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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 Apr 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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On Being Born a Girl

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

April 15, 2012

How many young girls like Afreen have to die before we are jolted out of this sick, murderous obsession with boys?

Is there anything more beautiful in God’s creation than children? Is there anything more divine than the carefree smile playing on a child’s face, especially if he or she is of your own? There’s something so magical about children that it touches and melts the stoniest of hearts. But even if you aren’t blessed with children, you can’t help stop loving them.

What then makes men turn on their own flesh and blood? Afreen was too young to ever know why she was subjected to the intolerable cruelty and pain that she had been by the man who was responsible for bringing her into this wretched world. She would never get the answer.  She died this week after bravely fighting death for more than 24 hours at a Bangalore hospital.

She was 3 months old. There were bruises and bite marks all over the tiny body. But she died of the head injuries that she sustained when she was battered against the wall—by her own father. She was taken to the hospital when she suffered brain hemorrhage.

What was Afreen’s crime? Being born a girl in the land where boys are forever worshipped and pampered. Umer Farook, her manly father named after the great Muslim caliph and conqueror, wanted his firstborn to be a male heir to take charge of his kingdom.

Afreen wasn’t the first girl to be abused and killed by her own family. And she wouldn’t be the last.  These things happen all the time all across the country. Only last month, another Muslim girl, Falak, succumbed to similar physical abuse and injuries after fighting for her life for weeks at Delhi’s AIIMS trauma center. Her tragedy captured a nation’s imagination, with the media offering daily updates about her condition.

Falak wasn’t battered by her father but had been the victim of a system that is inherently biased against women. Falak and her two siblings were abandoned when their mother was sold as a sex slave to a Hindu family in Rajasthan.

Incidentally, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, the richest states of the country, boast the highest female gender deficit thanks to decades of female feticide and infanticide. Brides are hard to find. So women are routinely abducted by traffickers from across the country and sold to prospective grooms in these states.

The tragedies of Falak and Afreen came to light almost by accident. There are thousands of Falaks and Afreens out there whose stories never make it to television news. And there are millions who are quietly killed in their mother’s womb.

Being born a girl is the ultimate sin in a country with a long and hoary tradition of reverence for women. Almost all major Hindu deities happen to be female, including Devi, the divine feminine.  India itself is idolized as the divine mother (Bharat Mata). Yet girls are born increasingly unwanted and unwelcome in the land of a million deities, if at all they are allowed to.

Today, the girl child ratio is the lowest since independence. In 1961, for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven, there were 976 girls. The figure has now dropped to a dismal 914 girls. Seventeen states including, surprise, surprise, Jammu and Kashmir have reported alarming decline in girl child ratio. The national capital Delhi itself boasts the lowest female sex ratio in the country — 836 girls for every 1,000 boys. The 2011 census shows an alarming decline in the number of girls. It’s estimated that as many as 8 million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade alone. That could have been 8 million girls, 8 million mothers and 8 million families!

A silent and all-out war on the girl child is being waged across India. From female feticide and infanticide to burning women for dowry, every trick in the book is being employed by a male-obsessed and male-dominated society. And as Afreen’s tragedy shows, this war is being waged across communities, faiths and regions. While there has always been a silent social bias against the girl child vis-à-vis her brother — and not just in rural and impoverished parts of the country — this discrimination has turned truly deadly over the years.  

There are more than 40,000 registered ultrasound clinics that help you determine your child’s gender and deal with the unwanted ones. As a matter of fact, the whole country, the land of Mahatma and ahimsa, is now an endless killing field for the girl child. Never in human history has a society turned on its own, systemically purging itself of its lifeblood and future.

Many pre-Islam Arabs would kill girls upon their birth. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) wept when someone recounted how he had killed his young daughter with his own hands before the dawn of Islam.   

In India, the proud Rajputs would do the same. They too saw the girl child as a source of shame. In all patriarchal societies including in South Asia and the Middle East, a son has always been a source of pride. While sons are seen as the flag bearers of family honour and lineage, girls have always been treated as ‘paraya dhan’ (someone else’s wealth!). This mindset has acquired deadly proportions in India in recent years with the growing scourge of dowry culture.

Parents break their back as they bend over backwards to shower the groom with loads of cash, pots of gold, car and all sorts of luxuries for his magnanimity to marry their daughter. This is not exclusive to Hindus though. Indeed, when it comes to ostentatious, back-breaking, grand weddings and grander dowry, few can beat Muslims, especially those from my part of the world.

No wonder boys are a perpetual source of pride while girls are seen as a drag and drain on a family’s lifetime of savings. Ironically, it’s women who are the worst enemies of their own kind. It’s women who demand a "male heir" from their daughter-in-law, repeatedly cursing and abusing her when she cannot "deliver"!

Again, it’s women who are the first to demand a hefty dowry from the bride’s family. It’s common for long lost friends to ask each other, "how many pluses and how many minuses?" Yeah, you got it right. Boys are all assets and girls come under liabilities, even if boys dump their parents at the first opportunity!

Where will all this end? How many Afreens have to die before we are jolted out of our sick, murderous obsession with boys? When will we realize that by targeting female of the species, we will end up wiping out our race itself? The 3-month old Afreen, and 2-year old Falak, and tens of thousands like them before her, died because we — call it the system, society or whatever — failed to protect them. Their blood is on our hands. If we really cared for the Falaks and Afreens, we would act to save them from ending up as a dead statistic. Indian constitution — and constitutions elsewhere — and numerous laws offer enough safeguards and protection for women. But all the laws in the world are not worth the paper they are written on if they aren’t backed by political will and society’s mandate.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor and columnist of Khaleej Times

Source: Gulf News