A girl too many?
Could a family that dared to defy the widespread household practice of female infanticide in Jaisalmer thirty years back by raising a girl have killed their newborn girl child a week back?
That's the question the Jaisalmer district administration is now holding an investigation to answer. It's the first case of its kind registered against a family for alleged female infanticide in Rajasthan where the 2011 census shows a drop of 26 in child sex ratio since 2001.
And while the investigation is on the Sub Divisional Magistrate Ramesh Chandra Agarwal who exhumed the child's body and sent it for a post mortem has shockingly been posted out.
While that brings a rather unsavory distinction to Devra village, the last time Devra saw a 'first' happening was in 1999. A young Jayant Kanwar the first girl her village to survive in the hotbed of female infanticide in over a hundred years got married that year. That's when Devra got a taste of what it's like to have a baraat party come to their village for a change rather than sending them off to other villages.
Ironically the police are now investigating if Jayant's own niece was denied what she was famously allowed once, the right to live. The family quietly took the healthy girl child born to Jayant Kanwar's brother and sister-in-law home without getting the mother and the baby discharged. Some hours later she was declared dead and buried. She would've been only the fourteenth girl under 10 in Devra village among 300 families.
The census 2011 has sharp questions writ large between those numbers. Where are the missing girls of Rajasthan? The numbers show that Rajasthan has hit a new low in child sex ratio which has gone down to 883 per 1000 boys. A shameful drop of 33 since 1991. The female literacy rate has grown only by nine percent, the lowest in the country. One in every three school going girl drops out. Why? Mostly to be married off early.
The numbers reinforce a less empirical but mostly accurate quick personal indicator I apply to get a sense of where women are placed in small towns. The number of women driving on the streets or even riding bicycles is a point of reference that helps make sense of the situation. And the census numbers reaffirm the usual suspects among the districts notorious for being unfair to the girl child Dhaulpur, Hanumangarh, Karauli, Bharatpur, Jhunjhunu, Barmer and Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer's skyline is now defined by windmills towering over the old havelis. Bright dish antennae dot the border hamlets and mobile phones are the next must-haves for men after turbans. Tourist guides speak English in made to order accents. But girls are still unwanted.
Busily shooting a sandstorm on the outskirts of Jaisalmer some months back I had a nightmare of a thought just for a fleeting moment. What if the dusty winds that work overtime to keep rearranging the sand dunes lay bare in one blow the harshest of the desert's reality. What if they sweep away the layers of sand over the remains of a female infant, one too many in her family.
They could well have. Since dumping female infants among the sand dunes after killing them with an overdose of opium, or just suffocating them with their mother's scarves, strangling them or even in some cases placing them in a hot furnaces or milk is fairly common. It works almost like 'how do I kill thee for I know not one but a thousand ways to do so'.
And the methods I gathered while shooting a heart warming story of Shagun Kanwar's marriage over a year back that brought a baraat party to Devra village for the second time in over a hundred years. Shagun happens to be only the second girl after her cousin Jayant Kanwar in her village who grew up to be able to see her own marriage in as long as the oldest living person in the village can remember.
All other girl children born during the last hundred years in Devra village were dumped in the dunes after killing them in one way or the other. There are thirteen little survivors under ten promising the winds of change but does the different fate of the fourteenth one concur with many others who should've been a part of the missing numbers in the census?