Meher Marfatia: Thank god it's a boy?

BMC statistics suggest the city’s child sex ratio is at an all-time high, but 11 wards still show a skewed drop. How long will son worship remain an obsession?

My friend stared, unblinking, incredulous at what she’d just heard...

Smiling into the eyes of her second beautiful baby girl, she looked forward to leaving Breach Candy Hospital. But souring things there, in the middle of the maternity ward, stood a bossy mother-in-law loudly banning her about-to-deliver daughter-in-law from taking the room my friend had occupied. “Don’t get admitted here,” she shrieked in warning. “It’s ashubh, inauspicious to even enter!” Pointing to my friend she actually shook her head hopelessly and said, “She has had two daughters. Let’s move. A shared cubicle is better for you than such an unlucky private room.”

Representation pic
Representation pic

Shuddering at the memory of the incident, my friend said, “She simply would not allow the daughter-in-law to place her packed overnight bag in my room for a minute.” We winced, wondering whether that voiceless mother did give birth to a girl after all.

Gender despair perpetuated by women really has to be the worst, the unkindest cut. What’s more, there’s no end to the posturing. One grandmother we know never tired of repeating that old ditty ‘A son is a son till he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.’ Yet, when her own daughter lay peacefully feeding a newborn girl, she could not resist saying, with a quick commiserating hug, “Better luck next time, darling.” Next time brought another daughter to their home.

Quite contrarily, the stats seem cheerier than they’ve been for a while: data from a recently released BMC survey registers 2015 as the year with 933 girls born per 1,000 boys.

This is significantly ahead of the national average of 918. But 11 major wards stubbornly still buck the progressive trend with a worrying gap between the genders.

Rah-rah figures are nothing except eyewash. Son worship is so sadly systemic that we are inured to horrific episodes. Appalled as we might be on hearing them reported, we’d like to believe this is the way village India reacts, and “we wouldn’t”. The troubling truth is that “we” are not much different.

Female infanticide takes too many forms, with the same shocking results of course. While a pregnant woman in the rural interior may be force-fed local poison to shake off a suspected girl foetus sprout inside her womb, city clinics oblige the well-heeled by performing abortions with impunity. Every law in place, mockingly framed in bold print on their walls, these cubicles continue to snuff out little girl lives before they have even begun. Lax follow-up of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act means poor checks or crackdowns on sonography centres and illicit clinics. NGOs like Lek Ladki Abhiyan point out a glaring lack of political will to investigate the mystery of missing girls.

Pre-conception sifting is as disturbing a trend. I’ve seen society “ladies who lunch” munch gingerly on gynaecologist-recommended alkaline foods to up their chances of having boy babies over girls. One of them announced to the chattering coterie around — “If it works for me, darlings, you bet I’ll share details.”

In her book, May You Be The Mother of a Hundred Sons, journalist Elisabeth Bumiller interviewed women across the country. The title derived from the Sanskrit blessing uttered at marriages, its origin in the Mahabharata when Bheeshma blesses Gandhari with these words after she decides to keep her eyes permanently masked as a mark of respect for her blind husband. A mother whose baby was killed in a village rationalised enough to tell Bumiller, “I don’t feel sorry to have done this. Why should a child suffer like me?” And Mumbai was where she met many women doing sex determination tests before getting rid of female embryos. Several educated, informed, affluent, so-called liberal women cited reasons justifying the crime — from “You feel looked down upon if you have two or three girls” to “When everybody is doing this test why shouldn’t we have what we want?”

I wish we knew what happened to that mother-in-law from hell refusing to let her grandchild be born in a room graced by girl babies. I wish she could meet the lovely young women those very daughters of my friend have grown into. What I don’t wish to know, assuming she got her craved grandson, is the kind of man the boy must have become.

Write in to Meher at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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