“Hamari existence se itni problem hai toh, bandhu yeh batao ki tum kaha se aaye?” (If our very existence bothers you then tell us from where you came?)
This was written on one of the boards in the corridor in my graduation college and everytimei passed through, this would struck me. I remember the “save the girl child” march hosted by our school. We were supposed to parade on the road holding placards and shouting slogans. Kalpanachawla and Indira Gandhi appeared on every third placard. Theparade was followed by an essay writing competition. The similarity here and there was that in both cases, we focused on why the girl child should be saved. The question of ‘why they are killed’ remained unasked and hence, unanswered.
However much illiterate a person might be, he/she knows that women have been granted with the gifting of life. So if we kill women then climatic change and natural calamities won’t be needed to wipe off our race. So to say the least, raising the issue of ‘their existence for ours’ isint sufficient. Next we talk about the potentials of a woman. We talk about equality of sexes and give examples of successful women. So their potential is not the issue. How they become successful and who ultimately reaps the benefits is the issue.
Women are raised to be ‘parayadhan’. She is considered to be ‘someone’s amaanat(property)’. Marriage is considered to be the ‘biggest day in her life’. Throughout her upbringing, she is ‘prepared’ for the journey to the ultimate destination- her husband’s place. The playing with dolls serves as the first institute to imbibe this concept of burden. The play revolved around the institution of marriage. While in the rural framework, this is more direct as in the gudda-guddikhel where ultimately the gudda and guddi gets married, in the urban space, Barbie teaches them the ‘ideal’ way for a woman. Once the ideology is set, the practical part comes. They are encouraged to learn house-hold work and taught how to walk and talk. They and everyone is mentally prepared to accept the ‘fact’ that one day she has to go. So the moment a girl turns 24, the whole world starts worrying about her. It is as if she has some kind of validity! But this is just the beginning. The ‘burden’ has to be set off through a grand ceremony. For the transaction, the ‘product’ draped in a saree, walks in slowly, with trembling hands under a tray of food. Then from ‘kahantakpadhi ho’ to ‘kuchgaakesunao’, all the features of the ‘product’ is clearly mentioned. Then comes the rate at which the burden has to be set off. In legal terms, this is called dowry but personally, this is referred to as ‘riwaaj(z)’. It consists of petty gifts like some dozen silk sarees, one Honda City or an equivalent car, bed, TV, AC, and maybe a ‘negligible’ amount of money. They say ‘Shaaditohjanmo-janmokarishtahai’ and there is no doubt about this. People take loans to marry off their daughters. The sum is so huge that it takes ages to repay it! So the bride, when she finally goes, drags along the family’s treasury. After all, marriages are a way to show how much you ‘love’ your daughter. Marriage is not just the union of the boy and the girl but of two families. This is true and so the bond has to be renewed every now and then via precious gifts. So no doubt that brides are considered to be ‘Gharki Lakshmi’! And then there is the belief among the bride’s family that ‘beti ke ghar ka paani bhi nai peena chahiye’, (One must not drink even water from the daughter’s new house_ even though beti ke ghar ka pani comes from her family’s pockets! And how much of a home is her husband’s place for a woman is another issue.
So the society has made women the burden for her parents. She is a huge financial constraint for them. First her education and then her marriage. Parents prefer investing more for their son’s education because they assume that the money will come back to them. Their son will not go anywhere. He will take care of his parents. But the daughter has to leave. And women have the ‘option’ of being a house-wife. Even if a woman becomes something, the benefits will be reaped by her husband and in-laws. The parents who raised her, did so much for her will get nothing in return. In fact her marriage will only worsen their financial condition. It is easy to say that it is the duty of the parents to raise the parayadhan only if you are financially strong. But what about a poor farmer who cannot even afford three meals a day? So if you save the girl child, then who will save her family later? So the issue is not to save the girl child but to kill such traditions.
The very basic assumption is that the girl has to go to her husband’s place. This is seen as a ‘universal fact’. But no one knows who set this as a fact and why. Why it is that only a woman should leave her parents and go. Why is she so portable…Doesn’t she have any attachments? This is also ironical because women are said to be ‘emotional fools’. There are parents who only have daughters or who have sons who are as good as daughters (leaving their parents). So if they all go, then who will take care of the parents? Calling them up every night is not the solution to anything. There is a concept of gharjamai(Where the groom comes to live with the bride’s family) but it is not widespread. The reason is that it is not respectable as this concept alters the ‘natural’ set of orders. Who sets these orders is again a question. Combining both the families is another feasible solution if the invisible hands of the society are ignored. Let ‘Marriage is the union of two families’ be literal. A part of the income of the girl can be given to her parents even after her marriage. This can help them economically. This is the least that she can do to pay some kind of gratitude to them. The marriage should not be a big affair. We have to realize that marriages may be arranged in heaven but they are definitely not done there! What is the need to make it such a lavish and unforgettable (the loans) affair? And why is that only the bride’s side has to arrange everything? Pinky weds bunty and Bunty weds Pinky. So both should pay. Similarly, the rivaaj(z)s of petty gifts also has to change. But all this can happen only if we stop treating women as ‘goods to be delivered’. The society will change…but only if u do! Don’t save the girl child, kill the murderers- kill dowry!
Devika Mittal is pursuing Phd in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics, New Delhi, India. She is a core member of Mission Bhartiyam and Covenor of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative. She tweets at: @devikasmittal