THE COURAGE OF A YOUNG MOTHER

On a cold November evening in 2019, we were left in shock by a phone call from Payal*, a young mother from Haryana. Married in 2012, Payal had endured years of unfathomable pain and brutality. After marriage, she had lived with her in-laws and was made to do all the household work for the entire extended family. There she was repeatedly abused verbally, physically and sexually. She was particularly blamed and abused by them because she had given birth to three daughters. Her husband turned a blind eye to her cries for help and advised her to get used to such treatment.  Even with the existence of several domestic violence laws in India, it is difficult for victims to access such help.

Many times, Payal had to rescue her daughters from the attempts of the in-laws to kill them. One day, she decided that she had had enough and that she would secure justice for herself and her daughters. Despite Payal’s impossible circumstance, she courageously escaped her ensnarers after multiple failed attempts. Showing amazing resilience, she fled to another city with two of her daughters and found employment as a maid. Her husband and in-laws had forcibly and illegally detained her second daughter, four-year-old Jaya*, in order to force Payal to come back to the matrimonial home.

Payal reached out to ADF India’s allied lawyers to help her to protect her daughters. In January, this year, a High Court directed her husband to produce Jaya in Court in the presence of the mother. The High Court also directed the corresponding family court to complete proceedings, on Payal’s petition seeking her daughter’s custody, within 4 weeks. The family court thereafter granted interim custody of the girl to the mother.

The father refused to follow the directions of the family court and instead challenged the order in the High Court. The High Court was not inclined to overturn the ruling of the family court and instead directed the husband to pay Payal for any litigation costs incurred by her.

ADF India’s allied lawyers then made an application for maintenance on her behalf. They have also filed a Domestic Violence petition against the in-laws, that a complaint may be filed against them and also that she be awarded monetary damages for what she had to undergo at their hands. ADF India will continue to stand beside Payal as she courageously wages this battle for the safety and future of her daughters.

Unfortunately, such stories like Payal’s are not uncommon in India. India’s rate of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is one of the world’s highest. 70% of women in India are affected by domestic violence in one form or the other. A survey by the International Institute for Population Studies showed 56% of Indian women believed wife-beating to be justified in certain circumstances.

In India, domestic violence is rooted in the same social, cultural and religious practices that enforce rigid patriarchal norms of son-preference and gender-biased sex selection. The fallacy that sons are critical to a family’s social survival for carrying on their lineage, and ensuring the family’s financial security, encourages son preference. Women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. Failure to do so would entail bearing the consequences of violence or abandonment in terrifying degrees.

Another young mother, Savita, shared her story with us:  “After my second daughter was born, my husband and in-laws started abusing me. I had not been able to give them a son. Then, the third daughter was born and the violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she said.  

The 2011 census reflects that the child sex ratio, a crucial indicator of gender equality, stands at 834 females per 1,000 males in Haryana. This latest census clearly exposes the daughter aversion in the state. While the birth of a son is welcomed with distribution of sweets, fanfare and festivities, the birth of a daughter is considered a curse and invites ridicule. A traditional Haryanvi folk song shows how the birth of a girl child is unwelcome in the family:

Jis din laado tera janam hoya, hui e bajar ki raat. Tuti khatoli ghaal ke amma soi, babul phire udaas. Nau lakh diwe laado chas dhare the te bhi ghor andhera

O Daughter, the night you were born, that night was the darkest of all. On a broken cot your mother slept, and your father was sad. Nine lakh lamps were lit up but still it remained dark

Mothers bear the full brunt of the scorn and shame that come from the birth of a female child. They consequently become victims of abuse, beatings, and sometimes, even murder. Families desperate to escape the financial burden of having a daughter can resort to disowning the mother. The man is encouraged to remarry to increase his chances of having a son. Not only does the mother compromise her health and well-being, she also loses her status and honor in this patriarchal set-up because of divorce or abandonment.

ADF India is committed to cultivating a future where human dignity is affirmed for all women and girls. Through our Vanishing Girls campaign, we advocate for the right of all women and girls to be loved, to have equal rights to the family inheritance, and to have their freedoms protected and promoted.

We invite you to join us in defending the life and liberty of women like Payal. To do so, donate here. Your financial gift today will transform a life tomorrow.

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*names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

Inheritance Rights of women: Are we there yet?

