About a century ago, the birth of a daughter was a cause for worry, not only in India, but in other parts of the world too. WB Yeats expressed this worry in A Prayer for My Daughter, a poem he wrote in 1919: I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour; and heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower. Outlining the reasons for the worry, he writes: For arrogance and hatred are the wares; peddled in the thoroughfares.
India was deeply suffering from this malady at that time. The word ‘dukhtar-kushi’, which meant the killing of a newborn daughter, was as much in vogue then as is female foeticide now. People weren’t kind to the birth of a daughter. There being no method to know the gender of a foetus in those days, they used to do the next best thing in their view — snuff out life that was yet to bloom. A word was given out for public consumption that the child was stillborn. Everyone in the town knew what it really meant.
That my mom survived this onslaught during her birth in 1916 was a miracle of sorts. She used to tell us how.
The fact that her family lived near the resting place of the Sufi saint Baba Farid in Pakpattan — now in Pakistan — had no effect on my maternal grandfather’s predilections. A typical feudal lord, he had all the conservative attributes signifying male supremacy. He had already done away with two infant daughters before my mother was born.
Mom used to fall silent while narrating the story. Maybe she missed her sisters. There used to be a lump in her throat while narrating the tragic details. After clearing her throat, she never forgot to thank ‘Angrez da raj’ for her survival. Before her birth, the British had passed a law declaring ‘dukhtar-kushi’ a crime which attracted capital punishment. But that alone could not have saved her. What saved her was the strict implementation of this law.
Shortly before her birth, a distant relative of my maternal grandfather was held guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. This scared my mother’s progenitor. He developed cold feet when the arrival of yet another daughter was announced to him.
But has anything changed since then? The declining male-female ratio is ample testimony to the fact that the more the government tries to bring about a change, more the things remain the same. The laws may have been made strict, but it is the implementation that matters. Despite the diktat of Guru Nanak, ‘So kyon manda akhiye, jit jamme rajan’, we have continued to objectify the weaker sex like never before; the ever-increasing number of rape incidents, acid attacks and the killing of a girl child bear evidence to it.
Coming back to Yeats, the Second Coming is surely required, for we humans have failed to stem the rot wrought upon the born and unborn girl child.
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