Monday, October 24, 2011

My Name Is "Unwanted."

This is a heart-breaking story:
When Shivaji Pisar's third child was born, yet another daughter, his parents insisted on naming her Nakusa, "Unwanted" in the local Marathi language.
"I didn't really care what we called her. Three girls is one too many," said Mr Pisar, 37, a shepherd.
Yesterday, however, Nakusa, 5, joined more than 200 other girls in a renaming ceremony in the small town of Satara, 260 kilometres south of Mumbai. During the ceremony, the girls and their parents and guardians took an oath to protect the girls, discourage discrimination and refrain from using names such as Unwanted.
These girls, most named Nakusa or Nakoshi, were handed name-change certificates, allowing them to legally change their names to whatever they wished. A few days before the ceremony, many of them chose to re-register themselves using the names of Bollywood actresses.
The second of six sisters, Nakusa Budhwale, 11, the daughter of a labourer, will now be known as Aishwarya after the Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, whose name means "wealth".
"She won a beauty contest. She makes good movies. I like her," she said. "Not everyone can be like her. I want to be."
Most, however, deferred to their parents.
Nakusa Pisar became "Puja," which means worship. Her father remained as ambivalent about the name change as he was about Puja's birth.
"What difference does it make? She does not understand what any of this means," said Mr Pisar.
But Nakusa Kirdat, 32, a primary schoolteacher, knows exactly what it means to grow up rejected by her family. She is the third child and daughter. Her grandmother and mother insisted on calling her Nakusa.

What is the reason behind such a horrendous custom? The answer:
It is a commonly held belief in rural areas such as Satara that to name a girl Unwanted is to jinx her and reject her, said Sudha Kankaria, a women's rights activist in Satara who launched the name-change champaign. By rejecting her you provoke the gods into giving you a son.
And sons are valued, daughters are not, for all the usual reasons: Sons take care of their parents in old age, daughters are married out and need dowries and a son is needed for the parents' final religious rites in Hinduism.

But all these explanations, however obvious they are, amount to nothing but a different way of saying that daughters are not as good as sons. Hence it is daughters who are married out, not sons and it is sons who do the last rites for their parents, not daughters. Because sons are preferred over daughters.

I should be amiss if I did not celebrate the renaming ceremony. This custom has survived for some time, after all, but now people are working to change it.