No Longer “Unwanted”

24 Oct

We can all agree that names are important. They are part of our identity and feeling of belonging. We get upset when people misspell or mispronounce it.  So when the name given to represent us is shameful and burdensome, it’s clear to see why someone would go through great lengths to change it.

That’s what more than 200 girls in the district of Satara in India did last week.

Girls originally named “Nakusa,” which means “unwanted,” received new names under an initiative to eliminate gender bias in India.

The girls were given the name Nakusa by their parents, who saw them as burdens in a society that prefers boys. In Indian culture, female children are seen as burdens, while males are heirs and moneymakers. Tradition dictates that parents of a girl pay for their wedding and dowry. To Indian families with multiple girls, this could be very expensive. According to express.co.uk, many families even  go into dept marrying off their daughters. Meanwhile, a boy would bring in money to the family once married, since male children are future heirs, future-wage earners, and heads of family. Additionally, under Hindu tradition, only sons can light their parents’ funeral pyres, a form of cremation.

The initiative to change the girls’ names sheds light on a serious problem in India. Al Jazeera reported that for every 1,000 males in India, there are only 914 females, with some ratios even more skewed in poorer parts of the country. This imbalance has been increasing ever since ultrasound scans began identifying the sex of a fetus at an earlier stage. Some families desperately wanting a male son will choose abortion if the fetus is female.  In more serious cases, baby girls are neglected and even murdered.

This discrimination has negative psychological and social implications. Because of their name, “many girls suffer from poor self-esteem, were embarrassed and discriminated against, with the risk that they will pass on their insecurities to their own daughters,” according to a News24 article. In essence, the name-change initiative was created to benefit two people: the Nakusas and the future Nakusas. On top of that, the social imbalance leaves millions of male bachelors without a wife, which can lead to violence, prostitution and wife-sharing.

The campaign is not all India is doing to fight gender discrimination. The government has banned technology that detects the sex of a fetus and made gender selective abortions illegal  (even though citizens easily get around it). It also created counseling and self-help groups for women, and gives cash incentives to encourage families to keep baby girls.

Despite India’s efforts though, gender discrimination continues to be a problem, especially in the poorer, rural areas of India, (although not as bad as China, which is estimated to have more than 40 million bachelors by 2020). The problem lies in the deep social values that are difficult to reverse. Countries like India have strong tradition-based lifestyles so forcing a less patriarchal society would be belittling Indian customs that have been around for hundreds of years. It could also be a cause for tension if citizens feel another one of their customs is being “westernized.” If I took away one thing from my readings, it’s that this is definitely a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed delicately.

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