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.