Strangers consoled Anjana Vaidya instead of congratulating her when she gave birth to a girl.
“I felt the pity of a society that doesn’t welcome a girl child into this world.”
After my daughter was born, everyone expected that we would try to conceive a son. By the time my daughter was a teenager, the messages were no longer subtle.
“Take this Chinese calendar. If you follow this strictly, you will get the child of your choice. It’s a guarantee that you will have a son this time.”
“You already have a very intelligent girl. If you give birth to a baby boy, I am sure he will be more intelligent than this girl.’’
“These days, technology is so high you can choose the sex of your baby… why don’t you have a son?”
People would whisper that I was too career-minded or that maybe I had some biological problem. These are all good people who care for me. Why do they think my life and my family will only be complete after the birth of a son?
The truth is that before my daughter was born, my husband and I deliberately made a joint decision that we would only have one child, regardless of whether it was a girl or a boy. We made the commitment to care for this child wholeheartedly and to focus on giving our best to him or her. We were happy as we waited for our little one to arrive.
At 10:10 pm on December 3, 2001, my little princess came into this world without complications. I had counted down the days and nights for nine months with enthusiasm, joy, and love. I enjoyed every moment of pregnancy. And as soon as I gave birth, I couldn’t wait to hold my baby.
I delivered in a big government maternity hospital and I had heard stories of babies getting switched due to negligence. I had seen more than 20 babies lying next to each other and they all looked the same to me. I asked the nurse to put my tika (a small circle-shaped velvet sticker that is worn on the forehead, mostly by married women) on my baby’s forehead so that it would be easier to recognize her. I wanted to ensure that she wouldn’t get changed for another baby.
In response, the nurse raised her eyebrows and broke into laughter. “It’s a baby girl!” she said. Of course, I had already seen my baby. I knew she was a girl. What the nurse meant is that no one would wish to take a girl.
This was just the beginning of the messages directed toward my daughter that girls and women are worthless in our society.
After a couple hours, before my family was even informed of my daughter’s birth, I was moved to the general ward. A nurse and attendant helped me change rooms in silence. Without any guidance or consultation, at 21 years of age, I taught myself to breastfeed my baby for the first time. I could see my neighboring new mothers surrounded by family members. They were showering congratulations on newborn baby boys, giving guidance on feeding and holding babies, and helping the new mothers cope with post-delivery pain.
After some time, my husband and mother-in-law came with sweets to offer to the nurse and attendants. My family was overwhelmed with excitement, but strangers were still feeling sorry for me. The attendants even seemed awkward about taking the sweets. Some directly consoled my husband and me, saying we didn’t need to worry and we should try again for a baby boy after two or three years. For the first time in my life, I felt the pity of a society that doesn’t welcome a girl child into this world.
Two days later, I was discharged from hospital and came to my home with my little princess. Friends and relatives began visiting me, and they too were consoling me. They would look at her face, which they said was boy-like, and then predict that my next baby would be a boy.
Later, when my daughter celebrated her fifth birthday, people started advising me on planning for a baby boy. This advice even came from people who knew our decision to not have another baby; they didn’t believe we were serious. As time passed, the comments from relatives and friends only got louder. Every time, I would clarify that we really love our daughter and we are happy with an only child. No more babies for us.
Why can’t people recognize that a daughter can be the strength, pride, and power of the family—and that she can also contribute to growing the family tree? A person is not just a son or a daughter, but a human. It’s a fundamental human right that all must have equal opportunities to live a dignified life, with equal access to every basic requirement.
The craze for boys will prevail as long as our society practices inequality and uneven distribution of resources. The craze for boys will prevail as long as the contributions of girls and women are not acknowledged and valued. The craze for boys will prevail as long as there is female feticide, honor killings, and dowry cases. It comes from centuries of traditions and a culture that sets roles and responsibilities according to sex rather than capability.
Humans made these traditions and this culture, and I am positive that we can change them. It will take some time to shift mindsets, but I believe one day it will happen.
In the meantime, I pay the price in my society for my choice to remain a mother of a single daughter. Sometimes that price is expensive. I am valued and treated a bit less in comparison to my contemporaries who have boys.
I do not give a damn about the people who evaluate me on the basis of my child’s sex, but I will not tolerate seeing my daughter—or any girl—devalued, mistreated, and deprived.
It is time for the voices of women and girls to be heard and our contributions to be acknowledged and respected. This change begins with individuals and it spreads through families to our communities, to the nation, and to the world. Let’s start now, with you and me.