Women Hold Up Half the Sky

by Sahadev Komaragiri

Google Find: Winner of Creative Excellence Award

A woman is an epitome of patience, yet she is treated with contempt. The problems encountered by them represent a national shame that would scare even the devils. India 1901: 972 women for every 1,000 men. India 2001: 933 women for every 1,000 men. Advances in sex determination technologies worsened the situation. The above picture summarizes the situation. The balance is shifting and it is certainly not a good thing. Who suffers when the female population drops?

The expectation is that men would have hard time getting married and that they would look up to women with more respect and care. It is also expected that the general population would continue to save the girl child and not abort them. Right? Wrong again. The girl child is the one to suffer the consequences. Here’s how. Between 1996 and 1998, according to a UNFPA survey, the northern states of Haryana and Punjab accounted for an estimated 81 per cent and 26 per cent of total abortions, respectively. The problem was much more prevalent even before that. The girl child population dropped dramatically in these states. See the picture on the right. What is the result? Girls are trafficked from places like Assam and West Bengal, where the female male ratio is better, to the states of Punjab and Haryana. There are agents who literally buy girls from poor families in these states. These girls are “sold” into marriages.

There is something very special about marriage in India. It is a very sacred institution. It is good in a way, but it goes to the extreme of treating even a forced marriage as a very sacred one. The trafficked girls rarely protest when they are forced into a marriage that is not of their choice. These girls cannot get out of it and the problem goes unnoticed. All the sins committed are now buried under an institution called marriage.

It is baffling to many to note that even women prefer a boy child to a girl child. It is ironic that they even pray to their favorite goddesses to secure a boy child. This is especially true in the villages. The reason, in my opinion, is that the problem feeds itself into growing like a monster. An uneducated mother in remote villages sees girls being abducted, trafficked, sold and forced into marriages. Would it not be obvious for a troubled mother to seek a boy child who does not have to go through half as much of the humiliation? This is indeed a very sad state of affairs. In the urban centers of India it is heartening to see educated and confident girls who are at the forefront of all development. Do they have a solution to the problems in the remote villages of India?

When a girl is uneducated she remains a mute participant in all the affairs that concern her future. Now imagine what happens when the entire family is uneducated and an agent walks in with loads of money and promises of a great future in distant lands. They will never understand what dangers await these young girls in those promised lands. Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school. Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls. It is these many girls who are perpetually in grave danger.

Marriages are usually delayed for girls who are educated. They usually don’t get married as teenagers. A survey in India found that girls who married before age 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped, or threatened by their husbands as were girls who married later. This is especially true in underdeveloped north and north eastern states. A perfect recipe for disaster is a combination of lack of education, poverty, organized crime and a lack of interest in law enforcement agencies to face these problems head on.

The society pays too. Do you think an educated mother will allow for raising violent kids? This question can have varied responses. But in general the answer is no. It is usually the areas that are mired in deep poverty and lack of infrastructure in education that turn into breeding grounds for terrorists and violent people.

If God created men and women to be equal, half the sky and half the earth should belong to them. In the last post, I quoted a verse from Manu Dharma Sastra. It says where women are respected and worshipped there the gods shower abundance of happiness. I quoted only the first line. The second line of the same verse sounds an ominous tone. Where women are not respected, there all accomplishments amount to a big failure. The problem is monster sized. But as with many problems of that size, the solution is typically a very simple one. What it is and how it will work will be discussed in the next post.

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