There were two sets of parents squabbling over a single prized possession – a baby boy. While the sequence of events was more like a Shakespearean drama, what transpired in a Jodhpur hospital on March 25 was not exactly a “comedy of errors”. In fact, it exposed what has been a “tragedy of our society”.
A warden boy, who erroneously placed a baby boy in the arms of the wrong mother, did not realize that his blunder would open the doors for an intensely fought legal battle. Poonam Kanwar - ecstatic at having given birth to a ‘boy’ - and her husband Chain Singh refused to accept any explanation from the hospital staff that two babies had been exchanged by mistake, and that they were actually the parents of a healthy baby girl.
Both refused to touch the girl or have anything to do with her, insisting that they will take home the boy only.
Reshmi Devi and Sagar Ram, who later turned out to be the real parents of the boy, obviously would never allow that.
Neither wanted a blood sample of the boy or DNA test conducted on him. They simply wanted a male heir to come home. It scantly mattered whether he was really their child. Nor that one set of them would be abandoning a girl, who may actually be their own flesh and blood.
Matters were not helped by the midwives who on birth of the girl child seem to have deliberately misinformed Poonam Kanwar about the gender in the hope of a generous tip.
Trapped in a gridlock, blood samples of the baby girl were matched with the parents. Despite the tests being positive, Chain Singh and Poonam Kanwar refused to accept the girl.
Yet another DNA test was ordered by the court. Only on its confirmation were the parents left with no choice but to take responsibility of the girl.
All along, that poor lone baby girl was confined to Jodhpur's Umaid Hospital nursery without the comfort of her mother; denied of her right to be breastfed.
The Jodhpur case is not an exception. Another such case has now come to light in Odisha. Under similar circumstances, there are many parents who would adopt such a stance.
Our deeply entrenched thought process belittles the status of the girl. We blatantly ask: “What is she worth after all?” A monetary burden till she grows up and gets married! She is neither worth any financial return in old age or a contributor to the family tree.
Our attitudes remain medieval due to the continuance of traditions such as dowry and male’s right to conduct last rites.
Research and statistics say it all. Discriminatory attitudes start from the cradle and remain till the pyre. For example, India is considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a baby girl. As per UN data, the Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy. The ratio is the worst gender differential in child mortality globally.
Even when little girls survive, newspapers are replete with incidents of baby girls being abandoned in buses, railway stations and even garbage dumps.
And as she grows, one in every two girls is malnourished and half of the entire girl population remains illiterate or is barely literate. 75% are packed off in marriage below the age of 18. Worse, one of 10 women is reportedly faced with some kind of child sexual abuse.
A peon once told me that he gives milk and eggs to his son, but plain dal-roti to his daughter, as she would be “somebody else’s property” later on. While the son would earn and look after him in old age. Another educated and reasonably well-off person I know had put his daughter in a Kendriya Vidayalaya, but his son in a convent school for similar reasons, even though he could afford English medium education for both.
Such is the misfortune of millions of girls born in this country.
Ironically, the entire Jodhpur episode took place during Navratras when most of India erupts into celebration of the female deity.
What can be said of our duplicity that while we will fete and celebrate female power in the temple, we are willing to abandon the Lakshmis born at home!
Without an iota of doubt, I can safely say that the goddess will not be terribly pleased.