Children of Men?

When the country’s first child sex ratio (the number of girls per 1000 boys below the age of six) was taken in 1961, it was a staggering 976. When it was last taken in 2011, it was at a frightening 914.

According to the 2011 Census, as many as 6 states and union territories in India have a child sex ratio of less than 900. Punjab, being the lowest has 793, followed by Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are all under 925, while Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha are above the national average of 914. Even in Kerala, the state with the best sex ratio, the child sex ratio is at 963. Sikkim boasts the highest child sex ratio of only 986.

And all of this, despite the fact that, scientifically, it has been proven that the immune system of female babies is much stronger than their male counterparts’. The child sex ratio of this country is the only demographic that should have seen a positive trend, but has consistently fallen.

Sociology tries to give explanations to this phenomenon. It argues that there is a trend of male preference in this nation, there is lack of literacy and awareness, there have been social customs that have been against the girl child, and there is lack of effectiveness and implementation of government schemes.

But tell me, when is all that supposed to end? We call ourselves a developed nation, yet we still see thousands of cases of female foeticide and infanticide. We call ourselves an educated people, boast of being intellectually ahead of the West, yet, we see cases of girl children blatantly being denied education. We call ourselves forward on one hand and disrespect women who fail to comply with demands of dowry on the other hand. We say the government is trying its best, developing the nation, yet, our child sex ratio remains at a horrendous 914.

This is not development- it is silent, unhindered genocide.

And it will continue, until we as a people, together, decide to stop it. It can be done through simple ways- choose not to know the sex of your unborn child (which, by the way, is illegal under the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques- Regulation and Prevention of Misuse- Act of 1996). When it comes to a child’s nutrition, if you see a family discriminating between the male and female child, explain to them what is wrong with this situation. Speak up against the ill-treatment of the girl child. Actively try to curb prejudices against the girl child in your daily life, like those of the girl child being a ‘burden’ on the family etc. Don’t participate in practices that directly affect the societal mindset towards the value of the girl child. Yes, I am talking about dowry, Female Genital Mutilation, honour killings, the taboo of periods being ‘impure’ and so on.

It took us 50 years to bring the numbers down from 976 to 914. We cannot to afford to waste the next 50 years and see the number fall to 0.

Inaccessible India

Recently, my mother shifted to a new ministry- the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. My mother often refers to me as a rebel without a cause, but bettering society is a cause, isn’t it? So naturally, I was super excited because well, I thought this was a ministry where my mother can actually make a change, and I can finally understand the work she does etc. But it was slightly disappointing to say the least, when I learnt that such a socially important ministry was, in reality, given very little importance. Most bureaucrats consider it a downfall to be transferred to such a ministry.

Now in such a ministry, one is often invited to the launches of social welfare schemes and campaigns, which are generally invite only events. So I was ecstatic when I got invited for the launch of the Accessible India Campaign. The Accessible India Campaign aims at making India differently-abled friendly, from government institutions to transport to railway stations/airports to government websites etc.

Even though I had seen posters and ads about the campaign around the city, I didn’t know much about it, so I asked my mother about the Campaign, and she handed me a brochure. The cover looked positively attractive, and I absolutely loved the logo for the Campaign, so I eagerly flipped through it.

Now at a Model UN when we submit solutions to be implemented at a conference, 3 minimum basics need to be covered- How are we going to go about implementing it; where do we get the finances and how will we decide who will contribute; where it will happen. These are general outlines so we know the solution is well thought out, and has clarity.

And the nicest way I could describe the proposal in the brochure would be disappointing.(Classical example to learn that one must never judge a book by its cover) I’m only an adolescent, and I could figure out loopholes on literally every page of the brochure. It was as if random numbers had been thought up without a reason. For example, one goal for the campaign says that by July 2019, 50% of all railway stations in India will be converted into accessible stations. Now nowhere was it mentioned on what basis this 50% will be decided, will it be urban or rural railway stations, or even how these will be made disabled friendly.

Since this was just a brochure, I decided not to judge too prematurely, and waited curiously for the actual launch, hoping that I will get answers to some of my questions.

To begin with, during the presentation they basically repeated exactly what was in the brochure- word to word.
Moreover, the launch was one to facilitate and award the most distinguished differently-abled persons in Indian Society. The list of awardees ranged from Academy winning screenplay writers on crutches to 3 year old kids who sang beautifully. And one thing almost all of the awardees had in common was that they had difficulty moving around. Now while the organizers at Vigyan Bhawan had provided one ramp for the awardees to move up to the stage, the ramp was extremely steep and most wheels had excessive difficulty moving up. Moreover, once they received their awards, the awardees had to circle around the auditorium, through a multitude of not so small steps and crowds to reach their original seats. Can you imagine climbing steep steps on crutches or some other kind of support?? Now add to that hundreds of people crowding around the steps. While each awardee had a personal individual escort, even the escort could only do so much.

How does the government plan on implementing the Campaign across the country, if it can’t make the launch site itself accessible??

