The declining female sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir is attributed to social attitudes, which sees girl child as a liability, however, times are changing so are the attitudes. Aliya Bashir reports.
A woman’s status in her family is often tied to the number of sons she bears: “May you be the mother of a hundred sons,” is a common blessing given to a woman. Most of the people think that the sons take forward the family descent and see a girl child as a ‘liability’.
However, social attitudes are changing with many people opening up their arms and hearts for the girl child without seeing her as a burden. They are encouraging their daughters to study and become financially independent.
Jammu and Kashmir has recently witnessed a downward trend in the female to male ratio, which went down from 941 in 2001 to 859 in 2011. However, numerous families are more caring about their daughters.
Not everyone is like Khateeja Begum though, who has six daughters. Many of her and her husband’s relatives had suggested them to adopt a male child or swap one of their children with a boy but they resisted. “We had no son. Everyone in our family insisted that we should adopt a son or to exchange any of our girl-child with a baby boy. But we never pay any heed to their comments,” says Khateeja.
But, when their sixth daughter was born, the elder brother of Khateeja’s husband who had three sons and no daughter insisted them to exchange their baby-girl with his son. But the couple didn’t agree, instead raised their daughters with care and affection .
“I still remember how my husband turned to look at me at that time. He carefully took our new born daughter in his lap, with utmost care, and passed her to me. He explained to me that God had privileged us with the all the happiness in the form of daughters,” Khateeja recalls. “That was the day we promised to ourselves that we’ll never give anyone right to take pity on us.”
Ghulam Rasool Khan, a shopkeeper in Mahraj Gunj area at old city is happy to be the father of six daughters. He says that there had been instances where sons have got preference over daughters, which across different strata of the society, religious backgrounds, rural/urban divides and education levels. “The preference for sons has evolved from a variety of economic and sociological factors. It is widely believed that sons will provide economic support for parents in old age, carry forward the name of the family and add status to the family,” Khan says.
For those families who prefer boys over girls, expecting them to support their parents in their old age while daughters go away to other families, Khateeja says, “I don’t have any regret for not having a male child. My all daughters are married. But, they often visit us along with our grandchildren which is enough to make us happy. We are living happily without any craving for a son.”
A few months ago, Khateeja says, when both, she and her husband, were ill their daughters looked after them through planned shifts “without leaving any room for a complaint”.
The economy factor, say experts, plays a vital role in bias towards female child. But the Zargar family, which has four daughters and no son has a different story to tell.
“My daughters are working at respectable positions. We are proud of them. My husband and I have never thought of having a son. No mother would differentiate between a girl child and a boy. It is only when people battle poverty that they look at the girl child as a burden. How are they going to educate her… have her married?” says Firdousa Jan, a retired government school teacher.
“During our childhood, a very few girls were allowed to move out to continue their studies or for job. But, we never compromised as far as the education of our daughters was concerned. We never forced our daughters to get married at an early age. What a son can do, a daughter can do better if she is educated.”
The Zargar family gave their daughters the best possible education and all of them did well in their life.
“Our three daughters are married and the younger one is unmarried and working as a bank employee. But we didn’t use our entire life savings or went into terrible debt to pay for daughters’ marriages. We tried to give them a modest education and good upbringing. Thus we never looked down towards them as an economic liability,” says Abdul Rashid Zargar, a retired hospital administrator.
He says that their daughters had made them proud in every walk of like, be that professional or personal life. “We received lot of good marriage proposals for our daughters even from people working outside Kashmir but, none of our daughter was willing to live far away from us. They adjusted themselves in Kashmir only for our sake,” says the father. “If we would have sons instead of daughters, I don’t think the situation would have been similar.”
Bashir Ahmed Wani, who was an employee in Srinagar Municipal Committee (SMC), has five sons who are all married. Three of their sons are working outside India and two other have their businesses in Delhi and Mumbai. Wani and his wife live at Bemina in Srinagar along with a female helper. Their only regret is that they don’t have a female-child.
Wani says that took voluntary retirement from the service and distributed his saving among his sons just to spend time with his entire family. He was planning to spend his life with his sons. “My sons were shocked to hear that. I always respected their independent lives and tried my best to look after them throughout the thick and thin of my life. But, when it was their turn, they shrugged off their responsibilities and found it difficult to support us,” he says with a sigh.
Wani wishes that he had daughters only. “If I had daughters instead of sons, I would never have expected them to look after and had planned things according to that… Even if my daughter would visit once a year, I would have been extremely happy. The girl who works at our home look after us just like a daughter,” he says. “We are very unfortunate to have no daughter. This little helper makes us feel; how life would have some importance with only daughters and no sons.”
Fatima Sidiq, 40, and her husband did not have a child. They adopted a girl child. Her husband died in a car accident back five years. But, she had no remorse for adoption of a girl-child. “It was a difficult decision to adopt a girl child. No one from our family supported our decision. But, now my husband is no more she is the only ray of hope,” says Fatima.
She says, “To bring up a girl children with care and affection is a religious binding on parents. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) himself had four daughters. He has promised heaven in the life hereafter for the parents who will bring up their daughters with proper care and attention.”