Son- The Panacea of Indian Misery

Emperor Akbar, the Great, is said to have performed severe penance so as to be blessed with a son. He travelled more than 350 kilometeres, on foot, to Ajmer when Prince Salim was born, to pay his respects and thank Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti at his dargah. Many great kings in the past have resorted to such measures in order to be blessed with an heir (read son). Since girls didn’t have the right to ascend to the throne, a male child was the first preference. Although daughters were treated with dignity, lived a luxurious life and were often taught warfare tactics, they were never seen as rulers. While it was quite natural for the kings (or feudals) to hope for a son, who would succeed him and carry forward his legacy, it is interesting to see that even the common folk were captives of this ideology. This was probably due to the prevalence of practices such as dowry. Afterall, it is easier to take than to give.

Marrying off a daughter was no less than unwinding the Gordian’s knot for the plebeians. Children were married young and thus we understand why fathers knitted their brows at the birth of a daughter because soon she would have to be wedded and that would entail vast amount of expenses.

But that is all history. This is 2018. 21st century. We do not have Kings or jagirdars anymore. Neither do we have baal-vivah in vogue anywhere around. Even dowry system is a passè. Wait a minute. Then why did the Economic Survey-2018 depicted a high son ‘meta’ preference among Indian couples? Shocked? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Can’t say about you but I am blasè; because once you know the root of anything, it doesn’t really bewilder you.

This year’s Economic Survey, presented in a pink cover, in support of women empowerment, ironically gave us a statistic worthy to be embarrassed about. We Indians have a highly skewed sex ratio to last child born (SRLC) in favour of boys. Which, simply put, means that Indian couples don’t stop producing till a desired number of boys are born. The preference for a baby boy is so ensconced in our society that we didn’t shy away from producing nearly (and probably) 21 million ‘unwanted girls’.

Hurrah! This is the 21st century India and with this all the efforts of the so-&-so NGOs & human right activists go right to the dogs. But, but, but, hold on a second, conversely we also see that the figures of female foeticide and infanticide have plummeted, and so have the number of cases of pre-natal sex determination. The enrollment of girls into schools is on a rise and women participation in the workforce remains steady. Maybe not all the efforts went to the dogs.

That’s all stats. Figures. Numbers. Lets get down to brass tracks. Why on earth, in this post-modern scientific age, when the world is taking a leap from gender-equality towards gender-neutrality, is India still glued to this pre-medieval mindset?

Don’t think too hard for the answer is comparatively simple- Marriage.

Ladkiyo ne to shaadi karke chale he jana hota hai, ladke he ma-baap k budhape ka sahara hote hai. (Daughters eventually get married and leave with their husbands, while its the son who supports parents in their old age). Now, now, stop right there, this, yes, this is the part where it all starts.

We Indians happen to be pretty far-sighted. We start preparing for our old age when we are in our prime. O no no, I did not mean ‘saving for retirement’ but ‘producing’ for it. We do not mind having daughters, yet, at least one son is all we wish for so that some 50 years from today we will have someone by our side.

Since time immemorial we have burdened our sons. We have forced them to strike an equilibrium between wife and parents. Indian parents invariably expect their sons to be an incarnation of Shravan Kumar, while a wife-loving man is asininely dubbed as joru ka ghulam (henpecked husband). Hindustani mothers cannot stand their sons patronising their wives. Normally around the world, people beget children because besides being a source of joy they give one a purpose to live for. But we Indians have an ulterior motive too. We wish, we pray, we beg, we resort to tantar-mantar and often to medication claiming a guaranteed male progeny, and if any of these todkas does work and indeed a son is born, we nurture him extravagantly, bow down to all his demands and pamper him to a fault; partially out of love and partially out of the assumption that one day he is going to return the favours. But all hell breaks loose when the son decides to move out of his parents house with his newly wed wife. A fusillade of criticism is launched at the couple. The son is accused of moral turpitude. All & sundry begin reprehending the wife for her alleged chicanery in diabolically snatching away the lamp of the house. The parents become victims instantly and son, the culprit. And why wouldn’t he. For he was begotten not to live his own life but to cater to his parents’. How dare he decide to move out of his begetters house!

