By Rajeshwar Singal | PUBLISHED: 01, Oct 2010, 13:22 pm IST | UPDATED: 15, Apr 2011, 13:22 pm IST
For me and Meenakshi, Shilpa was our first born, our bundle of joy. Before she came into our world, we both had consciously decided not to make any issue between a boy and a girl. We had gone for Meenakshi’s periodic check up every month. At one stage the doctor, while conducting ultra sound of Meenakshi’s abdomen, showed both of us, hazy images of different parts of the child in the womb.
From an electronic scale on the monitor, the doctor told us that the growth of baby’s head, and limbs was normal. Then we were shown a tiny pulsating image which was said to be baby’s heart. It was an awesome sight to see heartbeat of our baby yet to come into this world. Doctor again informed that everything was fine. Then we were asked if we wished to know about the gender of the baby, for which, the doctor would stimulate Meenakshi’s abdomen so that the baby inside could possibly move its legs to display if we would have a male or female child later on. But we both had declined.
It was the mid 1960’s when the levels of social and economic development of the area was much below what it is today. Our relative, when asking for directions to the house of the fellow doctor, told the villagers that he had come to condole the death of the daughter of his colleague. He was shocked to realise the traditions of the area when he heard from the villagers that a person was BHAGYAVAN or ‘most fortunate’ whose daughter had died. So our relative returned to Rohtak, without meeting his colleague, realising that he would have made a fool of himself if he had condoled the death of daughter of the ‘most fortunate’ person of that area.
Like many other families, we too are appalled by the gender bias and resultant inhuman, rather macabre acts indulged in by short sighted parents and greedy doctors. During initial years of our stay in Gurgaon, a satellite town of New Delhi, in late 1980’s, a close family friend, from a successful business family, was learnt to have threatened his pregnant wife with divorce if she failed to bear him a son.
They already had three daughters, all brought into this world by parents hoping for ‘a boy next time’. Luckily, the lady is still married to our friend, and the birth of son in the family was celebrated with much fanfare and huge expense, which the family could well afford. In yet another instance, an old batchmate of mine who studied with me in MBA, also lived in Gurgaon with his family.
They had two daughters and third baby was on its way. They got the gender checked in a surreptious manner and learnt that it was a baby girl. So they submitted the child to the ‘doctor’s cutter’. We learnt later from another friend that the small clinic botched up the procedure and the almost six months old foetus had to be cut up and brought out piece by piece. The lady herself suffered from a haemorrhage, and had to be administered three units of blood.
Later in life, I moved with my family to the beautiful place Dar Es Salaam, in Tanzania, east Africa, where I had been given an assignment in the Indian High Commission. Our kids got a rare opportunity to grow in a different world altogether and study in the International School there. As it happens, one learns more about one’s own country more when he is out of it. Gender bias in our society became even more stark for me when I was faced with very awkward questions put to me by a group of Tanzanian government school students.
But I was very impressed by their knowledge and the fact that they belonged to simple African families, who had not much access to either internet, or satellite television or large well stocked libraries. The father of Tanzanian nation, Nyerere worked hard in developing primary education in that country.
During early decades of the new republic, vast sums were invested in excellent infrastructure for primary education. Nyerere’s own title was ‘Mwalimu’, which means ‘teacher’. With such emphasis on education, the literacy rate in Tanzania is more than double of that in India.
Though in recent years, budgetary constraints and shift in priorities have seen decline in this emphasis, as also in India. These senior school students came to meet me every year to prepare for mock UN session. The country allotted to such groups was India and they had to seek information on social, economic and political issues. This seemingly unglamorous job was assigned to me by my superiors, though I was in charge of consular services in the Embassy. I took help from a very polite local African officer of our Embassy who had been in service for almost twenty years.
He arranged tea, coffee, soft drinks and biscuits for children, all dressed in neat school uniforms, and their teachers when they met me in my office. I was amazed at their sense of protocol as they all addressed me as ‘Excellency’. I knew this was unexpected of children and school staff of even top schools in New Delhi. While I, as any Indian diplomat would, kept my arsenal of replies ready on likely questions on Kashmir, or the nuclear explosions conducted by India, or our glorious history or our computer experts conquering the world, I was stunned by questions on killing of girl child in Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
While one part of my mind searched for an appropriate reply, which was hard to come, the other part made me put up a facade and compliment the children on their correct protocol, knowledge of different states in India and of course, the social issues, in that order. I hoped the last part would fizzle out by the time I finished other issues and children their beverages and biscuits. Still, I had to respond with great effort, and clarify painfully that our society had these evil practices, unfortunately in all segments, whether rich or poor.
But, as I would add valiantly, India was a member of comity of nations who believed in safeguarding human rights, efforts were being made by media and government and non government bodies to change people’s mindset over this issue.
But again, do we agree that it is possible to change mindset of people at large on social issues? We may not. But certainly we realise that most social evils like gender bias, gender competition in personal and professional lives and in a mix of both, dowry harassment, honour killings are continuing to play havoc in society. Economic development of last two decades has failed to ease these problems. All segments of our society think alike on these issues.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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