised to change their life style to accommodate wayward men. If they were told to be cautious because even in a crowd, they are fundamentally alone.

Though this outreach program involving local women professionals as role models is a great idea I don’t think it will have the desired results. It won’t work till someone teaches adolescent boys to respect independent women. Boys have to be told that they have no special privileges due to an accident of birth. They have no right over women’s bodies. Manhood is not only about brute force and bravado. It is also about sensitivity and empathy. They have to be taught to accept ‘ No’ for an answer. It has to be reiterated that no matter what she is wearing or doing, till a woman asks for it, she is not asking for it !

But perhaps, even before that we need to educate our leaders. They have to be taught that ill thought misogynistic remarks have no place in modern society. The insinuation that women wearing western clothes, partying late at night invite sexual harassment encourages misguided youth to ‘teach them a lesson.’ Propagating this mindset that the burden of social order lies with women allows men to abuse women in full public view, without fear of repercussion.

Apart from this we need to throw out our ill conceived notions of righteousness. As a society we shy away from acknowledging sexuality, from sex education in homes and schools. We discourage healthy social interaction between adolescent boys and girls. This repression results in bluster and desperation to seek female attention. Ogling, cat calls, eve- teasing, groping, molestation, and rape are manifestations of this deprivation. If boys were allowed to grow up with girls, they would know them better. They would empathise with their struggles with social prejudices, their constant effort to stay safe. Instead of predators they would become their natural allies. Till that happens fear has to be created in the perpetrators of this crime, they have to be scared of the consequences. It would serve the country better if leaders focus their energy on this rather than giving sexist sound bytes to the media.

Although the Indian Constitution has granted women equal rights, they remain, at best, second class citizens. Girl education will bring awareness and the courage to question patriarchal mores. They will aspire for a risk free participation in the discourse of life. Till we have an administrative ethos that asserts a woman’s right to bodily integrity no matter where she is and what she is doing, legislation cannot provide her that safe haven.

The path of female empowerment is full of potholes. We have come a long way but have to go much further. It is not enough to save a girl at birth and educate her. To be able to make use of her education and reach her full potential she will have to leave home. It should be safe for her to do so. This is not possible without teaching boys decent social behaviour. Till we have gender sensitised men the girl child will remain an endangered species and the practice to eliminate her before birth or soon after will continue. ‘Beta padhao ‘ is a pre-requisite for ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’.

( carried in the Tribune on 21/8/17 on the OPED)IMG_3414

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18 thoughts on “Beta padhao, beti bachao

  1. Sunita singh says:

    Brilliant. No other words to describe this master piece. Kroro ke dil ki aawaz.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Sunita…mile sur mera tumhara…toh sur bane hamara

  2. Alok Mittal says:

    Beautifully written. The key theme of the article is fantastic. Worth taking notice and serious thought. It is good that you have been straight and hard hitting.. At times it is necessary to be ‘ in your face’ to be effective. I urge you to be even more hard hitting in your writings on this subject in future.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thank you sir..I always try to say it as it is….FYI the anti- modi pic was the editor’s contribution. Heh heh

  3. Dr Harbir Singh Kohli says:

    On 17th I asked to see more of your vocab woven with thoughts in print… . Here it is ! that too bang in middle of newspaper not “the middle” ………Great………

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Yes…its great…i am happy they didn’t change the title….remember beta padhao was your idea…and you worried that the Hindu being a ‘ non hindi speaking’ paper will not get the gist of it !

  4. Dr Aditya Gupta says:

    I fully agree…the movie “Pink” put this perspective in a very strong way.Similarly, media highlighting Chandigarh incidence and the way Varnika Kundu fought back with the support of her father is a big step to change the mind set embedded for centuries ( may be as long back as Ram Rajya)

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Yes Aditya the movie Pink…. and everything ‘ Pink ‘ since the beginning of mankind has tried to say the same thing….a no is a no is a no! We have to teach boys to take no for an answer…. with dignity and grace

  5. Jyoti Sandhu says:

    Manju Congratulations on getting to the “almost pro” level! Indeed a thought provoking article. The need to teach our sons the moral values is a universal need. Even in the West a lot is explained away by saying boys will be boys. And the good old boys club is still an entrenched institution in the places that matter.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Ha ha Jyoti Sandhu. Thanks. From a pro to an almost pro…..this means a lot

  6. Dr Girish Chaitley says:

    Contemporary Indian social milieu and the political class need to evolve much faster for the ‘sons’ and their families to become gender sensitive and a type of movement needs to be initiated by the citizenry backed by the appropriate political will

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      You are right sir but who will bell the cat?

  7. Dr R. P Gupta says:

    Read the article with utmost concentration. it’s importance in the present gender disparity is even more. Very good.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks dad. You believed in beti bachao..beti padhao much before the rest of India

  8. Dr Anita Jain says:

    As usual a thought provoking write-up,hope it sensitizes the public and men in particular,this mindset is not restricted with any class,but is seen in society everywhere,carry on Dr manju….

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thank you Anita Jain for the constant encouragement

  9. Dr Mitra Saxena says:

    Well written…

    But somehow this topic creates a tsunami in my mind heart…whole being…

    For me it’s a problem with no starting or finishing line…

    Your suggestion of Beta padhao beti quite apt
    Manju….keep thoughts .and your writing career. ..

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      You are right…the issue overwhelms and appears endless with no finishing point in view….but we have to start somewhere.
      Thanks for your wishes…they got me so far

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