Why wouldn’t a couple desire a son when our Bharatiya sanskriti mixed with Indian rules make it morally and legally an obligation for a man to take care of his parents, failing which he will be liable to 3 months imprisonment or more, as the case maybe. The setup of our society is such that it puts the onus on the man alone and not woman. Old parents are a son’s responsibility not daughter’s; and by this convention the revelation of high son ‘meta’ peference shouldn’t make us gasp or gape our eyes for we humans are selfish creatures. We look for security prior to anything we undertake and a son, by virtue of our societal conviction, is our security deposit. For us Indians- son is the panacea of all our miseries.

This issue of son preference is not akin to India alone but to other East and South Asian nations, such as China, as well. Interestingly the reason remains the same. We do not find skewed sex ratios in Western advanced countries due to the fact that their prospects are same for their kids of both genders- school, college, university, well earning job, marriage, grandchildren. But our forecasts differ big time. For daughters, we dream only till her marriage. But for sons our reverie is never-ending, not even when we are moribund. It is this difference in culture that is the root cause of high son preference and needs reformation. A son or a daughter would be insignificant once we know that in either case they will eventually leave their parents place for greener pastures. The westerners have married this reality and to them a baby boy or a baby girl makes as much a difference as two peas of the same pod. Theirs is the culture of independent upbringing, where parents prepare their sons for the world ahead of them and not merely for lighting their funeral pyre. Their sons and daughters are equally free and at the same time equally riveted to their part of responsibilty towards their parents. Hence, the question of gender preference does not arise.

Many will disagree when I say this, but somewhere our culture is at fault. Our culture promotes dependency. First, dependency of children, even after they attain adulthood, on their parents. Second, of parents on their children (specifically sons), even after they are married and have their own family to attend to. I do not mean to perpetrate that men should dump their parents, NO! But I think there should be wilful assent. No son should be forced to choose between his wife and mother; and no son should be begotten only to perform the last rites of his begetter. Indian mommies and daddies should concede that the little birdie, sooner or later, will fly off the nest.

We need to assign equal roles to both sexes. If daughters have an equal claim in the wealth of her family to that of son(s), she should also be made an equal partner, when it comes to sharing the (financial) responsibility of her aging parents, of the son(s).

If this happens, in no time this high son meta preference will be a thing of the past.

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We do NOT deserve development

Dear Modiji,

I am a citizen of India, and like any other Indian I want my nation to progress, grow and be counted amongst the developed economies of the globe. I, too, dream of the ‘advanced country’ tag for India, so that we are not looked down upon as a sordid ‘third world‘ country but instead are held in high esteem & at par with America, Canada, the United Kingdom and the likes. I want the world to take us seriously. I, too, want our people to boast of state-of-the-art infrastructure- sturdy roads, clean sidewalks, skyscrapers, high-speed communication, efficient public transport, fully equipped hospitals, world class institutions. I want the other countries to exemplify us. Do I ask too much? Perhaps not, for these are some common aspirations of every common Indian. But alas! Wishes aren’t horses.

Although a nationalist out & out, yet today, with great sickness at heart but a clear mind, I request you (and the future governments) not to bestow upon us Indians this cardinal gift of development!

We don’t deserve development. We don’t deserve high-speed trains & hyperloops & air conditioned buses. We don’t deserve cemented roads & lush green public parks. We don’t deserve luxury class cinema halls & big brand showrooms; because today, tomorrow or maybe day after that, some depraved mob protesting against the release of a bollywood film or demanding aarakshan or apoplectic over the sentencing of a self-proclaimed God, will march in and burn it all down. We have done it in the name of caste and in the name of religion. The causes of these upheavals every now & then being genuine or due to egging by political parties, eyeing at grinding their own axes, cannot be adjudged, but evidently the nation suffers. The nation suffers when the conviction of a rapist shuts down two states and a Union Territory. The nation suffers when multiplexes are vandalised and a bounty on the head of an artist is vehemently announced, sans fear of apprehension. The nation suffers when a community, otherwise immersed in its caste hubris, asks for OBC quota and char its own motherland down.

