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Witness – Mitu’s Story

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Why We Won’t Stop Buying Brides

The practice of bride buying is closely tied to many patriarchal conditions of sex selective abortions, dowry and gender discrimination. Are we ready to break all the moulds to really want to put an end to this?

A simple Google search on ‘bride buying India’ gives you a mix of results that indicate the human rights violating practice of bride buying in Northwestern states of India, matrimonial sites as well as links to designer bridal sarees and jewelry. This dichotomy itself explains a lot about how tradition and patriarchy are intertwined with the booming economy in our so-called modern Indian society.

The practice of bride buying is not very recluse from the society today. We know that it’s a vicious cycle and relationship between the gender bias within patriarchy and poverty in our country, although patriarchy does not have a stronger root or causality in poverty. Most of us know the stories and modus operandi to how it happens. The archaic system of patriarchy that propagate heavy dowries to be incurred for daughters’ marriages and desire for a long lineage, even to maintain the caste purity in the line, leads to a strong preference for the male child. Female babies are either killed in the foetus or killed or thrown in the garbage shortly after their birth. This issue was vehemently taken up and investigated from all angles in the launch episode of the social issues show, Satyameva Jayate, hosted by popular actor, Aamir Khan.

Decades of families and communities killing the girl child has resulted in an entire demographic of young girls and women missing in many villages in the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are some of the most key places. Hence, in sexual frustration and desperation and of course, the fear of their family being wiped out of the face of existence (which is what they attempted to save in the first place), they look for brides from poorer states on the Eastern parts of India. This time: caste, religion, ethnicity, color and even age, no bar.

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It is a country with a female president and where men revere female goddesses. And yet, India is far from a haven for women.

According to current estimates, Indian men outnumber women by nearly 40 million. That startling gender gap, activists say, is the result of gendercide.

Nearly 50,000 female fetuses are aborted every month and untold numbers of baby girls are abandoned or murdered.

“It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India,” said women’s rights activist Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.

Why is there such deadly discrimination against girls? Part of the answer is money. Girls are a financial burden to their parents, who must pay expensive dowries to marry them off. The dowry is a cultural tradition and the single biggest reason Indians prefer boys.

When an Indian woman gives birth to a baby boy, it is an occasion for jubilation, said women’s rights activist Gita Aravamudan, author of the book, “Disappearing Daughters.”.

Mother Says She Was Tortured to Abort Twin Girls

Those seeking to maintain the status quo, meanwhile, have been aggressive.

Mitu Khurana, 34, a pediatrician and a mother trying to fight the system, said she’s faced death threats for the lawsuit she has filed against her husband and her husband’s family.

Khurana said her parents-in-law tricked her into eating a cake made with eggs, knowing that she was allergic to eggs. She had to go to the emergency room and at the hospital, where, Khurana said, an ultrasound determined that she was pregnant with twin girls. (Watch an interview with Mitu Khurana here.)

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Her dream was to go to school, to have the freedom to study and learn. But to alleviate her mother’s financial burden of care taking both her and her brother, nineteen year old Neetu agreed to get married instead.

It was her mother’s friend who made the introduction to the 20-year old suitor. They had only met for about 20 minutes, and because she was not happy about the arrangement, Neetu stood with her back to him as they spoke. She didn’t see him again until the day of the wedding. Admitting she liked the way he looked, she did not feel they were a suitable match. Being married to him, she said, was a compromise.

The daughter of a single mother, Neetu never met her father. After a drunken rage in which he tried to kill her and her brother, her mom left the marriage.

When I met Neetu, she had been married for seven months. Matrimonial bangles graced the arms she kept demurely wrapped around herself. During our conversation, her sister-in-law sat by her side, impeding Neetu’s ability to freely speak. It was only when she was asked to go to the kitchen and make tea that Neetu was able to reveal her concerns.

Though no dowry was given, gifts were presented to her husband’s family at the time of marriage. As is sometimes the case, after a few months, her new family started to indirectly speak of material goods they did not have, but wanted. Neetu felt is was only a matter of time before their demands started. Not wanting to worry her mom, she didn’t talk with her about it.

Her desire to continue her studies was out of the question with her new responsibility to take care of her husband’s family; an additional concern for her. There was a visible sadness and a longing in Neetu. She was stuck in her life circumstances.

Maybe that is why – from the bed she shared with her husband – she doused herself with kerosene and struck a match. The news of it came in an e-mail shortly after I had left India, several months after our meeting. Our mutual friend and interpreter wrote to tell me that Neetu was unhappy with her husband because he had a problem with alcohol. So she set herself on fire. In her critical condition and without the four lakh rupees needed for treatment, she and her five month old fetus died.

Because fire is a common form of assault against women in India, incidents that are deemed accidents or suicide are looked upon with suspicion. Women do sometimes take their own lives, however. Sometimes as a way to escape their fate, or to alleviate their families of the burden of a dowry demand. But other times the in-law family fabricates a story around their crime, calling it a kitchen accident, or self-immolation.

With the concerns that Neetu wanted to speak with me about, I also had my suspicions. Her death leaves a haunting hollowness in me.

