Changing times: ‘I always wanted a daughter’

Published: May 30, 2012

I can give my daughter nothing but life, I am hoping she will be my life to me. PHOTO: AFP

Chandini is only about four feet, nine inches tall. Her body seems to have naturally bent from the strain of having carried four children, one after another, on her waist for about a decade now. She had her first child when she was 17-years-old.  

She ruefully points at her first born, a boy, who was desperately trying to reattach a broken arm to a doll’s body, and says:

I took one look at the child, and I couldn’t stop my tears

She had wanted a daughter.

Jagat, Chandini’s husband, earns his living by screening the trash and selling what is possible to the scarp dealers. She sobs as she talks about him:

He earns about Rs60 a day, when he decides to go to work that is

Sobbing is one of the only things Chandini will able to use her eyes for in a few years time. She suffers from progressive vision loss that will result in blindness. She is almost half blind now.

I trip over vessels, bundles of clothes and sometimes even my kids

She laughs as she says this. A laugh that has more pain in it than humour.

Yet, Chandini was sure enough that she wanted a daughter. She had tried three times and was lucky the fourth time, when she gave birth to Suhana a year ago. I asked the obvious question, half-exclaiming:

Why? Why would you conceive again and again with the hope of delivering a daughter?

“Why not?” she counter-questioned and paused.

Chandini lives in the Valmiki Nagar slum of West Bangalore. With rising prices, it is almost impossible for a family of six to think of living in a city like Bangalore with no income. In such a situation, I was very curious to know why Chandini was so desperate for a female child.

I tried explaining my confusion to her.

People want a son these days, Chandini. They feel a son would fend for them, a daughter would be a burden. I am, therefore, curious to know why you wanted a daughter?

All the while thinking about India’s irreparably skewed sex ratio.

Chandini pointed at her house – a small, 10 feet wide shack with bare, wet walls made of mud. She had a few utensils she uses to cook a meal when there were enough grains in the house. There were three small bundles of clothes and one earthen pot which stored drinking water for the family.

“Do you think we can ever live in a better condition?” she asked in a voice that expected a sincere answer from me.

With deep guilt, I looked at her, not knowing an answer to that question. She spoke herself:

That is why I want a girl. What we need is a little bit of care, some love and affection and some respect. A girl is more sensitive; I am hoping that my daughter will take care of me one day.

She did not mean to suggest that sons are insensitive; she felt that her daughter would be more of a support to her. She added in a genuine voice:

These days girls go out and earn a decent living and they also take care of us at home

I can give my daughter nothing but life, I am hoping she will be my life to me.

When I left Chandini’s tiny house, I think I sensed the changing times.

Read more by Raksha here, or follow her on Twitter @Raksha_Kumar

Raksha Kumar

Raksha Kumar

The author is a Bangalore based video journalist freelancing for the New York Times and the BBC. She graduated from the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University in May 2011 where she majored in TV news. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has worked in various media outlets in India. She tweets @Raksha_Kumar.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • BlackJack

    Depressingly contrived article. Two points:
    1. A sample size of one does not indicate a change in times – the results are probably due to selection bias, respondent fudging or just plain good luck.
    2. Despite what the lady it supposed to have said about her laudable efforts to produce a yet another child that she cannot afford to care for, the undeniable truth is that women in this economic class are rarely in a position to choose, let alone to keep trying until they get the gender right. The idea of the daughter supporting her in the future is also ridiculous and at odds with what life would have taught her.Recommend

  • ParaShankara

    Excellent. You have captured something important here. Recommend

  • Awais

    I don’t really sense changing times here. I mean yes, knowing that someone in her financial condition would want a daughter where it would be expected that she would want a son is surprising but isn’t a son capable of being affectionate, respectful, caring and loving to his parents?…..No wait, never mind. I forgot that this is her life, her body and her house, she can have as many kids as she wants and I should respect that. Recommend

  • Rajesh / Bangalore

    Beautiful.