Moreover, after the launch, I asked a few bureaucrats who had worked on the nitty-gritties of the campaign, the details about the campaign (like those I had mentioned above, about the criteria etc).
Thankfully, they were all blatantly honest. They said that the numbers had literally been decided randomly, they were far fetched and that absolutely no thought had been put into implementation. When I gave an expression of what my mother later described as a mix of shock and confusion, they decided to further clarify.
Their department heads asked them to project some numbers that would look good, so they did. Nobody knew how the government plans on implementing and achieving the listed goals. Literally. And nobody asks too many questions as it might affect their ACR , if they disagree with their boss. (ACR: Annual Confidential Review- at the end of the year, an officers boss[es] writes a review about how the officer works throughout the year, and gives a score out of 10.  8 and above is Outstanding. 6-8 is Very Good. ACR is what is looked at when considering an officer for promotions). After all, they just have to get through about a year or so, before they get transferred. And a bad ACR would negatively affect their future prospects in the office. So any problems relating to the campaign that arise can be handled by the person who succeeds them.

Now I don’t believe for a second that when these officers joined the services, they went in with such an attitude. But don’t you think it speaks a lot about our administration, when honest and hardworking officers are left with no option but to simply not care enough?? If our permanent executive, the backbone of the Indian administration has its hands tied by scores on a paper, is measured by that sheet of paper, then tell me, how is it any different from measuring all kids based on 1 marksheet?? How are we to bring about an actual change in the workings of the country if the people wanting to bring about a change simple cannot?? Where does this country go, when essentially no action can be taken to ameliorate the conditions??

 

Family Across the Border

Every time I told people that I was going to Lahore, Pakistan, I was met by one of two reactions. Either they showed utter shock and disbelief and turned to my mother and went all “how can you let her do this?!” or they called me brave for attempting this journey. (Must be noted here, I was going on a school trip, to visit another school.)

I’d been told to be wary of the people on the other side of the border- how  they’d be apprehensive if they learnt that I’m Indian, how I should not publicize the fact that I’m Indian, how I should watch my back etc etc.

And I believed all that… Until the moment I actually met the people on the other side of the border.

The people on the other side of the border are till date, some of the warmest and fun loving people I’ve ever met. I’ve traveled across the length and breadth of India, but the kind of heartfelt welcome we received in Pakistan, still has no match. The hospitality can only be described in a hindi phrase: “Dil Khush Ho Gaya”. After 5 days of meeting the most amazing people, I couldn’t find it in my heart to want to leave.

And it wasn’t just the hosts of the conference. The average Pakistani seemed nicer than the average Indian. (Also, more good looking, it’s like during the partition all the good looking people decided to migrate to the Pak side-very unfair if you ask me)

But here, I’d like to talk about one particular dost I made: Fiza Shahzad. The first time I met her, it was very formal- she was officially on a panel, judging me after all. But as the conference drew to a close, Fiza and I developed a strong kinship. We talked a lot and bonded over many things, and the only thing going through my mind was how nice (and incredibly smart and gorgeous) she is. And I felt like smacking all those people who’d told me negative things about Pakistan on the head with a danda.
A year has passed since I visited Pakistan. And the tensions between the two nations are still growing. But even after a year and even through all the nuke threats and distrust between the states, Fiza is one of the most loving and supportive people in my life.
A year has passed and even now I message my friends on the other side of the border to Fangirl over SRK’s DDLJ or Kaju barfi or the latest musical numbers doing the rounds.

And to those who say that the two countries are grossly different, here’s an opinion from someone who’s actually been there. The entire time I was in Pakistan, I felt like I was visiting different parts of India. The Badshahi Kinara looked like one of my favorite shopping places in Delhi, Cannought Place. The Badshahi Mosque reminded me of the Jamia Masjid in Agra. The heavenly Food Street reminded me of a Hyderabadi Restaurant I’d visited as a kid. Looking out a bus window during the journeys felt like being on one of the National Highways back home. Except for maybe when I had to buy something, I never once felt like I was in a different country- a country that the media and politicians portray to be evil incarnate at that! Every nook and corner reminded me of home and the people of family. And the best part?? I now have a family on both sides of the border.

So here’s what I have to say to the ‘secular’ politicians and ‘netizens’ who are against peace between India and Pakistan, to the people who harbor such inhibitions and deep rooted mistrust that even the mention of the other nation sends their blood boiling, to the generations who’ve seen a united land and the generations who’ve seen the land torn up in savage wars: Forget the hate. Let go of the mistrust. Open your heart to new friendships and embrace peace, once and for all.

These two lands were once one. And just because there’s now barbed wire and huge gates separating the two, doesn’t mean that the people need to be separated too. It’s been nearly 70 years since the Partition and countless years after the wars that followed. It’s time to bury the hatchet.

I’m an Indian. And (as shocking as this may sound) I have Pakistani friends. I’ve spent 6 days in Pakistan of my own will, and loved every minute of it. I’ve made unforgettable memories and friendships. And I still love my own country too.

Is aman ki aasha ko marne mat do saathiyon! Ab humare hawale hai aman saathiyon!
(Don’t let this wish for peace die friends, this peace is now in our hands friends.)