Between Gender and Freedom, which is a bigger and more important idea?
Every once in a while we come across a story that breaks our heart into a million pieces. Your Daily Read from the Atlantic today is one such piece. The tale of young Mehran- who dresses up as a boy to go to school, Niima- who dresses up as one to provide for her family- and hundreds of other girls from Afghanistan who ware forced into playing pretend, is a must read for everyone.
The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village.
In any society that assigns such a clear premium to maleness, perhaps a move such as this is inevitable. And just like the author, we can’t help asking ourselves- “between gender and freedom, which is a more important idea?”
When I asked Afghans to describe to me the difference between men and women, over the years interesting responses came back. While Afghan men often begin to describe women as more sensitive, caring, and less physically capable than men, Afghan women, whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, often describe the difference between men and women in just one word: freedom.
As in: Men have it, women do not.
Today, the birth ratio in India is 908 to every 1000 women, a number that has been steadily deteriorating in spite of several interventions by the Central Government, as well as several grassroots organisation. If there is one thing that seems to unite Indians across social and economic strata, it is their overwhelming desire for a male heir. Would it surprise you if you heard similar stories from our country?
Do spare 5 minutes today to read this poignant story, and while you are at it, catch the brilliant Qissa in theatres from the 26th of September.
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