Our three girls fly around us like sparks of fire. In India, we are often met with questioning and very pitying looks. Three girls? No one would like to exchange places with us here. The reactions vary from open concern, “Three girls? How will you get them married?” to covertly concerned, “Three girls? It must be hard to plan for that no?” to the more genteel comments such as, ” Three girls? How lovely to have daughters.” or the most outrageous of them all, ” Shouldn’t you try again? Maybe this time it will be a boy?”
The male child in India is a prized possession. Traditionally, the upholder of the family name, the care taker of parents in old age, the one who has to light the funeral pyre of his parents, the one who shall bring in a bride with a hefty dowry. A win-win social set up if ever there was any. And so it would have continued if it was not that somehow, somewhere girls started to get educated, dowries became an outdated proposition (except in some very interestingly backwardly forward states and communities), and the tradition of sons who lived with their parents faded. Women friends of mine take equal — if not in many cases more care of their aging parents compared to their male siblings, and most of my girl friends are as educated as any man I know.
Yet, real emancipation in India for women is still an arduous road, a struggle fraught with difficulties and often very serious dangers. In recent times India came under international notice for the rape of a girl in a moving bus in Delhi. There were nation wide protests, change was imminent, reform was promised and proclaimed. In India where the name of a rape victim is still not legally allowed to be revealed, she was called India’s daughter. Such irony in the moniker. But change didn’t happen. How can it in a country where the birth of a male child is largely more celebrated than that of a girl child?
Rapes, female infanticide, sexual harassment and in certain places even child marriage are a part of the darker fabric of this nation that is simultaneously dashing head first towards a modernity it is not prepared for. Look up Uber and the sexual harassment cases in India for just one example of this. My friend and writer Sayantan Ghosh recently published a piece about how a popular singer has glamorized rape, sexual harassment and the general state of women subjugated to the male gaze in his very very popular songs. That there have been no protests or outrage against songs that glamorize humiliations of a girl, is in itself a discouraging sign of how things still stand here-
Freedom for women, women’s rights — such glory, such glamor in these words — but even in a country like America, women are infamously paid less for the same jobs done by their male counterparts. Yet, I must acknowledge that as a woman I have experienced the greatest freedoms in my life, in America. Whether a woman wears a pair of shorts or a bikini, in America NO ONE will ever ever say that she deserved to be raped or harassed, or that she was asking for it because her revealing curves were justifiable temptations for a man. Such indignity, such shame to have to live under these social conditions, where politicians, law makers and even the police can blame a woman for her own abuse.
And yet, I have come here to India. I have brought with me my American husband, our three girls. I have loved this country where I have called as a brother every man I have not dated, wanted to date or marry, where we still touch the feet of our elders with respect, where a doctor will see you without first taking payment from you or even making sure you can. My country of origin, how your heart must bleed at the injustices against its women. Swami Vivekananda said, “The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women and it is impossible to get back India’s lost pride and honor unless they try to better the condition of women.” So, as I stop to hail that Uber today, even as I love it that I can buy Kellogg’s cornflakes or shop at Sephora or go for a drink with a friend, I know that there is still a long way to go till I will not be an object of pity because I am the mother of three girls.