Towards the latter part of this year, I met with some inspiring women during my visit to a rather quiet and serene village in the district of Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. These women have been working as the ASHA workers – Accredited Social Health Activists in their village for as long as almost a decade now. Some of them who are now grandmothers shared their narratives of how their efforts and endeavours to bring a positive societal change has helped them develop a strong bond with the many families in their village.

While speaking to the ASHA workers about the legal rights of women especially the essential features of the Pre-Conception Pre Natal-Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, we gravitated towards the rights of women in the inheritance of family property. Sulochana, an ASHA, brought to my notice that women in Rajasthan voluntarily do not claim ownership over their parents' property and sacrifice such inheritance rights, a custom which is called as ‘Haq Tyag’. When I heard this, my immediate response was ‘WHY?!' but this gave me an opportunity to delve deeper into the cultural traditions and norms of the state of Rajasthan. Upon asking them the many reasons behind such a custom, I learned that women have been led to believe over the past so many decades that it is morally wrong on their part to claim ownership over their parents' property, as it is deemed to be given away to the sons of the family. Furthermore, I was told that if a woman ends up claiming her inheritance over her family property, her brother/brothers abandon their relationship with them for their lifetime.

This revelation about the custom of ‘Haq Tyag’ made me realize that the first place that discrimination against women and girls is within our own homes. By denying women their rights of inheritance not by law but merely because of customary practice, we are depriving them of something so important which belongs to them equally as that to their brothers.

I would like to place emphasis on the term ‘Inheritance’ and its importance. The right to inheritance is one of the instruments that will result in the empowerment of women and girls. It helps in securing the future of girls as well as women. However, today there is a lack of awareness and knowledge among women about their own rights and the strong patriarchal traditions that have prevented many women from fighting for their inheritance rights.

While speaking with the ASHAs, I realised that they are willing to bring a change in their village with respect to even spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls in the family property, provided they receive the courage and support of the women in their community as well as more importantly men and husbands who would stand up for their rights.

When we look at the law, equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognized after the amendment brought in 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to this amendment, daughters could only claim ownership over their father’s property until they got married, however, that has been changed with this amendment. More recently in 2018, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the law applies to any daughter, irrespective of whether they were born before or after the coming of the law and thus will be entitled to share in father’s property. Read the judgment here.

The Vanishing Girls Campaign actively encourages people to add their voices against the discrimination and violence experienced by women and girls on a daily basis through its pledge: Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality. The first step to bringing change on any issue is to start a conversation about how women need to learn about their rights and especially about the right to inheritance. So why wait for others to take that first step, let us be the pioneers to bring about a change in mindsets with even this small gesture of initiating the dialogue of women’s inheritance.

Daughter’s Day Special

BY ELINA YOHANAN

So, it was Daughters Day on 22 September and honestly, I did not expect my father to even remember it, let alone post something on Instagram (yes, my father is on Instagram and sometimes it is embarrassing but most times it is cute to see him learn things about what he calls “modern day technology”). 

I opened my Instagram this morning to find that my father had posted a picture of him, with my sister and I, and a caption that read “Daughters Day. Blessings of God.” 

My eyes welled up a bit. 

My father has always been very proud of his two daughters, and I have often heard him tell people that he is glad God gave him girls. His heart swells with happiness every time he does. But this was something I was not expecting, and I will tell you why. Since my father is just learning about Instagram and usually takes help from my sister or me when posting or adding stories, he took the effort to do this one on his own! And that adds so much more to the weight of how special I feel right now. 

It is the best feeling to know that your parents put effort to show you that you are loved and cherished, especially when you are a girl in India. Many times, we get so caught up with our busy lives that we forget to pause, to look around, to ponder, to be thankful, to cherish our children, OUR DAUGHTERS. We see them as a burden and not a blessing and that’s the most hurtful thing a daughter could ever go through – feeling unloved and unwanted because of no fault of her own. 

There is a need to spread awareness on the reality of sex-selective abortions in India. Killing the girl child in the womb has become so common that people treat it as something normal. 

HOW IS THIS NORMAL?! 

I am blessed to have parents who have always sacrificially given their daughters everything they needed to get to where they are right now. My sister and I enjoy wonderful lives in India’s best cities with great jobs. We are so grateful that we have parents who nurtured us with love, respect, freedom and courage. They never wished they had boy children instead of us. 