My intention of collecting stories from women who have endured the systemic degradation, oppression and violence for being born female, is to celebrate those who have made a triumphant exodus from their circumstances. To highlight their liberation as a testament for other women, to show them that it is possible. Neetu’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes women only find liberation in death.

I am humbly grateful to Neetu, and all the daughters of India who have graciously welcomed me into their lives with the courage to share their stories with the world. Through the telling and retelling of their stories, and the demand for the safety, freedom, and equality for women everywhere, one day soon we will be free, to be female.

barbara raisbeck

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Undesired
by Walter Astrada

Click on image to go to video

India is a diverse country, separated by class and ethnicity. But all women confront the cultural pressure to bear a son. This preference cuts through every social divide, from geography to economy. No woman is exempt.

This preference originates from the belief that men make money while women, because of their expensive dowry costs, are a financial burden. As a result, there is a near constant disregard for the lives of women and girls. From birth until old age, women face a constant threat of violence and too frequently, death.

The numbers are staggering. Since 1980, an estimated 40 million women are ‘missing,’ by way of abortion, neglect or murder. 7,000 female fetuses are aborted every day according to the U.N., aborted solely because they are girls. One dowry death is reported every 77 minutes. Countless others are never known.

The government has tried to intervene. Dowry and sex selective abortions are illegal. Yet both practices still thrive, in large part because of deep-rooted cultural prejudices.

Today, eighty percent of Indian states are now facing a shortage of women. To compensate for this differential, young, unknowing women are bought from surrounding countries like Bangladesh and sold to young bachelors. Not knowing a word of the language, these trafficked women now face the same kinds of violence as other Indian women.

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Mitu Khurana‘s story published in the Indian magazine Femina – Dec. 30, 2009 issue

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What is the worth of a woman’s life?

Story submitted by Mitu Khurana

Male violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. Although not every woman has experienced it and many expect not to, fear of violence is an important factor in the lives of most women and a cause of women’s lack of participation in activities.

THE TRUTH is not far away from what we all know – in India, there is a little worth for the life of a female. We all know and read about thousands of women who have been killed for dowry, but if a single man commits suicide, when his wife filed a dowry harassment case against him, society starts thinking that the dowry laws are being misused and they try to find ways to change them.

Has anybody wondered why, when a woman calls up her parents and informs them that she is being harassed for more dowry, the parents don’t pay much attention and when the daughter dies, they create an hue and cry. Why don’t the parents try to bring the daughter back from her in-laws while she is alive; is it because even they do not mind the daughter dying?

Why is it that parents don’t think twice before aborting a female child, or even abandoning a daughter when she is born? (Statistics speak in favour).

Why is it that it is compulsory for men to wear helmet, while on a two wheeler, but not for women (their life has no worth)?

Why is it that every women friendly law has met with a failure? Had dowry prohibition law been a success, the rate of female feticide had been less.

Why is it that a woman is supposed to go on bearing children (even at the cost of her health) till she has at least one or two son? Has anyone heard of a couple who has gone ahead and given birth to many sons in quest for a daughter?

Why is it that our police and judiciary always try to unite a couple and send a woman back to her matrimonial house, even if there is a danger to her life there? Is the mere fact of saving a family more important than saving the women’s life?

India’s constitution guarantees free primary school education for both boys and girls up to the age of 14. This goal has been repeatedly reconfirmed, but primary education in India is not universal. Overall, the literacy rate for women is 39 per cent versus 64 per cent for men. The rate of women in the four large Northern states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was lower than the national average: 25 per cent in 1991. Attendance rates from the 1981 census suggest that no more than 1/3 of all girls (and a lower proportion of rural girls) aged between five and 14 years attended school.

As adults, women get less health care than men. They tend to be less likely to admit that they are sick and they will wait until their sickness has progressed before they seek help or help is sought for them. Studies on attendance at rural primary health centers reveal that more males than females are treated in almost all parts of the country, with differences greater in northern hospitals than southern ones, pointing to regional differences in the value placed on women. Women’s socialisation to tolerate suffering and their reluctance to be examined by male personnel are additional constraints in their getting adequate health care.

India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the highest in the world. A factor that contributes to India’s high maternal mortality rate is the reluctance to seek medical care for pregnancy. It is viewed as a temporary condition that will disappear. The estimates nationwide are that only 40 to 50 per cent of women receive any antenatal care.

After marriage, the bride moves in with her husband’s family. Such a bride is “a stranger in a strange place.” They are controlled by the elder females in the household and their behaviour reflects upon the honour of their husbands. As emotional ties between spouses are considered a potential threat to the solidarity of the patrilineal group, the northern system tends to segregate the sexes and limit communication between spouses — a circumstance that has direct consequences for family planning and similar “modern” behaviours that affect health. A young Indian bride is brought up to believe that her own wishes and interests are subordinate to those of her husband and his family. The primary duty of a newly married young woman and virtually her only means of improving her position in the hierarchy of her husband’s household, is to bear sons.

May 03, 2009

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