I was quite stirred by an article called “Unwanted daughters” by Harsh Mander in the Hindu Sunday Magazine dated 29th August, 2010 on a major recent study done on female feticide in India by Action Aid India and International Development Research Centre, Canada.
The article among disturbing facts like methods of killing the female child, neglect, illegal connivances of doctors and nurses, etc also talks about some interesting explanations cited up by the study that they believe perpetuate this evil norms in India. The explanations talk about the paradox that how some of the progressive policies of the Government such as inheritance rights for women, higher age for marriage, etc make them much more of an economic burden to the families as further expenditure on the girl and any property owned by them would only benefit the husband’s family after marriage as also that the woman’s physical capabilities like child bearing, productive abilities, caring abilities become the property of the husband’s household. Hence the article goes on to say that the female feticide is taking place more out of economic and material reasons rather than a desire for make child over female ones.
The articl then goes on to suggest as to how only through long term social reforms such as society changing their view of women, parents willing to live with their daughters in the old age, stoppage of dowry and other practices and enhancing the social and economic power of women within families can bring about any changes in this most heinous and inhuman practices in our society. It also brought the fact to the fore that some of urban areas and the educated class are also very much part of the female feticide trend.
After I read the article, I was with two contradictory emotions, one was of understanding and some empathy for the families who were killing their female infants (understanding and empathy would not tantamount to supporting them) and the other was a slight hopelessness and shame as to whether our society will ever be able to look at itself differently and even if it does, how will it take for us to bring any changes in these customs and how aware are we, the so called educated and progressive part of the society which has at least in paper, the capacity to influence positive social reforms through activism, practice and awareness.
While pondering over these, I also thought another incident that I was a part of in the recent past.
I was working with a multinational organisation where large number of men and women work together. The group that I worked with had the following demographic data: their average age is between 25 to 35, average education qualification ranges from postgraduate to MBA from prestigious institutions, most of them come from middle or upper middle class, most of them live in metros and have lived there for most of their lives, their take home salaries range between Rs. 15 to 30 lacs per annum. The group had about forty percent women and sixty percent men.
While working with this group, a particular narrative triggered off a question for them to explore the psychological status given to femininity in the organisation and we suggested that perhaps the status given to females and femininity in the minds of people (both men and women) were lower than the masculine traits and qualities. This created a furore in the group and many of them, especially some women were outraged that we could even hint at a possibility like this in their organisation context, while some others agreed with the hypothesis.
During a subsequent dialogue some of them argued that they never experienced any discrimination either during their growing up years nor do they experience any discrimination in their work places. What was hard for them to understand that even if they did not personally experience this differentiation, that there was a strong possibility of its presence in their organisation context and that it was probable that they themselves would be blind to their own biases and prejudices. The data that they presented in the context of the workshop, however, pointed towards a generally held psychological bias more towards masculine attributes and qualities as more desirable as compared to feminine attributes and qualities. The argument presented to them was that since both men and women would possess both masculine and feminine attributes in themselves, whether it was worthwhile for them to explore whether such a bias existed in the group and the repercussion of it in their work context.
This has been my experience in not only this organisation but in working with groups both within a work context or outside, that while most people condemn the overtly displayed patriarchal norms of unjust and inhibiting practices, they often remain blind to their own biases and prejudices. Most do not take into account that most of us in the world today are products of the patriarchal culture, values and norms and that our belief system, biases, assumptions and practices would be highly impacted by the super structure of the context. Hence injustice towards anyone who is weak in the eyes of the powers that be in any context when happening somewhere else, is easier to condemn but when it is happening within me or in my personal context by me towards others, or vice versa or towards others, we are often blind to it.
If I were to talk about myself, I became painfully aware of my own biases towards femininity when I was looking at strong biases held by people and by me shortly after the 26/11 incident in India. It is in my blog post called "Communalism Revisited" (http://sharbori21.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html).
I believe that today being female is not just about having a strong voice, opinion, capabilities, competence, financial power, status and power, but also about being self reflective, being sensitive to the larger context and towards oneself, having a sense of respect towards self as well as towards others irrespective of their social class or milieu and above all, living with a sense of conviction, commitment and responsibility towards oneself and towards the context, and living with this question: How do I wish to live? What is the quality of life that I wish to build around myself and around others, what responsibility do I have towards the larger context and finally what am I owing up and what am I disowning?
And needless to say the same argument holds true for men as well but I believe women of today need to be more aware of what is happening within as much as they need to be aware of what is happening outside.
What has been your experience? I would be interested to know and be happy if you share. :-)