    I feel sad at the reality of India’s poor and it’s abhorrent inequality. But I also feel a glimmer of hope that there are people (however few), who would prefer a girl child. Hat’s off to you Rakhsa for writing this – it encourages people like me to do more for India’s problems than just comment on blogs.

    Thanks.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Wonderful article. I know the sex ratio in India is skewed but i’ve always wondered about it. EVERYONE around me wants a daughter. Everyone ! I rarely come across an expectant mother who wants a boy. haha. Sorry boys, you’re valued too but I’ve sensed the changing times for a long time now. Women want daughters because

    It’s fun dressing them up in pink lace and halters. :P
    A lot of people believe daughters are a great emotional support.
    Recommend

  • sars

    why do we continue to think of offspring in what they can do for us?? Recommend

  • mujahid

    look at the poor hindus of indian superpower. Recommend

  • What the…?

    She wants women to earn a living AND support their families back home while the sons are expected to earn all the while expecting their working wives to cater to them when they get home?…hmmm interestingRecommend

  • Parvez

    This was a nice read as a short anecdote but to try and draw some profound conclusion from it, is not real. Recommend

  • G. Din

    @mujahid:
    “look at the poor hindus of indian superpower.”
    You are cordially invited to spend your vacation in Appalachian Mountains or the rural hinterland of Alabama, USA or anywhere in China and Russia, all of them current, or had-been or prospective SuperPowers.Recommend

  • x

    What a totally stupid, inconclusive and meaningless article. That does not prove ‘change’. firstly, its a one off incident. secondly, she wants a daughter because boys will have their own lives, girls can be suppressed and ‘controlled’ so that they are forced to sacrifice their dreams for their parents. thirdly, if she is so ill, what was the point of having four children you cant afford? how about birth control? that would have been progress!Recommend

  • x

    @Nandita.:
    you speak for the upper middle classes who dont need sons as sign of status symbol and a crutch for old age.
    also, a lot of people say they want girls but would secretly prefer a son.
    lastly, ‘i want a girl’ has become the new cool thing and sooo many people i know espouse this just to appear liberal, fashionable and trendy. it’s like the new fashion, everyone’s following regardless of their own inner feelings and preferences. Recommend

  • Cynical

    @mujahid

    ‘look at the poor hindus of indian superpower.

    mujahid bhai, you are a trully compassionate soul.
    But I ask you, mujahid bhai, shall we just keep looking at them? can’t we do something about it? to improve their condition, to make life a little better for them.I have an idea and evidence to support it.
    We should invade and liberate these people who kept them poor and hindu.
    Then we convert them.Whether they will still remain poor or become rich, I am not so sure (here I am lacking solid evidence) but certainly they will see ‘noor-e-khuda’ and come out of darkness.And you and me will be rewarded in our after life.
    Trust me it has been done before and the result is there for all to see whoever so wish. .
    What do you think?

    regards,
    from a fellow compassionateRecommend

  • American Fed Up with Pak

    @mujahid:
    Here comes another gun-toting sadist (your name is appropriate!) who takes delight at the misery of people born into poverty but who, nevertheless, out of sheer persistence, determination and hard work can rise to the top rung of the success ladder. There are millions of success stories of such children in democratic India where opportunities exist. And as for using the term “hindu”, just look at your own backyard which is full of human excrement that belongs to the so-called “religion of peace”. You don’t throw stones at others when you live in a glass house. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    In a metro like Bangalore where there is a high percentage of women working and are found in almost equivalent numbers to the men, a girl child makes a lot of sense.

    But, Bangalore is has the lowest poverty rate in all of India. Population growth is eclipsed by migration. I have not seen many people who have more than 2 children, yet the population numbers are increasing everyday.

    Hope you have advised her to send her children to school. Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @x:

    Actually, contrary to your opinion, the rich and elite are the ones who have longed for sons in India. But I guess that’s changing.Recommend

  • Shahid Hamid

    of course daughters are more sensitive about their parents and specially about her fathers.Recommend

  • Hira

    such a selfish mother.. wants a daughter to look after her in old age… kitni matlabi dunya hai… uff! Recommend