January 24 was observed as the National Girl Child Day. Marking the day that Indira Gandhi took over as Prime Minister in 1966, the government plans to raise awareness on sex-selection abortion and female infant abandonment. But the event was noted more for the controversy and heat generated than for any light shed on the status of the girl child. A photograph of a Pakistani general hogged the limelight in a government advertisement. Television panelists had a field day, and in an age when the medium is the message, the chaos drowned out the girl child's voice.
Our second daughter was born this Republic Day. In the new millennium, could there be a better day for a girl child to be born in a resurgent and progressive India? However, not everybody seems to think so. Out distributing sweets, I would first be asked about the sex of the newborn, then about the sex of the elder one and then came the congratulations, but somewhat with a “hard luck” tone to it. There were others with two daughters themselves, who seemed to say “Don't worry, we too have two daughters”. Our friend the postman wanted to know if we were thinking of family planning. I have heard it said that in the labour rooms in government hospitals in Chennai that the hospital attendants expect more money from the parents when the child is a male. Left me wondering whether we are in the 21st century? As the French say it, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Are things still the same for the girl child in India as they were in the 70s or 80s? Death from ‘accidental' household burns was a common feature on Page 3 of newspapers those days. The girl child was the beast of burden — looking after younger siblings, working in other households, ignored when it came to education and behind the boys in getting nutrition. But things have changed. There has been a significant change in outlook towards the girl child. No longer is she considered a burden at birth. Many progressive government initiatives have no doubt contributed to this. Free education has opened up new horizons for her. She can dream of flying and achieving it too. Especially in urban and semi-urban areas, the girl child is no longer at a disadvantage.
However, things can and need to improve further. When a nine-year-old child is raped and when it is said that she behaved provocatively, we know we are not there yet. Another girl is molested and the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly. In the new India, let us look at areas where the girl child is put at a disadvantage and seek to correct it. She should not grow up feeling discriminated against. Teach her and support her so that she can create her own destiny. Let her not grow up rueing about lack of opportunities. Let her “arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.” Let her say Jai Bharat and we can add Jai Bharati!
(The writer is Senior Lecturer in General Surgery, T.D. Medical College, Alappuzha, Kerala. email: firstname.lastname@example.org)