Once, twice, thrice. No, no. We have done it many times. Innumerable times! Whenever an angry Indian steps out of his house to vent out his frustration, it is the name of the country that goes down the drain. And as if all this is not enough, we also display mean callousness towards our monuments, the symbols of our shared heritage. Instead of looking at them as national treasures we see them as ideal spots to immortalise our love stories by scribbling our names conjuncted by petty heart signs and other inanities.

Just as the upbringing of a fractious child is called into question upon his misdemeanour, here too, the fault lies in the nurturing. Since independence, almost every regime has blindly followed the politics of appeasement and freebies to secure its seat in the next elections. Indubitably, growth has taken place, but only quantitatively. The number of schools, colleges and universities have risen, but the quality remains debatable. Our leaders’ largesse in giving eminence to industrial and tertiary sector during the planning era is commendable, but these should have been secondary concerns. We have seen plans devoted to manufacturing sectors but never saw a plan or budget entirely focused on education. A new democracy, recently out of the clutches of colonialism, should have known that it is only right education and awareness that can bring ourselves out of the vicious circle of violence. If along with skills a feeling of belongingness to one’s nation is embedded right at the elementary & middle school level and vandalism be treated no less than a felony, our country might witness less of such stigmatised incidents. But unfortunately, in a State where a simple order by the supreme court to play the National Anthem in cinema halls invites debates & discussions, this scheme seems a near chimera.

Another reason why we don’t think twice before uprooting a railway line or smashing a window pane of a public structure is because most of us aren’t actually paying for it. The trend of providing anything & everything for free to the subalterns doesn’t make them cognisant of the fact that highways, bridges, dams and other such infrastructures don’t conjure out of thin air but entail huge fund flows and it us, the citizens, who are the source of these funds. These subalterns are then employed & deployed by the high & mighty of the political world to wreak havoc on the very nation they publicly pledge to preserve.

Therefore Modiji, I say, we don’t deserve development. We don’t deserve any of those Japanese bullet trains because we will ravish it just as we ravished our own Tejas Express. We are not civilised despite being one of the oldest civilisations of the world. We are not logical enough to understand that it is our own money which goes into building the property we so mercilessly annihilate.

Our Bharat doesn’t deserve development, it first deserves a lesson. The lesson of respect. Respect for the country in which we are born and in which we are educated, the country in whose air we breathe so freely and roam without fear, the country whose resources we so invariably and often profligately use to satisfy our hunger & thirst, the country which gives us an identity of who we are.

Protest & dissent are the two inviolable parts of a democracy. We can protest. We can dissent. But we cannot take the law in our own hands and then demand justice. Ours is the land where Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi were born. The two epitomes of non-violence and pacifism. The world looks up to them. Maybe, we should too.

A nation is not just a political boundary or an economic territory, a nation is a conscious; and it is this conscious that must strive for building a State which the world reckons with.

No Sita, No Draupadi

For years we have heard our elders tell us tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. We are taught excerpts from these epics as examples of morality. While boys are taught to walk on the path laid down by Lord Ram, girls are implicitly expected to be chaste like Sita. Our scriptures are all praise for Siya-Ram for being the epitomes of perseverance and uprightness. While Ram established new horizons of rajdharma, Sita crossed all boundaries of sacrifice & loyalty and became the symbol of an ideal wife for centuries to come.

