Being an active co-owner of my family’s advertising business that’s over half a century old now, I’m fairly acquainted with the family details of most of our permanent staff members who’ve loyally been with our agency for over 25 years. One of the staff members Jalal, who is now the art director in our Chennai branch, had come home the other day with his wife to invite my family personally for a wedding. They handed me the beautiful card for one of their children’s ‘Nikkah’ and I assumed it must be for the eldest son of the two sons. But I was surprised to read the name ‘Fathima’ daughter of ‘Jalal and Saira’ and quizzically looked at them asking if they are giving away a daughter in marriage on behalf of some other deceased family member. My throat choked when I heard that ‘Fathima’ was raised as the third child after she was abandoned as a new born baby in the hospital with no trace of the parents, compassionately brought home by Jalal’s brother who couldn’t take care of the child due to reasons of poverty and subsequently adopted by this couple at a time when their second son was just a new-born baby. Jalal never publicised this or spoke about it to anyone at office all these years and we never knew about it until the wedding invite was given. I attended the Nikkah and was so proud of my art director for bringing up that child and ensuring a good married life into another new family that whole-heartedly accepted her. Amidst horrific abuse stories of baby Afreens and Shireens of the world, this was indeed a heart-warming relief to know that there is still some humanity left in this world.
A few Jalals and Sairas however are not enough to protect the female foetuses, new born daughters, growing up girls and grown up women from backward in-laws, abusive fathers, helpless mothers, drunkard husbands and the entire society with a male-favoured mindset. The task of bringing about awareness to welcome and encourage a girl child has to be a continuous exercise everyday at every opportune moment. While we do have specific organisations fighting for their rights (including their right to live), we can do our bit by advocating the value of a girl child and bring about a change in their mindset to embrace them as much as a boy child.
When sex selective foeticide is rampant in a male-obsessed country for human beings, imagine how tough it can get for nature lovers to make people accept female pets in their homes and the nightmare they go through to convince them to adopt. It's a continuous endeavour to educate them on the advantages of having female dogs for example that can be extremely affectionate towards its guardians yet be fiercefully protective of the house that becomes their territory to guard when strangers turn up and how there's a viable option of spaying them to tackle breeding problems.
Anyway, coming back to our species problem, every time I step out of the house and enter places requiring a handbag scanning and security check, I tell myself it's the contribution of terrorists to this country. Like a mandatory security measure that forces governments to strip down the sun control opacity of vehicle windows, can the government also ensure security of the female clan by passing a Bill to strip down the perpetrators of their salary, assets, jewellery, job or whatever is dear to the concerned abuser and thereby the dignity to live in a society is the question I ask often. The existing provisions of 6 months to 2 years imprisonment or Rs. 10,000/- fine or both as the case may be is just not enough to instil the fear in the minds of the male-biased retards.
And what can we do from our end to condemn such acts? Every time you overhear a conversation in the train about male favouritism, every time you witness an ill-treatment being meted out to a girl child, every time you see your neighbour employing a minor as a maid, every time you hear your next door lady's cry from her husband's torture, every time a dowry is being asked by the boy's side from your house-keeper's daughter's wedding, every time you get the opportunity to raise your voice in a media show or interview, speak up. It doesn't matter if you're knocking into their private space to stop them from being abused. It doesn't matter that the atrocities are happening in somebody else's family. It doesn't matter if they're educated or rude enough to ask you to mind your own business. Ask. Interfere. Fight. Raise your voice. Object. Complain to police. Bring the roof down. Gather all your neighbours to jointly question. Whatever hungama will make them hesitate and eventually stop or at least think twice before the abuser even thinks about putting a hand on a female child or woman again.
Liking and admiring women should not just be restricted to those in your family but extended as a way of fighting for the voiceless and the vulnerable lot in the society you live in. It is not enough to just praise a Vidya Balan who's giving the male Khans sleepless nights at the box office. It is not enough to just enjoy the Sheilas and Munnis entertaining you and watching them gyrate on screen. It doesn't stop with filmmakers making powerful women-centric films like Kahaani or Arundhati. Even the existing laws favouring women's rights, education, anti-dowry, anti sex determination are not 100% effective unless we empower ourselves with the provisions, read about it, know what action can be taken, recommend the possible action for any injustice and support a victim in whatever little way possible.
And finally, to all those ill-informed folks favouring a male child and blaming it on the woman for not being able to give a son to the family, blame it on the man instead of the woman. Biologically, the gender of the child is determined by Chromosome XY present only in a male and the female produces only Chromosome XX. So the next time anyone points a finger at a woman, well, you know which finger to show back to them.
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