July 23, 2007

A Letter to My Sister

My dear sis:

I don't know where to address this letter. I can't send it to where I know you aren't, and I don't know where you are. I don't believe in reincarnation, but I'll make an exception this one time. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, I sure hope that you'll read this letter. I want you to know that I have a debt to repay you.

You probably don't remember this. Once you went with dad to the corner store to purchase something. He had bought you a candy, as he had for me on the occasions that I had gone with him. As the two of you walked back towards home, dad noticed that you hadn't unwrapped it. "Annakku", you had declared [for my brother, in Tamil], closing your tiny fist tightly around the candy. Little did you know then that in a matter of months your life would forever remain unwrapped, for the sake of your brother.

"It's just a piece of candy, bro. What are you getting all worked up for?", you ask. No, dear sis, it's a lot more than that. You didn't get your crayons, so I could get my notebook. You didn't get your favorite doll, so I could get my tricycle. And, every time you got near it — you liked to play with the bell, I was told — I'd shoo you away, in a show of gratitude for the candy you saved for me! Sibling rivalry, of course, what else is new? Wait — well, if only you had waited — the worse was yet to come. Here are a couple of verses from a poem by Zoya Zaidi, The Missing Girls, that says it all:


Where have all the missing girls gone?

Gone! ‘Gone, to the Trashcan!


As an infant, she missed the bus:

Her brother got all the milk,

Her brother got all the rice,

She, only the watery starchy broth!


She missed the bus to the school,

Her brother got on…


She had no shoes,

She had no clothes,

She had no books,

How could she then get on?


Do you get your milk these days, sis? Did you have shoes, clothes, and books to go to school? Did you finally get your favorite doll?

And then your ultimate sacrifice. Well, I really can't call it your sacrifice, can I? After all, you had no choice in the matter. By any chance, have you read my post, Sophie's Choice? Not quite!? If you had, you'd know how, when, and why you died. It's not pretty, and I wouldn't have wanted you to read it, but for a couple of news stories that I read today that brought back all the painful memories.

According to the media reports, the Indian police in Nayagarh, Orissa, have recovered from an unused well, several body parts, including skulls, of female infants. I am quite certain that yours is not one of them, for, you died in Jaipur, Rajastan, and not in Nayagarh, Orissa. Then again, does it really matter? How many of those baby girls had given their lives for their brothers, living or unborn, as you had given me yours?

They say only through a son a father conquers the worlds, and only through a son’s son he obtains immortality. A daughter is dispensable, a mere property, to be given away to another man, or worse. When will they ever learn that without you there will be no me?

Half a million female abortions and infanticides take place every year in India, according to a research report in the Lancet Journal. Abominable as it is, it's ironical that some, who resent the few gains that you have made in the realm of reproductive rights, would like to place the blame at your very door steps. Are you pro-choice? If you are, then how can you object to these women choosing to abort their female fetuses, they ask. After all, you don't recognize the rights of the unborn, so, why should it make any difference if it's a boy or a girl?

I think it's a self-serving argument that is meant to confuse the issue. Let me pose you a hypothetical situation: say, a woman is raped, and she is pregnant against her will. A staunch feminist, she decides that if it were a female fetus, she'd carry it to full term, but she's absolutely opposed to bringing forth a male progeny of the rapist. She wishes to have a gender test done before she made the choice. I don't think that the State or anyone else has any business interfering with her seemingly discriminatory choice, do you?

Abortion against your will is a different matter altogether. And, I suspect that a significant number of the female abortions and infanticides in India are forced on the women, overtly or surreptitiously. Here is one that I came across in the news today: 10 family members held for forced abortion. And, here's another: Woman dies during ‘forced’ abortion. As a daughter, your life is not yours to live, and as a mother, your daughter's life is not yours to nourish either.

There's so much more that I'd like to share with you. Will you please let me know where you are, sis? I'd like to send you a box of candies. That's the least that I could do for what you have done for me.

Lots of love,

The Rational Fool

A recent post in one of my favorite blogs, Ageless Bonding, and my own comment on it, prompted me to write this letter.

  1. Sad, angry, touched.
    Zoya Zaidi's poem says it all - these girls are damned even if they escape detection and elimination before birth.

    Thanks for the warm mention of my blog. Means a lot coming from you!

  2. Thanks for linking back, Usha. As you have commented in your post, I hope that there'll be a grass root movement against forced abortions and female infanticide in India.There are a lot more skeletons in the wells around the country than what Nayagarh has revealed.

  3. Female infanticide is one of the more obvious forms of misogyny, and it's not just India which is negative toward women...


  4. All u said, may be true for some parts of the society, esp. the lower strata and in olden times. Quite the reverse is true at many homes today.
    And in my childhood, I always got the second handed things only. Sometimes, I wouldn't get even what i have to as a child and I very well remember, on one occasion, mother bought a milk chocolate bar and gave it to me in the back verandah, secretly, lest it would be taken away .
    Recently, i had the occasion to meet the caretaker of an orphanage where boys and girls stay.
    The caretaker, who incidentally is a lady says"people come and adopt only girls. These poor boys are stuck for life".
    I agree-men being stronger are exploiting the weakness of women-equally true is the fact that the wealthier and the stronger exploit the weaknesses of the underprivileged and weaker- irrespective of sex.

  5. this post makes me sad. and angry. but i think things are changing for suer. not at the rate we would like them to, but yes, there is hope...

  6. Moved and angry. Brilliant post. Hope it's ok if I link to it.

  7. I was deeply saddened, by this, and by your older post as well. Its a mistake to link both issues ofcourse. Technically yes, termination should be allowed in all situations, but in our country, that may well mean a women-less society, in some time.

  8. Thank you so much for this very personal essay. I am linking it at the homepage of 50 Million Missing, an international campaign to stop India's silent genocide. Please, if you will, join this Flickr.com group and participate in the collection and ongoing discussions.

  9. people come and adopt only girls. These poor boys are stuck for life".

    That's because the people coming to adopt just want a built-in housemaid. (seriously)

  10. Very good post! Just loitered in somehow. There is a very lively discussion and some hatke takes on this whole episode at An Unquiet Mind.

  11. Sometime back, I had gone to be with a couple of friends when their daughter was born in Mumbai. The entire staff of Hospital in Andheri was upset because they had a daughter!!!!!! And the custom in the hospital was if baba (boy) is born buy peda and baby(girl) is born buy burfi. All of us got so upset with this attitude that we bought real expensive pedas and insisted everyone have double helpings. When my son was born some of my so called educated colleagues with BTechs and MBA`s under their learned belts said lucky you to have the first born as a son. My reply was lucky me to have a healthy baby born to us.

    The echo of Zaidi`s Poem refuses to go away, Why Oh Why dear GOD......


  12. Heart wrenching. Made me want to cry and yell at the same time. I know it's true, we see it everywhere, around us.I am linking it to my post on the same issue.


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