If Sita is everything a woman is expected to be like- calm, composed, patient, respectful, tolerant, unquestioning and virtuous almost to a fault, we also have Draupadi, everything a woman is not expected to be like- ambitious, brazen, outspoken, stubborn, wrathful and revengeful. These two ladies might be chalk & cheese but they did have their fair share of hardships and spent most of their lives in misery, despite being queens! As common knowledge, Sita was abducted by Raavan, though rescued, had to take the agni pariksha to exonerate herself from charges of impurity, only to be later condemned by her own husband whose very struggles she made her own. Panchali was dragged in the maha sabha, pulled by her hair, molested publicly and then forced out of her kingdom into the woods for a 13 year exile.

Abduction of Sita.
Draupadi in maha Sabha.

We may take pride while listening to the tales of bravura of Lord Ram and the skillful Arjun or the sturdy Bheem, but the travails of these two women cannot be brushed aside. Ram became the king but it was Janaki who roamed the forests for rest of her life. Pandavas won the war but it was Panchali who lived with the reminiscents of the cheer haran forever. Ram killed Raavan but Sita had to ultimately commit suicide to prove her chastity. It was Shakuni who orchestrated the infamous game of dice and it was Yudhishthir- the just, who gambled away his wife, yet, Draupadi is held guilty for the Kurukshetra war.

Don’t these accounts sound familiar? They do indeed, not because we’ve been hearing these stories since our childhood but because very similar episodes can also be experienced around us in quotidian.

Satyug, Tretayug, Dwaparyug and Kalyug- are the four yugas or stages, according to Hindu beliefs, the world goes through. We are presently in the last of these four yugas i.e., the Kali yuga, which literally translates to ‘the age of vice’. How much of this is true cannot be ascertained, but if this theory holds true, it can be stated with certitude that the roots of modern day crimes against women were sowed in these preceding yugas.

Why are we then exasperated to read, hear or see cases of ‘virginity test’ in communities such as Kanjarbhat; and the notorious polyandrous rituals in the state of Himachal, when our own Gods and Goddesses enacted such a role-play where even after going through an agni pariksha a woman stands impugned; where a woman, bent under the social dogma, is first forced to marry 5 men and then is aspersed by the very society and subjected to remarks as lewd as vaishya; where a woman is stripped-off her modesty in the presence of her high & mighty husbands and yet none moved a muscle?

Be it Tretayug or Dwaparyug; be it one Ram or five Pandavas; be it Raavan or be it Duryodhan; women have been unsafe, men have used them as objects to avenge their hurt egos, and their saviours, whom they so devotedly followed & worshipped, have proven helpless in protecting their honour. Sita’s selflessness and Draupadi’s iron will are unprecedented, but so is their destituteness in their greatest hour of need. They allowed themsleves to be tamed. Perhaps, they depended too much on their better-halves who proved to be broken reeds. They waited way too long for justice to be delivered. It did in the end, but at a cost too high.

Our puranas being timeless, do not pertain to any single epoch. If they find resonance today so will they in future near & far alike. Every new crop will be told and re-told these stories. While it is upon the elders to cognise the younger lot with these myths (which form the pillars of our Hindu belief system), the analysis of these should be left upon the new breed entirely. Every young generation interprets religion and mythology in accordance with their zeitgeist. This interpretation should be a never-ending wringing process. Because repeating something over and over again does not make it the only truth. A fresh perspective can always be carved out.

What I have gathered is that it is not easy to be born a woman. While one cannot help his/her birth, efforts should be made to extenuate the situation . And that cannot be done by relying on others. We need to be independent. We need to be strong. We need to stop asking the government for security. Sure it is the duty of the state to provide a secure ambience to its women and it should strive for it, but rapes don’t take place only on roads & public transport; they happen at homes, workplaces, schools & colleges. A policeman cannot be at all these places 24*7. We need to be aware. We need to be mentally sharp. We need to be physically fit. We need to come out of the quagmire of self-pity and stop treating ourselves as victims all the time.

Sita belonged to divinity and so did Draupadi. They were said to be incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi and Maha Kali. One was born of earth and the other of fire. If these devis can be violated, Nirbhaya incident succinctly illustrates what could happen to mortal women like ourselves.

