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Oh, To Be Born A Girl!

Bunny Suraiya

Edited by Monica Das
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 194, Rs. 200.00


Every successive gender-ratio study reveals the depressing fact that the Indian girl child is well on the way to becoming an extinct variant of the species. So it is heartening to hear her voice through this set of tales edited by Monica Das, who in her introduction sets out the chilling figures which form the painful backdrop to these stories: 30 per cent of the female sex workers in India is below the age of eighteen, 47 per cent of the girl child population of India is malnourished, children account for 19 per cent of the rape victims in the country. Nor do things improve with time; insensibly they worsen, even as India becomes more liberalized and more firmly plugged into the global economy.   In the year 2000, selling of girls for prostitution went up by 15.3 per cent, female foeticide by 49.2 per cent and female infanticide by 19.5 percent. Starkly horrifying as they are, these figures are statistics to which the urban Indian has become callously inured over the years. After all, yawns the new breed of mall-crawling, well-heeled Indian, aren’t these just one more set of numbers among so many others —of illiteracy, poverty, disease?   This catatonic middle class acceptance of ‘the way things are’ is sometimes substituted by denial: ‘these things don’t happen in Indian society because of our cultural values’. Both of the foregoing self-comforting attitudes are banished by the stories—and that’s what makes them a truth that needs to be told, often and loudly. We need to be made to feel uncomfortable about the plight of the Indian girl child. We need to believe that bad things happen in our society, even in our own homes. And we need to start working towards setting them right.   I remember after I saw Mira Nair’s ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and was discussing it with a friend whose opinion I value, how dumbfounded I was to hear her say, “But in such an enjoyable film about a wedding, why did she have to bring in that bit about child molestation? It struck a false note; these things don’t happen in India.” I was speechless, appalled at such smug self-delusion and can only hope that one day my privileged friend comes across Kamala Das’s short story, ‘A Doll for Rukmani’, which made me weep for the loss of childhood.   If anything strikes a true note it is these stories. The ...

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