POWER WOMEN: At the release of Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala’s book `It’s a Girl: Dialogues with a Princess’. Alpha women here are (l to r) clinical psychologist Amita Quenim, Mehnaaz Nadiadwala and Gym & Tonic owner Shwetha Bhatia
By Tara Narayan
IT was one of those moments of revelation with quite a few alpha women around! Usually, we associate the word alpha with alpha men, as in men who are liberated enough to respect women first, second and last. Or is this too much to ask for in our patriarchal society which apes modernity materially but continues to subscribe to discriminating between their sons and daughters?
Will the Indian daughter ever enjoy equal rights to love, affection and inheritance across the hierarchies of our society? Ask most women to go back in time and many (even Goa governor Mridula Sinha!) would endorse the kind of pitiful response the momentous words “It’s a girl!” evoke in homes/hospitals by announcement of a baby girl to the couple and their families.T was one of those moments of revelation with quite a few alpha women around! Usually, we associate the word alpha with alpha men, as in men who are liberated enough to respect women first, second and last. Or is this too much to ask for in our patriarchal society which apes modernity materially but continues to subscribe to discriminating between their sons and daughters?
That’s why the inimitable, lovely woman Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala decided to put together a gamut of feelings and emotions in her book titled “It’s A Girl: Dialogues with a Princess” (published by Nationpress.com, paperback, `499). Her name must ring a bell, she’s the daughter of the celebrated Nadiadwala family, the daughter of A G Nadiadwala, eldest son of Abdul Kareem Nadiadwala who together with his father established Nadiadwala Film Productions about 50 years ago (they made films which ring a bell in the minds of most Hindi cinemagoers). Mehnaaz is one of six siblings, and she has two children of her own.
Coming from the celebrity world like she does, she has to have seen some formidable times come and go to bring out the alpha woman in her! Alpha women are not born, she says, they are made. She was speaking at the release of her evocatively titled book `It’s A Girl’ (no exclamation mark) at Shweta Bhatia’s neat little Gym & Tonic fitness and nutrition studio in Panaji on Saturday, July 15, 2017.
Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala is one of the country’s power women and has taken on causes close to her heart. The cause of giving
the girl child a chance to live and prosper being a very close cause — given the fact that today’s medical technology is so good that it can indulge in selective abortion. Most of us know that female foeticide or abortion of the female foetus is endemic in India and several other countries across the world. In India it continues to be a scandal — despite the law making it illegal for doctors to disclose the sex of an unborn child to parents, female foeticide continues surreptitiously in several states. In a sense abortion itself has become a phenomenon which causes little life-threatening risk to pregnant women courtesy start-of-the-art laboratories and modern-day technology.
She’s from a Sunni Muslim family, says the soft-spoken Mehnaaz, and in Islam the womb is still respected as the womb of creation. One must respect the womb which creates life! She urges passionately. And one may not discriminate between boy or girl child….as has been done over centuries in India where education has still to penetrate along a woman’s right to her body and the choices she would like to take on her own despite belonging to the family she marries into.
It’s a complex subject and much vitiated. Alas, the facts betray over and over again that in family after family, poor or not-so-rich, the dice continues to be loaded against the birth of the girl child. In India there are places where over time the girl child has been so meticulously aborted that now there are only a generation of boys growing up — who will have to look beyond their own home state for a bride or a wife to give birth to their heirs!
The change, says Mehnaaz, must come from within the heart, be it a woman’s or a man’s heart in family after family. According to her most women would not willingly give up their girl child even if she is the first-born, but often she is at the mercy of her in-laws and husband who desire male offspring. Even in seemingly wealthy, educated families, very often the daughter-in-law is brainwashed, coerced subtly or brazenly to undergo a check-up in which some of her amniotic fluid is drawn to confirm the sex of the child growing in her womb. If it is girl foetus she is immediately pressurised into aborting it within the legal stipulated time, failing which she may even go abroad where abortions are easily available even if the foetus is four months old or more. In countries like Thailand now highly specialised tests reveal the sex of the foetus at a very early stage and the decision to abort may be taken quickly.
Women in well-to-do families too are under pressure to kill off their girl children while in womb! So chauvinistic is the desire for a male heir that many young women live a stressful and traumatic married life in their in-laws home. These are not easy situations because the husband himself is often the chief culprit in persuading his wife to abort a female foetus (often under orders from his mother who is anxious for male offspring). In India even in today’s times ladla beta continues to win over ladli beti more often than not.
Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala’s `It’s a girl’ sums up a highly pressurised issue very eloquently and covers the gamut of a woman’s life in India right from the time she is discriminated…beginning in the womb, later in her parental home (maike) and then in her in-law’s home. At the heart of the book is a sensitive imaginary conversation between an unborn vulnerable daughter and perhaps more vulnerable mother-to-be, a cameo screenplay actually with the potential to be turned into a film.