From Ramayana & Mahabharata there are umpteen lessons to inculcate, but for us ladies there are many ‘not’ to. To all the women of this Age of Kali I say, Don’t be a Sita! Don’t be a Draupadi! Let not the patriarchy dictate you & let not men toy with you. Don’t be a damsel in distress who awaits her Prince Charming on a white horse and in shining armour to emancipate her. Instead, be your own saviour!

Because in our unfortunate times, Raavans there are many but Krishnas too few.

Between Scylla & Charybdis

The day was 16th May, 2014. BJP led NDA had won the general elections and Shri Narendra Modi was going to be the 16th Prime Minister of India. Congress was completely routed. Pompous roadshows, Gujarat model, multiple claims to bring back the black money stacked abroad were some of the main highlights of the Modi led campaign.

It’s been 3 years and 7 months now. Make in India, Start up India, UDAN, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Digital India, Skill India, Mission Indradhanush, Smart city mission and many more such schemes have been launched which have won appraisal not only from the rank & file of the nation but also internationally. On the other hand, demonetisation, implementation of GST and Aadhar mandation, has also brought the Centre under strong criticism.

While the opposition, which here is the grand old party of India-INC, is unconvinced of even one of the plans & policies of the government being pro-poor and accuses it of name-changing and credit-hogging strategies, the ruling BJP maintains that it is the government of the marginalised and the two consecutive UPA regimes were a complete fallout.

While we watch everyday on news channels the inconclusive debates, fulminations & calumnies being pressed against each other by these parties, and read in the newspapers the scathing discourses of the Argus eyed politico-socio-economic columnists on the Prime Minister’s office, we miss an important question. What are our options?

India is a democracy. The largest in the world. And the essence of democracy lies in the fact that it always offers choice. And at times too many of them. India had a choice in the summer of 2014. To bring to power a man, who had proved his mettle as the three-time Chief Minister of Gujarat, but was also alleged of Muslim carnage, OR to vote for more than a century old party whose leadership hung in balance. India chose the former. The matter to be looked into here is what level of choices were we offered. Narendra Modi- dauntless, rhetorician, visionary, a nationalist to the core but also a thorough believer of Hindutva ideology and thus deemed anti-Muslim. Rahul Gandhi, who was though, not the official face of the Congress in the last general elections but was an obvious contender, was inexperienced, politically humdrum, yet free of any corruption charges or malfeasance. Neither NaMo nor RaGa can be adjudged as the perfect fit for the highest office of the country. Both are positive and both are negative. Yet, we chose. We chose not between a God & a Satan, neither between the virtuous & the debauched, we chose between Scylla & Charybdis.

Yes! Between Scylla & Charybdis. Because in a democracy we never have ‘the best’ and seldom ‘good’, we may find ‘better’ but what we do have in galore is the ‘worse’. It is this better that we must look for among the many worse. Democracy never presents us with a choice between the good & the ugly. To quote George Orwell, politics is choosing between the lesser of the two evils. And for us Indians that lesser evil turned out to be Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Ever since he acquired the PM’s office, he has been assailed not only by the Congress but also by many other minor parties for his anomalous decision-making. While his DBT and Jan Dhan Yojna were lauded globally, demonetisation and GST brought him equal rancour on the home turf. He has been aspersed, called names, trolled, at the same time commended, hailed and applauded. But so was the case with late PM Indira Gandhi. If nationalisation of banks, liberation of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) and Shimla Agreement stand to her credit, Emergency state of 1975 and Operation Blue Star (1984) are the sour reminders of the other side of her regime. Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary who ruled the archipelago for a little above 5 decades as Prime Minister and later as President, broke the US hegemony on his peoples. He did setup free education and healthcare systems but the standard of living in Cuba remains low, hitherto.

