I’d like to take this moment to say Happy Lohri to all who are celebrating it! Lohri is a mid-winter festival celebrated by Punjabis all over the world and in the region of Punjab, India. It falls on the day of the Winter Solstice and is traditionally celebrated with a bonfire. It is a festival of happiness, life and good food including: sarson da saag, radishes, millet flatbreads, peanuts/ground nuts and kheer. In some families, they celebrate the birth of a child (usually a boy) or a newly-wed couple. Increasingly, more and more families – both in the diaspora and parts of India – are now celebrating boys and girls during the festivities.
The tradition of only celebrating boys on Lohri has come under fire following the declining sex ratio in Punjab – it has been falling since 1991. With regards to the number of female foeticides taking place, the state of Punjab is ranked third. It hurts me that a state like Punjab, that has a cultural and religious history of providing equality to its women in many areas of life (including the army) has become like this.
“It’s a girl.” To some parents these are the worst three words that they hear. This results in a large number of girls being abandoned by their families, left at orphanages, or worse, killed. This also means that there is a shortage of approximately 200 million girls worldwide.
“Mankind is One, should be recognised as such” Guru Gobind Singh-ji
Female foeticide and infanticide is so bad that in India prenatal sex determination is illegal. There are many reasons as to why certain families prefer to have a boy over a girl. They vary from finance, social and economic. Another is that sons are seen as an asset because they provide for a family, whilst a girl is a liability because she gets married into another family and no longer financially contributes to her own family. It is strange – and deeply uncomfortable – to think of children in terms of profit and loss, instead of the wonderful, lively and beautiful human beings who have a right to life.
It’s all very well and good to talk about female foeticide and infanticide in India, but it is also happening here to British Asians in the UK – it has reduced the female population by an estimated 1,500 and 4,700. It is difficult to pin down exact numbers because so many cases go unreported.
Many of us view female foeticide as a backward practice that happens in the villages of northwestern India and not here in the UK. So what is being done to tackle this? Thankfully there are scores of individuals who are taking a stand against this practice. A charity, based in Punjab, called Unique Home for Girls. The charity looks after girls of all backgrounds who are orphaned, unwanted, unclaimed and/or declared as illegitimate by society. The trust aims to educate them and restore their human rights. Seeing a group like this fills my heart with joy and gives me hope that things may change.
I hope that one day, we will live in a world where everyone recognises and values the importance of girls. The first step starts with us: the way that we treat young girls ultimately determines the women that they grow up to become.