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The mother of a daughter

The mother of a daughter
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The dread and the foreboding that today routinely mark the life of the girl-child and the woman, and why these need to be addressed.

It was the same nightmare, again.

I clutched the tiny hand of my daughter, sleeping next to me, and mumbled a silent prayer. It has become a pattern, since I became the mother of a daughter. And I am not the only one gripped with such near-lunatic misery. There are many more like me living in constant fear, waking up in the middle of the night with an uneasiness down their gut.

Often I stop watching television and throw away the newspaper. But whatever I do, I still cannot take it off my head — the screaming ‘breaking news’ displays: “Five-year-old brutally raped”; “New-born raped and murdered”; “Eighty-year old gang-raped”; “Bride burnt alive for dowry”…

Every day, newspapers bleed and TV howls – one rape every 10 minutes in India. The statistics hammer down the ugly truth. I re-live this nightmare again and again, feeling the pain of the family of those poor girls, feeling their loss, sharing their fear, dreading and praying to god to protect me from this misfortune. Because I’m the mother of a daughter.

My daughter is a lovely child, a mischievous smile plays on her rosy lips and her twinkling eyes reflect a fearless laughter. Like a bird she flies around hiding here and there. I dread this brave innocence of hers, and so I cook up stories of some invisible monster who will grab her if she is out of my sight. I watch her innocent smile vanish and a shadow of terror coming up in her beautiful eyes and I sigh. Because I’m the mother of a daughter.

The headlines scream again and I scream at her for having taken candy from that old man in the bus. I scream at her for waving to the liftman and taking a joyride with a neighbourhood uncle. With one excuse or another I check on her when she is with someone, be it a neighbour, classmate, teacher or cousin. I trust no one. Because I’m the mother of a daughter.

I daydream the nightmares in crowded as well as lonely places. The other day I grabbed her arm so tightly that my fingers left a red mark on her tender wrist and she cried in pain. But I still didn’t let it go and almost dragged her along with me, like a handcuffed criminal. Because I’m the mother of a daughter.

The books teach her to be pleasant and friendly with everyone, but I tell her not to be so, and not to smile at strangers. They teach her not to be afraid, but I scare her with stories of imaginary ghosts who will snatch her if she doesn’t listen to me. They teach her to greet everyone and share her belongings, but I tell her never ever to accept even a candy. They teach her to speak the truth, but I tell her not to if someone asks her anything personal. I unwind the stories she learns and the fairytales she watch, and recompose them with a different moral. Because I’m the mother of a daughter.

She wanted to be a dancer but I stopped her from the dancing classes because it was too far. She liked swimming for long hours but I told her to hurry before it grew dark. She was fascinated by rock-climbing but I could not risk an injury. She loved football but that will tan her beautiful fair skin. I try to mould her in any way I can and teach her ‘virtues’ suitable for good girls….. Because I am the mother of a daughter.

Any crime against a woman or a girl produces a ripple-effect; it has many direct and indirect victims. Even though we speak of women’s emancipation, gender equality and gender sensitisation, the ghastly nature of some of the crimes that are reported and the statistics force us to conclude that innocence is being snatched away from our daughters and their right to a carefree childhood taken away. What bigger injustice could be there when we start ‘punishing’ them from a tender age for being a potential victim, for being a source of our ‘fears’?

neovartika@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jul 18, 2018 10:07:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-mother-of-a-daughter/article7834730.ece