Friday, September 30, 2005

Morena and the modi*

On our way to the villages in Morena's rural regions, I muse, "Six lakhs each, eh? Multiplied by seven. Are the stakes that high in this sonography game? And how much more must the doctors be making? I mean, the village people can't afford that much, can they?"

"They can't. Not any more. But earlier, the sheer volumes made up for low prices. Rs 2000 was the going rate for revealing the sex of the foetus. The landed farmers could afford that much."

"And now?"

"Now, the business is shifting towards Agra, Gwalior, even Bhind. But the rates are higher there. Maybe Rs 5000. Maybe more. At least, rural folk think twice about gettign a test done - the travel, lodging and boarding expenses to and fro, the tests, the bribes... often, they get a sonography done in bigger cities and come back to Morena's small government hospitals to get an abortion. It works out cheaper."

"And those who can't afford it?"

"The very poor anyway don't bother. Also, the poorer ones are often lower caste or tribal. They don't mind having daughters."


She explains, "Some of the lower castes here are not so much into dowry. And even if they are, marriage is not sacrosanct, nor a one-time affair. If, for instance, the bride's parents find out that the girl is being mistreated, they will bring her back home, and soon set her up with someone else. That way, the girl's got more of a chance at surviving, even after birth."

"And dowry rates? For the average person, not very highly educated, let's say."

She says, "Guess."

I can't imagine, but I venture a number, anyway. "10 lakhs?"

"Haha! No, more like 35 lakhs in the city. For the average guy. For an IAS, or a doctor, don't even ask."

I don't ask. I don't want to know.
But the math begins to fall into place.

Later, in the village, I ask a woman why she is not educating all her daughters. She is barely forty, has seven daughters, of whom one has been given up for adoption. There would have been ten, but three girls were aborted.

She says, "5 lakhs, if the girl is illiterate. But if you educate her, you have to give more. How much can I give?"

I look at six of her seven daughters. The youngest is a newborn babe, flies buzzing around an open eye-wound. The eldest is about sixteen, combing out her hair because I'm going to take photographs. If she were a boy, she'd have been out with her father, handling the bullocks, managing the fields. I ask her if she will become a farmer, and spare her mother any future attempts to have boys. She lowers her head and does not reply.

Dowry means she will not study. Which means she cannot manage her own land easily. Which means she must be married off to somebody else. Which means she needs a dowry. Which means she had better stay uneducated. Which means...

I look at her little sister, who is about ten, and still attends school. I mumur, "At least, one... you will study, won't you? At least, one of you?"

She grins, not understanding.

I tell myself, maybe she will, after all.

[* Modi, in the Morena dialect, means girl]

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