By Indrani Medhi
A typical Indian saying goes, "Bringing up a daughter is like watering a plant in another's courtyard." Women are viewed as mere objects or cargo, something to be shipped off to another household. Due to this stereotypical thinking, a daughter is considered a liability and outside commodity and even deprived of good food and nutrition. According to a global study, India is the fourth most dangerous country for a female child in the world.
Even in these times of technological advancements, most parents in India do not bring up a girl child well. They make them think that a girl is inferior - dependent, weak or physically delicate in comparison to a boy, etc. which has no relevance today. Society does discriminate against a girl in terms of giving her the freedom and creating unfathomable expectations from them. Girls are usually considered the second class citizen or the secondary sex, meant to be only in the kitchen or for bearing babies. But literally, it is never hard to raise a female child. In fact, it may be harder to raise a male child, because it's socially acceptable for boys to be unruly and indiscipline. Whilst the rest of the society would be admiring the son's 'active' nature while the parents are tearing their hair apart trying to prevent him from breaking down the house!
Gender-based discrimination against female children is pervasive across the world. It is seen in all strata of society and manifested in various forms.
The female child has been treated inferior to the male child and this is deeply engraved in the mind of the female child. Some argue that due to this inferior treatment, the females fail to understand their rights. This is more predominant in India as well as other lesser developed countries.
Sex selection before birth, female foeticide, infanticide and neglect of the female child after birth, in childhood and during the teenage years, have outnumbered males to females in India. The female child's status is the product of general social attitude towards women at large in India.
Girls in India face higher risks of malnutrition, disease, disability, and retardation of growth and development. They have no access to or control over the resources because their work towards raising a family and in the household chores is undervalued. The main reason is the stereotype that the male offspring will better support the family. Since sons are always seen as the main source of income, even though today women have many career options and have attained heights professionally, the common misconception still remains that it is the male who will help run the house and look after his parents.
But for a man, his aging parents are literally taken care of by his wife - the daughter-in-law of the family, hence he has no worries. Centuries of repression and inferiority have taught women to be the meek, submissive, docile wife who works relentlessly to cater to the whims of her husband.
When we help a girl child and empower her, the whole society benefits - the families are healthier, children go to school, income levels improve and communities become more prosperous. But unfortunately in India, far from being empowered, most girls are denied even their basic rights like health, education, employment and a respectable status in society. This naturally translates to a higher number of women being illiterate, compared to men. The biggest question is why doesn't the society value the girl child? Is 'dowry' creating a problem? Or is finding her a husband a bigger problem than that for a girl's parents? Then hasn't making laws against dowry solved the problem? No, it hasn't, because parents who just have to get their daughters married by a certain age to a certain kind of man, have no choice but to give dowry and accept some ridiculous conditions which appear normal to every Indian because 'dowry' has become a habit and a custom.
In India, the age-old dowry system puts a damper on the spirits of those who are blessed with a girl child. When a girl is born, the parents begin to calculate the expense of her future marriage, the lump sum that will paid to the future groom's family.
Because of this, the girl is nothing but a tragedy for the family. It never matters whether a daughter is completely self-reliant or self-sufficient; she still 'must' marry before she is a certain age. So, is getting married the sole goal in a daughter's life? Some questions still remain unanswered.
Today, many parents may proudly boast that they bring up their daughters like 'sons', they give equal rights and opportunities to their daughters just like 'sons'. But why don't they realize that rearing a child as a true human being or a responsible citizen of a country is more important than rearing 'her' like 'him'. Girls need to be empowered in order to be future leaders, self-fulfilled individuals and role-models in their communities. With changing times, girls have gained status equivalent to boys in every sector, in every field - sports, culture, art and literature, science, politics and the like. But every child, irrespective of its gender, is a small plant that would grow the way parents mould them.
Be it a girl or a boy, helping a child in decision making, filling the child with a sense of strong determination and encouraging the child to achieve its dreams, helping the child overcome the challenges of life, enabling the child realize and develop its innate potentials and above all, providing the best possible education to the child is what the biggest responsibility of parents today is.
Hence acquisition of knowledge and skills towards achieving these objectives can be obtained not only by providing access to education but also in socio-economic, political, cultural and personal factors.