End the violence


Apr 19, 2012, TOI

Unsure of just how unwanted girls are in India? Here’s appalling evidence – angry with his wife, a 30-year-old youth in Haryana’s Jhajjar district turned on his three little daughters. The father apparently first tried to hang the children – all between two to seven years – from the ceiling. He then allegedly beat them with a heavy stick. While the youngest and eldest child recover, his four-year-old daughter, Jiya, has died. Coming one week after the Baby Afreen case – a three-month-old reportedly killed in Bangalore by her father who didn’t want a girl – and displaying the tremendous violence behind India’s skewed sex ratios, the Jhajjar episode illustrates how much danger India’s girl children are in. Ironically, the threat to them runs across diverse sectors of society, Delhi’s affluent southern colonies apparently reporting more selective sex testing than rural Bihar. Why are so many Indians biased against girl children, sometimes expressing it in extreme ways?

The answer lies in a dark cultural mindset that extends two ways. Firstly, several communities view girls as an economic drain, their marriages perforce accompanied by payments of dowry. This custom extending from poor farmer to rich businessman, the ire against even unborn girls runs high. Secondly, girls are viewed as a liability due to tight social norms around honour and shame – that apply only to women. Both notions fuse together, imprisoning the girl child in a web of social dislike – radiated onto her even by her own parents.This situation can be tackled. The state must act urgently using two vital measures. The first – empowering the girl child thoroughly. At one level, girls must be given financial security through steps that reshape social perceptions. These include supporting property rights for womenwith significant tax breaks and giving parents of girls completing school high financial incentives. At another level, the girl child must be educated thoroughly, empowered to join a modern workforce where she can be independent and confident enough to reject backward customs – like dowry.First, however, it’s vital the state cracks down on crimes against young girls. With cases like Falak, Afreen and now baby Jiya of Jhajjar before it, it’s time it instituted a dedicated legal-police task force with special cells tracking, registering and stringently punishing crimes against women as well as girl children. Where the state has shown a will to act, it has worked. Through the 1980s, bride-burning cases for dowry were infamous, but when special cells were deployed, these dipped sharply. It’s high time a similar end was put to violence against small girls.

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