One day, I put up a question on one of the groups I follow on Facebook. The question was – What makes daughters special? The first few replies stunned me. Most of the responses amounted to the fact that both sons and daughters are equal. One of the person actually mocked at me for putting up this question. I then posted the same question to another group which had Indian friends. Most of the replies sang praises of little girls adding color and zest to their lives. I brooded over the replies for a long time and concluded that it was the structure of society that we live in, that was making us respond to the same question in such contrasting ways. The discourses that pervade in a society reflect the ideologies its followers live by. Of course, there are always exceptions. But as they say, exceptions prove the rule.
Why do we need to ask or assert that daughters are special? Why is there an imperative necessity to insist that girls are treasures, girls are the incarnation of Lakshmi (a trope often used to justify or celebrate the girl child)? Why do we need this validation at all?
In India, for most part of my life, I have seen or heard of people desperately wanting a son, to carry forward their lineage. Many states like Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have been infamous for female foeticides and the conspicuous absence of the girl population. The reasons are galore. Sons are pride, sons bring money. Girls are liability.
While reading about all this, I stumbled upon the case of the village Devra in Rajasthan where there were only 13 girls born in the past hundred years. It was devastating to hear about such sorry state of things. Cases like these do not exist in isolation. They reflect the thought-processes of the society as a whole, conspiring with the oppressive biases of a tyrannical and patriarchal society.
Where do we find hope in such muddy waters? Well, we just have to look around. There are people who are taking steady strides against these atrocities. Recently, the village Piplantri from the district of Rajasmand from the same state of Rajasthan has made headlines by advocating the cause of the girl child. What makes their case even more special is the fact that they have joined the cause of nature and the girl child, thereby promoting both ecological balance and gender equality. A classic example of what eco-feminists propagate.
Eco-feminism has its roots in modern India since the 1970s when the Chipko movement gained momentum. There is a precedent to this in ancient India when the Bishnoi community sacrificed lot of its members to save trees by hugging them to prevent their felling. Legends sing praises of Amrita Devi who embraced death by refusing to part from trees that sustain life on earth. The 1970s saw the same kind of protest from women of Chamoli in Uttarakhand. The protesters were primarily women whose life depended on these trees. Development has had its toll on mother nature when to cater to profit interests of the capitalist sector, farmers have been forced to sell lands, or to grow crops that yield more money. Vandana Shiva, a prominent eco-feminist in India has been very eloquent in her tirade against globalization and its evils.
The people of Piplantri advocate afforestation which does not mean simply planting more trees. It spreads awareness about the kind of plantation that is required for preserving the richness of soil. They plant saplings of neem, sheeshum, and amla. hey also ensure that termites are kept at bay by putting aloe vera plants around them.
Planting of trees goes along side the celebration of ‘laado ranis’ (in Rajasthani, it means girls). To ensure education of the girls who are born, fixed deposits are maintained. The sarpanch of the village who lost his daughter started the initiative in her memory. The planting of trees coincides with the birth of daughters.
There is another place in Uttarakhand where a sapling’s nurture is symbolically related to the girl child. The ritual begins when a marriage takes place in a household. The newly-weds plant a new sapling before embarking on the new phase of their lives. The sapling is taken care of by the unmarried girls of the village. The tradition is called ‘Maiti’ which means ‘mother’s house’. The idea is to cherish the memory of the daughter by nurturing the plant that she leaves behind. The plant is turn sustains nature. This practice ensures bio-diversity, afforestation and ecological balance. The groom also gives money to the unmarried girls which they use for their well-being and education.
There are NGOs like Nanhi Kali, Smile Foundation, Plan India, Save a Girl Child have been consistently working for the cause of little daughters. But the grass root level initiative taken by people from the villages mentioned above reflects a change that is coming gradually in the perspective of people on how they view the birth of daughters.
About five years back, I met a friend who mentioned me something that swept me off my feet. She told me that ten families in South India (most of them were friends) decided not to have their own children. Instead, each of them adopted a girl child. I did not know how to react. I did not even know how to applaud them. I stood with my mouth open, completely spellbound.
There is hope in this world. There will be hope as long as there are positive people around. They take steps with no selfish motive. They aim to bring change. And change they will bring, for sure.