Mehnaaz has done a loosely-strung together but pretty conclusive capsule of related issues starting with chromosomes — most folk (including men!) may not know that it is the male sex chromosomes of XY which determine the sex of his child (women only have two XX). To quote from the book, “During fertilisation, the sperm cells race towards the egg cell. If a sperm with a Y beats all others, then the fetus will be XY. The pregnancy will result in a boy. However, if a sperm with an X wins the race to the egg, then the fetus will be XX. The parents will have a baby girl. Nearly everyone’s chances are around 50 per cent for having a boy and 50 per cent for having a girl. And yet, we know of many families that have all boys or all girls…”
So, adds Mehnaaz for good measure, the gender of a child is not chosen by a woman. As if to say, so why blame a women every time a girl child is conceived…blame the man instead! The bottom-line being, nobody should be blamed. Whether girl or boy, both should be welcomed and treated with equal measure of love and affection by parents.
Despite some very sound laws, the ultrasound continues to be abused in unauthorised diagnostic centres across the country and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare can’t do a thing about it, or can it? As if female foeticide is not bad enough, we have such issues as post-abortion trauma suffered by women forced to abort the girl child in womb and who thinks this needs sensitive counselling (the abortion itself being enshrined in such guilt-fraught secrecy)?
Without confronting these issues categorically, we in this country continue to perpetuate the perception that the girl child is a second class child and citizen later on and so there is the tendency to treat everything to do with women’s trials and tribulations through her life as of little importance if not outright frivolous. Commensurate issues range from child incest to molestation, rape (including marital rape which our legal laws ignore, although other enlightened countries have a detailed legal framework), mutilation of a girl’s private parts as a social custom, women trafficking, the education of girls and other associated issues which are intimately embedded with one another to tell a sad story of women in our world.
`It’s A Girl’ is a thought-proving guide mirroring how obsolete our ways of thinking are in an India hoping to progress in leaps and bounds but leaving women behind perhaps! This situation leaves a lot to be desired and this was endorsed by all the alpha women present at the book release in a panel discussion — namely celebrated Goan artiste Hema Sardesai (who was overjoyed to release the book and said in her family she was the tomboy and her parents never discriminated between her and her sister, their only children), psychologist Amita Quenim, and Shwetha Bhatia of Gym & Tonic who spoke a bit about the role of nutrition and exercise in pregnancy.
Although there were a few men present at the gathering, one couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala should have got a man to release her book amongst a predominantly male audience! Seeing that women are a captive audience anyway given the subject of the book. For I cannot help thinking that alpha men are not born either but are made. Age may be an inconsequential number for men but many of them live in a macho feudal mind set which needs to be wooed into liberation in the right sense of the word!
I hope as many men as women, read and pay heed to Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala’s book. `It’s A Girl’ is a poignant, timely reminder and warning to us to take cognisance of where we’re headed as a country if the demography of our population tilts overwhelmingly towards more and more men, and less and less women.
Excerpted from `It’s A Girl’ by Dr Mehnaaz Nadiadwala:
“IF of all people, the Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi is unable to recognize the grievous danger in not making marital rape a criminal offense, it bodes ill for the future of women’s rights in India. But first, let’s try to understand marital rape. It occurs when a man imposes intercourse on his wife either by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent. And just as domestic violence has been made punishable by law, so should domestic sexual abuse, because rape is rape, regardless of whether it is committed by husband, father-in-law, uncle or stranger. Since the late 20th century, most of the developed world has criminalized marital rape but India has still not.
Repeating almost verbatim the words of Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Chaudhary in April 2015, Ms Gandhi has said that `marital rape’ cannot apply in India because of factors like illiteracy, poverty, social customs, religious beliefs, and the “sanctity” of marriage. How are we to understand this? That it is okay for a man to sexually abuse his wife because they are poor? Because they are illiterate? Because their marriage is solemnized by a religious ritual? Invoking of arguments of destitution, religious belief and social custom can result to justifying several regressive practices that have rightfully been thrown out by law.
In fact, it is because we are a country still terribly hobbled by ignorance and custom that it becomes even more important to provide legal protection for the woman. Usha, our domestic help, would come to work at least once a week with a black eye. When asked why she did not complain, she would say, “Husbands can hit their wives, ma. It’s the norm.” It’s the same “norm” that allows the husbands of many Ushas to rape them, without protection, each time they come home drunk.
Marriage in India is, among other things, a sexual contract because it gives he man implied consent to sex in perpetuity. It reinforces the man’s “ownership” right over the wife. This denies the woman any agency over her own body, its sexuality and its reproductive function. Refusing to criminalize marital rape is to accept that sexual coercion against a woman, so long as it is within a marriage, will be endorsed by both government and society. If women are to wrest control of their lives, they have to have the right to say no to their husbands without being socially penalized for it. The myth of the `wifely duty’ and the`conjugal right’ must end because marital sex, as all sex, must be with mutual consent and pleasure.”