The 43rd President of the USA, George W. Bush, who won the presidency but lost the popular vote, is notorious for leading America into the Iraqi war and using nefarious anti-terror tactics, yet served full two terms and was able to pass the greatest tax cut in American history. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the revolutionary-turned-repressive-dictator, who died in 1970, is still revered by the Egyptians, even the young generation, as the greatest leader ever, though he lost the Sinai peninsula to Israel in the Six-day war (1967). And in line with these, the latest example of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe being grilled-up in the June of 2017 on charges of perjury & cronyism and then winning a landslide victory in the snap polls of October of the same year, proves the conviction that well behaved persons seldom create history.

Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro, George W. Bush, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Shinzo Abe, Narendra Modi are all tainted. But yet are exalted. For they did (and are doing) the right thing, at the right time for their respective countries. They passed with distinction the comparatively better litmus test of politics. And if there is one thing common among all of them it is their prodigious ability to appeal to general public, which condones their foibles.

Modi government may have faltered in implementation of Goods & Service Tax, they may have crossed the line in their spiels, maybe demonetisation wasn’t such a great idea but, Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code was and so was Ujjwala Yojna (PMUY), and the Sagarmala Project, and the Neem coated urea scheme, and numerous others which have actually reached and benefitted hundreds & thousands. The opposition must realise that blindly criticising the travails of and erecting hurdles for the government will only stagnate the country.

India is 70, at an age when such maturity should creep into our sociopolitical system when politicisation of trivial issues is replaced by bipartisanship, especially on key agendas, in the Parliament.

As for us citizens, the choice has evermore been tough and will be tougher in the future. Choosing the lesser of the two evils is still evil. But a pro-active devil is better than a sleeping saint who leads us nowhere.

Time to De-reserve our Society

Reservation is not a privilege! Neither it is an honour or a matter of pride.

Reservation is no less than an indictment of our system. A tool for our politicians to appease some sections of the society to garner votes in the name of isonomy. It might cater well to the ‘social equality’ argument but completely falls flat when faced-off with the ‘economic efficiency’ argument.

We already have caste-based quotas to divide our nation horizontally and now a new gender-based quota is also in the foray to further split it, this time vertically. Although yes, this reservation system cannot be adjudged worthless in its entirety. The utopian intent of the makers of the constitution, was what formed the basis for this setup. But now, however, it is well past its prime and is doing more harm than benefit the social fabric(Jaat andolan in Haryana & Patidar andolan in Gujarat). It should be, like all other outdated systems, discarded rather than making more additions to it.

A country like India, which dreams of competing with globally well established brands and become a superpower in near future cannot afford to be dictated by a system as regressive as this one. Our nation, which will officially be the youngest nation in the world, in about a couple of years, must do away with reservation ideology if it wants its ‘superpower dream’ to solidify.

The objective of our current and future regimes should solely be on economic efficiency and better quality of human resources employed especially in government departments so that our public sector flourishes.

But Alas! Its not easy to pull down an establishment, whose foundations are so firm, in one go. Yet, if not completely & immediately, there surely is a lot of room for improvisation. Like the one suggested by educationist-reformist Sonam Wangchuk in which he says that only one generation should get the benefit of quota. Or we can move by & by and start with taking certain vital-for-economy sectors out of its ambit like medicine and education.

Now are the times, when only capability and potential should be the major criterion for someone to be fit to hold the highest echelons. Be it a dalit, a Muslim or a woman , let no one use these traits as crutches to climb higher in his/her career.

Talking about the Womens Reservation Bill, gender equality cannot be achieved with mere 33% seats for women in the Parliament. If gender equality is what they really want then the proportion should be increased to 50%. 50% men and 50% women is what would actually define gender equality. In my opinion, women are capable enough to carve out a niche for themselves be it politics or any other field. And besides, there are a variety of other ways to promote women participation.

When Indira Gandhi and Pratibha Patil became the Prime Minister & President of India, respectively, they did not cry for quota. Likewise, nobody needs quotas to succeed in his/her endeavours.

Let calibre and talent speak for the person rather than his/her caste or gender.