I’m no hardcore, bra burning feminist. All I want is never to be discriminated just because I’m a girl. Women have made gradual but tremendous progress in all walks of life. They are on equal footing with men. And might I say that’s setting the standards a little low! Still got a long way to go. Especially in my country, where female feticide is an open secret. Women are yet to find their rightful place by breaking the barrier of domesticity, embracing education and following their dreams. And not just in the rural areas. Even in the urban society, uber modern lifestyles notwithstanding, women have to make compromises in their careers, education or family life at some point or the other. A woman breaking into the top of the male dominated corporate world is still so rare that it makes news headlines for a week. Even in the field of medicine, that I’d opted for as a career, women faces discrimination on the basis of their sex. The ratio of male to female surgeons is still high. There are still a section of patients who prefer a “capable, responsible male” doctor to a female doctor any day. Even during clinical rotations I’ve noticed patients calling the female medical students or doctors as “sister” (think “nurse”). The thought of a female doctor still doesn’t cross their minds. I’ve felt irritation, discomfort and finally resignation at these comments.
While growing up, I never gave much thought to where a girl child stands in today’s Indian society. My sister and I were unduly pampered and loved by the whole extended family and girls predominated among the huge number of cousins. All the neighborhood kids of my age were boys and I was the pampered one amongst them too. We were spoilt rotten while growing up. But even in this protected environment, few recent incidents made me take a hard, unbiased look at my own family. The significance of being a girl in my family. There had never been any objection to any woman from our family in terms of career; except in case of my mother. My mother used to keep very frail health in her youth and suffered from a lot of ailments. So my father made her discontinue her job and stay in the comforts of home. I find it unfair that she wasn’t allowed to voice her opinion in this aspect. And I’ve seen that in the marriages in my family, the men always had the final word. There weren’t any conflicts or quarrels as such, but little decisions like the choice of holiday destination, whether to get a pet or not, what to watch on television etc.
I was born seven years after my parents’ marriage and at that time being childless for more than five years into a marriage was a troubling issue. Neighbors had the audacity to suggest to my grandmother about my father’s remarriage. And I was aghast to know later that few of my relatives even considered it as a sensible idea. But my father put his foot down and wisely the others shut up. But it made me think how inconsiderate they were towards my mother; her feelings weren’t given any thought. There had also been one specific instance of an uncle of mine feeling very disappointed at the birth of a girl child for the second time. But now the same person goes out of his way to ensure that his daughters get the best of everything. Makes me wonder about that latent feeling of discontent in him that surfaced once during the birth of his second daughter. It was very brief and didn’t occur ever again, but why did that feeling had to arise in the first place?
I wondered at times whether my father too felt so. He had always been so proud of my sister and me. There was this one instance when his boss had commented that he felt sorry for my father because he had no sons and he’s up for a lonely time once he’s retired from work, and his daughters are married. That insensitive comment that was completely unjustified and totally uncalled for angered my father so much that he lashed out at his boss. Things had turned out that bad. Our family had gone to Delhi a couple of months ago and during the train journey, the person sitting next to my father asked him whether he had any sons. When my father answered no, the man (who by the way was a top official at a bank in Kolkata) actually sighed and looked sympathetically at my father. He went on to say that he had been blessed with two sons, who were currently unemployed but thinking of starting a business venture soon. But for him it was no big deal; they are boys and they will always find out a way to survive and take care of their parents. He again re-formed his face to evoke sympathy for my father. My father replied his eldest daughter is a doctor and the next daughter is a college topper; and he’s quite proud of both his daughters. That comment was worth saying just to see the look on that man’s face.
Why do educated people still think it’s a loss when a girl child is born? Why do parents feel that they wouldn’t have anyone to fall back on once their daughters are married off? I was proud of the way my father has tackled the insensitive comments he had heard over the years just because he doesn’t have a son. I don’t know what miracle a son would have achieved that his daughters couldn’t.
All the children of my father’s colleagues and friends are in their late twenties or early thirties, well-settled in life and providing for their parents post retirement. His friends proudly boast of the security and comfort they enjoy in this late phase of life because of their sons. I’m still a student working towards a post-graduate degree; studying medicine takes awfully long and the returns aren’t good till the specializations are over. Moreover I’m the youngest among all the children of my father’s friends, owing to my parents’ late marriage and my birth seven years into their marriage. I wonder at times whether my father too has regrets deep down about not having a son. I know he loves my sister and me an amount that lacks words to describe, but I feel very disturbed at times that I’m not yet able to do the things for him that sons of his colleagues had done. I know I can do them after few years, once my studies are over. But because of a certain section of the society, there is this indirect pressure to prove that his daughter can do the same things that a son might have done.
Has anyone out there have ever felt the same?