Wo-e-Man

The news headlines sang similar songs of India’s ‘outrage’ and ‘shock’ on the July 10, ruthless, inhuman molestation of a 17 year old girl by a group of jeering men, in Guwahati; as if, it was the first of its kind incident that tainted the moral fabric of the nation do we have one? The crimes against women were reported over 2.25 lakh in 2011, according to National Crime Records Bureau. Bingo! Our shock and outrage often end up in a blame game discussing on the ‘length of her dress’, the time she went out, why she had to go alone, and more. To end it all, the state would issue a monitoring on the pubs, advice girls to dress ‘appropriately’, and other measures to ‘safeguard’ women. With that, the ‘morally’ superior men folk would sigh, ah! for now, they are taught a lesson. The society has already turned apathetic and the media is buzzing with graver issues, while at some corner a young girl and her family are enduring a lifelong trauma; of betrayal by a nation. The fact that this girl is not alone gives no comfort for her; for the 2.25 lakh other women spread across the nation carry this scar of being a victim. Now what about the inflictors? C’mon, they have moved on!

Violence against the ‘other sex’ is a global phenomenon. The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. ‘It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century’, says Nicholas and Sheryl in their book ‘Half the Sky’. In this century, the paramount moral challenge is the struggle for gender equality.

Narrowing down to the evil of female foeticide and infanticide, it is a shocking revelation that a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes. For a crime in most cases, both the parents are held responsible reveals the root of gender discrimination; and it starts from the womb! If you think it happens among the poor, hold on. Census 2011 reveals the stark difference in the sex ratio of urban, developed states; or who can afford to spend thousands on sex selective abortions. In most cases, infanticide is more common among the poor, either in the form of killing, or the child encountering an early death due to under nourishment and lack of care; while the rich can afford for foeticide. ‘The Week’ reports in an issue titled ‘Dr Horror’, ‘Dr Munde and his wife had a thriving business of conducting illegal female foeticide in their clinic in Beed district of Mahrashtra. They aborted foetuses and allegedly threw them to their dogs kept specially for this purpose’.

Amartya Sen has developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. ‘More than 100 million women are missing’ Sen wrote in his classic essay in 1990 which has now grown to more than 163 million. Statistics and incidents are plentiful. As I write this, news came in from Jaisalmer that 38 newborns were found dead! Now the existence of such an act cannot be justified in any way. We’re talking about little girls, most of them just out of the womb, who in no way ‘invited an attack’ on them with regard to their ‘looks’ or ‘dress’, nor they were in the wrong place in the wrong time! Still!

A girl’s fight for survival begins in the womb due to an overwhelming desire for sons and fear of dowry, which has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the last three decades, according to a 2011 study by The Lancet. Ironically, the birth of a girl, so goes a popular Hindu saying, is akin to the arrival of Lakshmi – the four-armed goddess of wealth, often depicted holding lotus flowers and an overflowing pot of gold. Here we are, rated as the worst country for women to live in, next to Saudi Arabia, reveals a Reuters survey.

What we need to change at the grassroots is the mindset of the people. Beginning from celebrating the birth of a girl child, with all pomp and pride just as the birth of a boy is celebrated; ensuring equal opportunities in terms of healthcare, education, fun, freedom and marriage. We still reflect the times of dark ages by subscribing to the age old practice of dowry. One bride is killed every hour over demands of dowry, NCRB statistics say. The challenge is to uplift the general notion of women and girl child, breaking the stereotypes that they are entangled in. It is surprising also to find that often women themselves prescribe to these strongholds of stereotype. The issue of female foeticide and dowry prove this right. How strange it is a mother not preferring a girl child!

It is true that if you empower women, it benefits the whole world. ‘The world must save women’, says Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, ‘that women can save the world’. On similar lines, Aung San Suu Kyi says, ‘The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all’. As I write this, news of hope comes in from Haryana that the Khap Mahapanchayat resolves to take a strong stand against dowry and fight foeticide. There are such changes happening across. The question is, are we part of the change?

Dead or alive, women are being reduced to victims. If we claim to be an outraged nation, we should look deeper and ponder about the root cause. Do we have it in us to root out the rot that has taken over?

Please Let her live – Those who are alive and those who are unborn. As for the rest who feel proud to be born as a man, be a MAN!

Asher George

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