Sector: Female Feticide
The birth of their first child was a joyous occasion for Kamala and her husband Ramesh. They celebrated with their neighbors and even called a pundit (a Hindu priest) to attend the celebrations. However, this excitement soon wore off when Kamala delivered another baby girl. Ramesh was upset at this news because he badly wanted a son. Traditionally, it is the son who takes care of the parents once they are old. One girl he could accept but the thought of having two girls was a burden. He took his anger out on Kamala and cursed her for her inability to bear a son. Kamala felt helpless and sad because she had no control over the situation. Ramesh and his mother neglected Kamala and her daughter and refused to give them any food during this vital time of development. The village was on Ramesh’s side and they too blamed Kamala for only bearing daughters. When Kamala’s mother, Sujata Devi, heard what was happening to her daughter and newborn grandchild she was furious. She could not believe that the child’s very own father was neglecting the well being of his daughter. Sujata Devi called a meeting with her in-laws and tried to explain to them that having a girl was just as much of a blessing as having a boy. Nobody listened to Sujata Devi and continued to ridicule Kamala. Sujata Devi was especially angry with her son in-law who was abusing Kamala. She demanded that he come with her to the Dharamsala Hospital to meet a doctor who could give Ramesh a lesson in genetics. Sujata Devi knew that because the woman could only give a X chromosome, it was up to the man to give a X or Y chromosome thereby determining the gender of the fetus. But Ramesh brashly refused to accompany Sujata Devi to the hospital and after realizing he had no choice, he accepted his second daughter.
When Kamala was pregnant with her third child, Ramesh was determined to have a boy. He was willing to do anything, even kill the fetus, to make sure he got his way. Ramesh decided to force Kamala to get an ultrasound test to determine the sex of the child. When Sujata Devi found out her son in-law’s plans, she begged them not to go ahead with the test. But to no avail Kamala and Ramesh proceeded with the test and found out that they were going to have another girl. Kamala was scared that her husband would take drastic measures and begged him to save the baby. Her angst was not heard and she was forced to have an abortion. The doctor removed the lifeless fetus from Kamala’s womb, leaving her traumatized.
As Kamala recounted the story to her mother, Sujata Devi became enraged. She could not believe that her son in-law could be capable of this. Ramesh and his mother were treating Kamala as if she was a childbearing machine and she would not tolerate this. In frustration, Sujata Devi turned to her dear friend and employer Dr. Kshama Metre (affectionately called Dr. Didi). Dr. Didi immediately called Ramesh to CORD and scolded him for what he had done and pointed out the repercussions of his actions. Ramesh remained silent.
Just as things began to settle, Kamala became pregnant with her fourth child. Ramesh wanted to find out the gender of the child and forced Kamala to have an ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed that the baby was a boy, which made the family happy. However, when the baby was born it turned out to be a girl. Everyone around Kamala cursed and harassed her. She called her mother crying that Ramesh was beating her because she had brought another daughter into this world. Sujata Devi calmed her down and went to her in-laws to make them understand that this was not Kamala’s fault. However, her in-laws refused to listen.
By this time Ramesh had devised a plan to get rid of his new-born daughter. He snatched away the daughter right from Kamala’s arms and gave her away to a couple that was waiting outside in a taxi. Kamala was stunned at what had just took place before her eyes. She was helpless and called her mother immediately for help. Sujata Devi, also helpless and frustrated, called Dr. Didi who offered a vehicle to search for the baby. Sujata Devi and the rest of her family stormed into Kamala’s house and demanded that they reveal the baby’s location. She shoved a piece of paper and pen towards Ramesh and demanded that he write down the location of the baby. Ramesh, not knowing the exact location, assured Sujata Devi and Kamala that he would bring the baby back within three days. After three days, the baby was safely back into Kamala’s arms.
Astounded by the situation, CORD workers felt they needed to do something. They arranged a puppet show in Kamala’s village depicting the horrors of female feticide and gender discrimination. The puppet show marked the beginning of a new Female feticide program at CORD. This program brings awareness to villagers about the equality of men and women, and prevents villagers from taking the life of a female fetus. Through programs and discussions, women are celebrated and respected for their place in the community.
Once the baby was brought back home, Ramesh refused to support her. He told Sujata Devi that because she wanted to keep the baby alive she should support her. Sujata Devi accepted what he said and requested to at least allow the baby to receive her mother’s love for a few months. But after his fourth daughter was born, Ramesh received a good government job and took his daughter’s birth as a sign of good luck. He also stopped drinking and improved his life for the better.
Today, Ramesh and Kamala are living happily with their three girls. Kamala is a CORD worker and she brings awareness about female feticide at Mahila Mandal (Village Women’s Group) meetings. CORD continues to work on this issue and change deeply engrained mentalities of the villagers of Kangra District. Through the Female feticide program, CORD has begun to train ‘Resource Volunteers.’ These Resource Volunteers are trained in how to bring awareness about female feticide and gender discrimination within their own village.
Sheila Kumari from Dhaloo and Beena Devi from Hatwas are both Resource Volunteers who have attended training at CORD. After receiving training, they decided to do something about female feticide and female discrimination in their own villages. Sheila Kumari helped a poor woman who had already had a daughter but then got pregnant again. Everyone in her family and village wanted her to get an ultrasound and abort the fetus if it was a female. Sheila Kumari convinced them not to get an ultrasound and instead to save that money. Not only was an ultrasound expensive, but getting one could result in a large fine. The fine existed to prevent selective abortion of female fetuses. The family realized that having a girl was not a burden, but rather a joy. They deposited the money they saved into a bank account so that they could spend it on the girl when she grew up. Sheila Kumari has educated her community and also made them aware of the consequences of an ultrasound. She has even insisted that the Panchayat Pradhan (President of the local governing body) enforce the fine of getting an ultrasound without exception.
The traditional custom of a son lighting the funeral pyre of his parents is still upheld today. This is another reason why many couples prefer to have a son over a daughter. Beena Devi’s brother had three daughters. When Beena’s brother passed away, there was no son to light the fire. This caused a great debate in the village. But Beena Devi insisted that the eldest daughter carry on the custom of lighting the pyre. Beena Devi brought awareness to her village that females are just as capable as males to carry on traditional customs.
Generations of male dominance has led to the discrimination of females. Even before they are born, the lives of females are belittled and their existence is unwanted. However, CORD with the help of Resource Volunteers, seeks to uplift the image of women and empower them. The stories of Kamala, Sheila Kumari, and Beena Devi all show the desire among the villagers to reverse long held beliefs and customs.
NOTE: The names of the characters have been changed.