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The Guwahati frames

by Syeda Hameed, 20 July 2012

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The Indian Express, 18 July 2012

In the sleepy town of Nazirabad, 75 kilometres from Bhopal, four children were playing near a garbage dump with what looked like a rubber doll. A salon owner across the road noticed something strange about it. The “doll” was actually a shrunken female foetus. It appeared to be five months old. It had been dumped in the trash can, from where it was retrieved by children looking for something to play with. This story was filed from Bhopal on July 16.

In 2003, a film was made on the subject of female foeticide. The story is set in the future: rural Bihar, 2050. It begins with a man sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, before a large vat of milk. He holds a newborn girl. In slow ceremony, he plunges her little body into the vat. Welcome to a world without women. Female foeticide and infanticide have taken their final toll.

The film portrayed a brutal all-male society. In this sordid world, a young girl is discovered in hiding in a forest where she was secretly brought up by her father, who had kept her in the guise of a boy. She is forced to enter “civilisation”. In the household of the richest landowner, she is forced into fraternal polyandry, serving five brothers and their aging father.

It was a stunning film, but it sank without a trace. I have since wondered when the prediction of the film would come to pass. With the recent incident of a girl in Guwahati being brutalised outside a bar, the prediction has begun to play out.

The point I am making is that as the girls disappear (in the 1980s, Amartya Sen wrote about more than 30 million missing girls and women in South Asia) and the child sex ratio plummets, society becomes intensely bestial (I use this word with intent) vis-a-vis gender. Look at the facts. A girl is stripped, beaten and burned with cigarette ends in the heart of a state capital. The titillated crowd joins in. Video cameras capture every detail. Bystanders watch without raising a finger. Those of us who caught the first clip on TV saw the reporter shoot questions and thrust a mike in her face. She mumbled her name, which thankfully was inaudible, and that she was in Class 11. Very soon, the story was spun by the channels and spewed out in many versions. We heard that it was the small-time sleaze reporter who instigated the incident to get juicy bites for his channel. We heard that the bar was culpable for letting in an underage girl. We heard that she could not pay her share of the bill so she got into a fight with her friends. We also heard DGP Jayanta Chowdhury retort that the police are not ATMs, available for instant result (cash). But the fact that it could have happened even in a state like Assam, known for the gentleness of its people and its sense of community, points to something rotting in society that needs to be excised. Women’s groups, led by the North East Network, issued a statement that was meant to be a wake up call to Assamese society. As if the girl’s ordeal was not enough, she was identified by name, first by the National Commission for Women, then by CM Tarun Gogoi’s office

In the first episode of Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan took up the crime of female foeticide. He takes us to a village in Punjab where he speaks to a bunch of young men who are desperately seeking brides. “How will we get married?” they ask. “There are no girls in our pind.” Their faces, physique and anxiety made me think of the men and boys in an “India minus women”. Most of the men who brutalise women, whether in Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh or Delhi, are desperados who are increasingly what the Chinese call “trees without leaves and branches”.

I live in Lutyens’ Delhi, with police and pickets sprinkled all over. One evening, a young girl from Mizoram ran into my house; she was being stalked by a clutch of boys in a Maruti car. In this chase, she had lost her will and confidence. And by virtue of her loss, we all have lost our dignity.

My call is that the general elections of 2014 be fought on the issue of missing women and girl children, that is, on violence against women. On July 17, the Planning Commission held a meeting of state power ministers; a similar meeting is on the cards for state ministers responsible for the safety of women. In the National Development Council, this item needs to get priority. All the core matters of land, water, environment, and all the issues of declining growth, GDP and inflation can never be solved in a vacuous society that will not respect, nurture and protect the dignity of its women.

The writer is member, Planning Commission, express at expressindia.com

P.S.

The above article from The Indian Express is reproduced in public interest and is for educational use