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No ‘happy’ birthday to you, girl!

          By Roki Kumar

          Birth of a newborn is a very important and happy event in all communities. Every society celebrates the birth of a newborn baby in their own unique way.

          In Haryana, the birth of a newborn baby is celebrated with folk songs, folk dance and other customs.  It is a big celebration for every family irrespective of their caste and class.

          However there are many rituals the community does not celebrate if it’s a girl child.  This bias starts from the moment a couple of married with everyone wishing that they have a boy child.  The family expects that the pregnant woman will give birth to the ‘vaaris’ (heir) of the family, which can only be a boy.

          Following are some of the customs where we can see a clear gender bias in the  customs related to birth.

          “Thaali  Bajana”

          According to this custom  in Haryana, when  a male child takes birth in the family , the local dai (midwife) or  woman  of the family  start beating plates in a rhythmic way to announce the birth of a baby boy.

          After that  the family distributes sweets in community with the great happiness. During one of the gender trainings with the Aanganwadi workers that I conduct, I asked them the reason behind this ritual. They told me that it is a good way to declare and express happiness to  everyone in the community that the family has got a ‘Vaaris.’

          However, when a girl child is born, no one performs the ritual of ‘Thaali bajana’.  They don’t feel the need to celebrate the birth of a female child.  Their unhappy faces on the birth of a baby girl explains rest of the story.

          Bheli Bhejana

          Upon the birth of a baby boy, the in-laws make a customary visit to the home of the parents of their lactating daughter-in-law to inform the latter that they have become maternal grandparents (nana-nani). This tradition known as a ‘Bheli-bhejana’ in Haryana . No such ritual happens in case of a girl child.

          Dudh Dhuwahi  

          As per this custom, the sister-in-law of the lactating mother comes and does the customary washing of the breast of the lactating mother subsequent to which, the mother can start breast feeding her child.

          The sister-in-law  then gets  an expensive gift viz. gold, a television set, refrigerator etc.  However, owing to increasing awareness, people start breastfeeding their child as early as possible. But the custom continues. In case, it is a female child, then it becomes a bit difficult for the sister-in-law to come and visit.

          Chhatti Manana

          The sixth day of the birth of a baby boy is celebrated. This day is called ‘Chatti’. On this day , the  family members invite the community and distribute “mithe chawal” (sweet rice) to be distributed.  They also sing folk songs all night  and they believe that on that night “Bhagay ki Devi’ (goddess of fate) will come and write the destiny of boy.

          “Chhatti” also celebrated in an event of the birth of case of a girl child but there are some differences. During the ‘Chhatti’ of the girl child, the family members don’t sing folk songs and neither do they invite their community.  Smiling faces are rarely seen on that day.

          Piliya

          On the birth of a baby boy, the family of the lactating mother visit her marital home with sweets, toys, jewellery, clothes of boy baby and family.  This tradition, in Haryana,  is known as “Piliya.”  The family of the lactating mother takes loan for this if they are economical not so privileged.  In case of the birth of a girl child, the maternal grandparents get less number of clothes and sweets. According to the community, only two pieces of clothes should be given to the newborn girl because the belief is that if they give more,  then more girls will take birth in the family.

          Deswa

          Deswa involves celebrating the 10th day of the birth of the male child. On this day, all the relatives,    members of the community come together for a big celebration with lots of food, sweets, wine and music.  Women dance to folk songs.  However, nobody celebrates daswa after the birth of girl child.

          Kua Pujan

          ‘Kua Pujan’, is a custom that is performed to welcome the birth of male child by worshipping the well or a place from where they source drinking water from. During my interaction with Aganwadi workers, a  very odd custom came to light. In case of the birth of a girl child, people deposit trash on dustbins instead of ‘Kua Pujan’. It is a strong myth in community that if they celebrate birth of a girl child then more girls will be born.  That is why people don’t celebrate it . In addition, a lactating mother  gets  45-days rest and intensive care  on the birth of a male child but in case of   a girl, she gets only 15-20 days rest.

          We live in times where information and technology is bringing about immense changes in our lives. However our mindsets towards girls and women have not changed as yet. There is a strong need to change our customs and traditions that are high biased towards girl children. Birth celebrations should be equally important for children of both sexes.

          About the author: Roki Kumar works with Breakthrough on the issues of gender biased sex selection.

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