The Son Syndrome and desire to sustain lineage in India. Picture this: A North Indian Delhi based Brahmin family, the eldest son of the 7 children and his three daughters. Does it ring a bell in your head? A typical Indian scenario since decades has been that the son needs to have a son to carry the family heritage, family name ahead and when a situation like this arises, you can imagine the plight of the woman who gave birth to these three girls, the plight of the eldest son who is constantly reminded of how terrible it is that he doesn’t have a son and how cursed he is to have three daughters.
This is a story of my life. I am the second daughter of the three in this situation. This is also a story of my parents, my dad the eldest son in the family of 7 children (4 brothers, 3 sisters). This is a story of my family, relatives around who constantly remind my parents how unhappy they are (which they never see). And, over and all this is a story of those hundreds of women and men I meet on streets, corners and villages in India who show me the pity face as they come to know that we are three sisters.
My dad, the eldest son of the house has always been the one who looked after the needs of the other children since childhood. He started a job pretty early because he was told that he has to be the help when his sisters marry, when his brothers need to establish themselves. Born in a family of a railway clerk and a housewife hailing from Haryana, settled in Delhi, my father stepped into the employment sector as soon as he graduated. He often tells me how he used to do petty tasks in small shops even when he was in school just to get petty cash for his expenses, afterall a railways job for my grandfather couldn’t feed 7 kids. I really respect my grandfather for making those 7 children stand on their feet and live a prosperous life today, but the whole ideology of having 7 kids without the resources to feed them sounds crazy to me. Anyhow, so yes, my dad got into a job, changed jobs often, got married and yes, started his own business. From a small pigeon hole rented place in a small lane in Delhi, the journey he has taken to reach to a industry and export market in scientific instruments has been inspiring. Well, we can discuss that story some other time. For right now, lets join the dots.
So yes, he gets married, has three daughters over a span of 9 years with one miscarriage (a boy) before the third daughter arrived. And now, its been 30 years since his marriage and 23 since the miscarriage but till date all my grandmother loathes about is the fact how the 7 month fetus wasn’t born in this world is a sign of how unfortunate my parents are. We are three sisters, raised with the best of everything. My friends often call me names: “the pampered one”, “the daughter of a millionaire (while we aren’t one really, but still)”, the “lucky one” etc. And though I hate it many times, I really love it when I look at majority of my immediate relatives who think that God wasn’t kind on my parents. We are a family of educated (atleast literate), working, prosperous individuals settled in Delhi since more than 60 years. And well, that is exactly why they look crazy to me when they talk sons and moksha linkages.
We as daughters never felt that we have an incomplete family. We have our shares of arguments and regular day to day fights but we respect our parents, our mother for bringing that change in our homes, for making girls matter. I have seen my father from rags to riches. From the day (as my mother describes) when I was about to be born and he didn’t had to money to take my mother to a doctor to the day today where I find myself sneezing and going to a doctor. We have been cared of, pampered but taught the ways of life to be dealt ourselves. I am (like my sisters) one who loves indulging in fashion and food and style as much as I enjoy working with women & children in the extreme situations in India, sitting down with them, understanding realities and helping build partnerships in development from the communities. For me, both give my life a high, strong enough that it can challenge the high anyone feels after having any drug.
So, well educated, best of facilities, freedom and yes, the courage to fight our own battles, we as daughters have never felt that we are being discriminated with respect to our gender. Well, of course being in India, our parents are constantly worried about our safety but the fact remains that when I look at girls in Indian villages and towns, and I look at myself, I find a gap which to me is filled as I look at my relatives and families around. So, yes, my grandparents don’t love us. They do show that they feel for us, but when it is to choose between me (loving caring and respecting granddaughter) and my uncle’s son (brat, careless and disrespecting grandson), you know who they pick. As a child, it used to break my heart but as I grew and realized how it has been and it will be, I started to understand how I wont let it be in the next generation. My parents, pioneered the change in our home and yes, I believe I will be the one (we sisters) carrying the torch ahead.
We all hear stories of gender discrimination starting with children (even before birth) in families, but the important thing is to not let them be jus stories, but make them path breaking reasons for change. My uncle tells my dad that he should not expand his business because he has no son. Well, I have always been a part of his business and we three have told him “the day you want to retire, let us know and we will take it from there”, but in our families, that doesn’t count. “You are a daughter, who goes to others house, who cant do this business”, my grandmother often comments. Of the many comments, this one has always been a fuel to my anger, but yes earlier it used to help me blast and now it helps me strengthen my enthusiasm to not let it happen ahead of me, when I have children.
My buas and chachas (paternal aunts and uncles), nana and nani (maternal grandparents) etc all are a party to this You Must Have a Son Disorder. My parents tell me how when my mom got her sterilization done after the third daughter was born (which was not for a son desire, but we can discuss that later), both my grandmothers (paternal and maternal) had not spoken to them for a long time. Eldest son and no male heir?? Are you insane? Was the reaction they got. Today, when they look at us, they tell us how happy they are because we are trying to tell the world a story of how girls are at par, how gender is not how one should be measured and how, they never cared and they never still do what the people say.
A typical reaction I always get from women in Indian villages is this: “oh my god, oho! You don’t have a brother? That’s really sad.” And yes, it amuses me to the core. I mean, just imagine me sitting with 20 women and discussing gender disparity and discrimination issues in a village in Haryana and the first question they ask me during rapport formation is this. I do take it as a starting point to my discussion but then, this is a story of every village every place I travel to in India. And yes, though I am strong enough to challenge the mindset, I feel helpless when I think of those thousands and thousands of girls who are the future flag bearers and who are being moulded in this mentality.
While I was on my journey abroad for many months, I remember the day I was about to travel. My grandparents had called me to tell me how they feel proud of me. They told me this: “You are like a son to the house”! hahh! Was my reaction as I chuckled and remarked, “Please don’t call me a son, I am a daughter and yes, I am proud of the fact that my parents respect it. I am a daughter, not a son”!
Our society suffers from chambering syndrome. The girl who explores, travels, gets best of education and is a flag bearer becomes a BOY like! We sisters, all in the same system often laugh our lungs out thinking of the times we face it in our homes, leave aside the world. My eldest sister has a baby girl and as she reinforces how she wont let gender impact her child, I often think of the hard times she will face but am hopeful that one day she will achieve what she wants.
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