But not all girls feel the same way. They do not get the opportunity. It is important that girl children feel loved and cared for; that they are treated well and grow up to be confident and brave, pursuing their dreams. 

Make daughters feel special. Not just on Daughter’s Day, but every day. 

Because they deserve it. Right?

Meet Babita - A Social Health Activist working to save the lives of unborn girls in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Vanishing Girls recently organized a two-day ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers’ sensitization program in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. An ASHA is a community health worker instituted by the Government of India. The role of ASHA workers has been instrumental in bringing the Sex Ratio at Birth in Jhunjhunu from 880 girls born per 1,000 boys (2014) to 943 girls per 1,000 boys (2018).

Amongst the 125 ASHA workers participating in this program, Babita stood out instantly to me! It was not just her towering statuesque height, she had a keenness in her eyes and her conversations that caught my attention.  Elegantly draped in her blue ASHA sari, Babita actively participated in the program. Most of the ASHA ladies turned terribly shy when the camera zoomed in on them. But, Babita was different! She confidently approached me for a selfie and we got talking. What unfolded from that chat was a story of unceasing courage in the face of relentless challenges. 

43-year-old Babita did not have an easy life. She was rejected by her own father from birth because she was born a girl and not a son as he had always prayed for! She was married off at the young age of 14. Through all this, her mother remained her strength. She fought for Babita’s education and made sure she went to primary school at least. 

Babita worked as a seamstress initially but her passion to serve the women in her community made her join the ASHA initiative and become an ASHA worker. This initiative also gave her the opportunity to go back to school and clear her 12th standard exams, a lifelong dream of hers! 

Babita has been an ASHA for over 13 years. She loves her job as it involves ensuring that pregnant women in her region get the right medical assistance and those little girls are born into this world. At the training, Babita was delighted to learn more about the PCPNDT Act (Prohibition of Sex Selection), saying this was the first time that someone had made things simple enough for her to understand! She was thankful to receive insights into the root causes of discrimination against the girl child and the result of the efforts done so far in improving the Child Sex Ratio.

Babita’s sincere efforts and dedication as an ASHA have been recognized and awarded by the local government. She recollects how the status of women used to be terribly low before. But, with initiatives such as the ASHA program and the Vanishing Girls campaign, the acceptance of little girls in Jhunjhunu is improving every day!

Anushree Bernard - Campaign Coordinator, Vanishing Girls

If my baby girl had received proper care, she would’ve been alive today...

Lalita (name changed) lives with her husband and two girls in Madanpur Khadar, a small village in South Delhi, India. The abuse started for her since she delivered a baby girl, for the second time.

When she gave birth the third time, it was again a girl. Her family made it clear to her this time that they would not care for this child at all.

‘’At 3 months of age, my baby girl passed away. If she would have received proper nursing and care, she would be alive today.’’

Lalita manages to live in her husband’s house but it is not a happy life. She wants to educate both her girls and help them achieve their dreams, but she does not have a voice in the family and faces domestic abuse if she tries to speak up. Her husband despises even the idea of sending the girls to school since he and his family believe that for girls, household chores are more important than education.

My mother was tortured for having me, a girl...

My name is Priyanka. There were four women who were pregnant at the same time, three women in my neighbourhood and the fourth being my mother.

However, the other three women had given birth to boys and my mother gave birth to me. This disappointed everyone in my family and the most disappointed was my paternal grandmother. My grandmother who used to dote on my mother once upon a time, starting disliking my mother vehemently and would torture her either through my father or by herself, soon after my birth as I was a girl.  

When I was a little girl, I would be denied food and even milk on many occasions, was not given good clothes to wear and lived an isolated life. As I started to grow up, no one asked me if I wanted to study and go to school, however my older brother was given all the rights and privileges of studying and going for tuitions. I would manage to study whatever I could by going to the homes of my nearby friends. Somehow I managed to study on my own and completed my graduation.

However, my grandmother fell very sick and during her last days, she told me that the son whom she loved so much all her life didn’t stand by her during her illness, but me who she has always loathed and treated so badly has taken such good care of her. She asked me for forgiveness for treating me so badly all these years because she considered me to be a gem at the end of it all.  Soon after that, I got married into a good family and my younger sister has been given all the rights and privileges of studying and is currently pursuing a career as a marketing manager.