As the mother of two girls, I have often had people telling me about the importance of having a son. So last week I decided to discuss the subject with several people I know, young and told, to understand where exactly this preference for boys comes from. Needless to say, I was appalled by the answers I got.
When I was expecting my elder one, the highly respected dowagers of my neighbourhood would always spare a few moments to survey the shape of my pregnant belly to adjudge whether a boy or girl floated inside. The verdict would then be passed: "Mubarak ho, lag raha he pehla bachcha ladka hi hoga (Congratulations, looks like your first born is going to be a boy)." I'd usually politely brush aside this kind of statement with a polite smile. My husband and I were far more concerned about the health of the pregnancy and the delivery rather than gender. Of course, I proved the old ladies' prediction wrong and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Their first reaction post delivery was, "Yeh kaise ho gaya? Tumne Krishnaji ki puja ki hoti tho aaj Bal Krishna tere godh mein khel rahe hote (How did this happen? If you had worshipped Lord Krishna, today a baby boy would have been in your arms)."
When my second daughter was born, no one said anything. The celebration was kept to a minimum and the air of disappointment was palpable.
When I was expecting my second baby, my household seemed somewhat tense, with the exception of me and my husband. My parents-in-law wanted their dear son to have a son. It was of importance to them. When my second daughter was born, no one said anything. The celebration was kept to a minimum and the air of disappointment was palpable.
This is probably the story in many more households. People don't always neglect the baby girl once she is born, but a male child is often preferred. And these kinds of individuals are present in every strata of society—it doesn't matter whether they are educated or not, it doesn't matter if they are in their 30s or in their 60s. The thought still prevails.
So, when I asked them about this preference, I got these four answers pretty much across the board—all united by a ridiculous repressiveness.
The traditional social set-up focuses on the son as being the main breadwinner of the family. He is expected to earn and take care of his parents in their old age. When I mentioned the fact that girls are financially independent today and earning their own living to a 60-something Mrs. Tiwari in my colony, here is what she had to say, "Beti kama bhi leti he, tho usse thodi paise lenge. Damaat kya sochega (Even if the girl works, how could we take money from her? What would the son-in-law think)?"
Daughters are more of a financial liability
It is apparently more expensive to bring up a girl child. Not only do you have to educate her, you also have to save up for her marriage and perhaps for other occasions in her life.
Girls need extra protection
Ok so this reason beats it all. Girls are an additional responsibility. With the high incidence of rape and sexual assault in this country, there is an additional responsibility of protection of the girl child. One always has to be on tenterhooks when she goes out.
The matter of karmic duties
This reason was mostly voiced by the elderly. Continuing the family name and the task of doing karma has always been on the shoulders of the son. This is still something people are concerned about, despite girls now coming forward to do the last rites of their parents. A small consolation was that the young educated individuals I spoke to didn't put forward this reason often.
I have learnt one thing after this exercise. Schemes will be launched in plenty by the government, but what really needs to happen is a change from within each one of us. At the grassroots level we need to evolve new thought processes and advocate these to our next generation. It is only then that we might have a fighting chance of eliminating gender bias.