Blame it on traditional mores, son fixation or anything else. Girls are aborted, murdered, or neglected to death. Here's celebrating the birth of a new tradition. On inky night, change will be written, and parents will celebrate the first Lohri of their daughters, a trend picking up in Punjab and Haryana. Hopefully, will be the norm in the days to come. HT profiles the families and social organisations leading the change.
Your are invited cordially
Ludhiana: "We invite you to the first Lohri celebration of the spark of our family, Arshleen," reads the glittering invitation card from the Bedi family of Rajguru Nagar. Invites such as this are common ahead of the bonfire festival. But this one is a surprise. Arshleen is a baby girl.
"I always aspired for a daughter, and my long-cherished wish is fulfilled. Lohri holds a special meaning for us. We have Laxmi (the Goddess of Fortune)," says the grandmother, who works at Sargodha School. The infant's mother, Taranpreet Kaur, says: "Many people reacted awkwardly when we gave them the invitation to join us at the party but it doesn't matter. To us, there is no difference between a boy and a girl."
Taranpreet Kaur, information technology (IT) consultant in a multinational firm, has a younger sister, and both received the best of upbringing from their parents. Her husband, Jaideep Singh Bedi, is just as excited as he would have been if the occasion were for a boy. "All people who love their daughters are invited to share our joy and dine with us. There will be dance, dhol and bhangra," says the proud family.
Sweeter than rewri
Rohtak: Dinesh Rohilla (32), engineer in merchant navy, has loved the rewri-moongphali (sesame candy and peanuts) festival since childhood. This year, however, he has flown back home for something more special and precious: to celebrate Lohri and Makar Sankranti with his daughter of two months.
"Being first child and a daughter, she is special, who will bring good luck to the family," says Rohilla. Cuddling the little girl in her arms, his wife, Aarti, a postgraduate, is proud to belong to an educated family where girls and boys are raised with equal opportunities and freedom. "The child is important to us," she says.
The couple will distribute halwa and kheer, traditional sweet dishes for special occasions, to share the joy with neighbours and seek their blessings to the little girl. The prejudice against girls, signified by the skewed sex ratio in the state, worries them. "Patriarchal society will always believe girls to be a burden. It forgets that woman makes two homes: of her father, and of her husband," says the proud father. He is hopeful of change but aware that it will come slowly.
In the land of khap,a panch is dancing
Jind: Vani, all of nine months, is lucky. The third girl child in a not-so-educated family from the orthodox Jat heartland is blessed to have progressive parents such as Sunil Jaglan and Babli Jaglan, who consider her birth auspicious and look forward to celebrating her first Lohri at Bibipur village near here.
Sunil, a dynamic panch of Bibipur, and Babli have two more daughters, Caufi (5) and Khusi (3). "Before the birth of my third child, I had asked the doctor to perform tubectomy on my wife later. After delivery, someone close advised me to review the decision, but my wife and I stood our ground. People say girls and boys are equal. I say girls are far better," says the farmer who works for women's rights and battles female foeticide in his village.
The couple will celebrate Lohri with the same gusto with which they rejoiced the arrival of the first two daughters. The Jaglans will give the three the best they can. "Our eldest daughter is in an English-medium school. The second is too young to be enrolled but she knows the mathematical tables, and the English and Hindi alphabets. We give the girls proper care and attention," says Babli.
Education, she says, is the key to a bright future. The girls will not be forced into early or arranged marriage.
Blessings of the older generation
Vishal JoshiTaraori (Karnal): Harpal Singh and his wife, Satpreet Kaur, feel blessed. They want family and friends together for celebrating the first Lohri of their daughter, Eknoor, who arrived six month ago.
The couple, which has a son, Preetwan Singh (2), will participate in a special function that National Integrated Forum of Artists and Activists (NIFAA), a voluntary organisation, has arranged in Karnal on January 13. It is dedicated to newborn girls. The building contractor (29) and his wife will also have a children's party at house, and the guest will receive gifts.
The motivating spirit is Harpal's father, Joginder Singh. "He taught us not to discriminate against any child on the basis of gender," says Harpal. "I follow social activist Pritpal Singh Pannu, who first celebrated his daughter's birth more than a decade ago by hosting a function on her first Lohri," he adds.
18 years, different times, same delight
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
Amritsar: Even 18 years ago, when the elder daughter, Sonia Kaur, was born and society was more rigid, Kuldeep Kaur and her husband, schoolteacher Sukhwant Singh (52), had dared to party. The birth of a second daughter after a long gap has changed nothing.
The first Lohri of the second daughter, cute, nine-month-old Parul, is arranged at house. On the guest list are relatives, friends, and neighbours. "She has brought more joy into our lives. Like many other girls, my children will also be the state's pride and do something remarkable, and outshine boys in studies and other fields. They are sincere, hardworking, and responsible," said the mother.
Manika Arora (26) and Kunal Arora (29) have planned a grand Lohri celebration for their daughter, Kishaana, who is of four months. "She is very special to us, we'll give her all the freedom to grow," says the ecstatic father.
Some of the relatives didn't share the couple's excitement at the birth of a daughter. "Not many families accept the birth of a girl happily. The mindset, though, is changing," says Manika.
Flare travels abroad
Patiala: At a time when gender discrimination and female foeticide is prevalent even among the Indians settled abroad, a young couple is back from Australia to celebrate the first Lohri of its daughter.
Seerat (6 months) and her parents, Gurbinder Singh (31) and Ishpreet Kaur (28), who live in Perth, reached their original hometown, Patiala, last week to prepare for the festival. A bash much like the big fat Punjabi wedding is coming up.
"Even before Seerat's birth, my wife and I had decided to celebrate every moment of the child, be it a boy or a girl. Discrimination is product of the mindset," says Gurbinder Singh, who moved to Australia a few years ago and is back first time since daughter's birth.
"There is no point just talking about women's empowerment and girls' rights," says Ishpreet. "It is more important is to treat girls and boys equally." The entire family is eager to show to the first child of the next generation that she is welcome.
"We are more than happy that our children are celebrating the birth of my granddaughter in India," says Seerat's grandfather, Sukhdev Singh.
The change makers: It takes a man
Ludhiana: When the country looks down upon Punjab because of its low gender sensitivity, it also must appreciate the sincere efforts on to improve the child sex ratio and make it a better living world for girls.
Malwa Sabhyacharak Manch (MSM) is one organisation leading the mission. The organisation that emerged from the small village of Mullanpur near Ludhiana is in the big cause of promoting daughters' Lohri in the area.
Krishan Kumar Baba is the pioneer who came up with the idea of dedicating the festival to girls. "Years ago, whenever a girl was born in the village, the family would break the news saying: 'Pathar jamm peya' (a stone has taken birth). Girls were considered a burden, and in 1993, I decided to change that by starting a mission."
Looking beyond village, he targets to motivate a much wider group now: the entire state. MSM organises the first Lohri celebrations of girls, where 21 children each year receive shagun (cash gift) of `5,000 each that goes into their fixed deposit accounts for 18 years. It honours girls who have achieved something against all odds.
"Lohri is a festival of joy for Punjabis, a time for family to celebrate son's birth or marriage. There were no celebrations when a girl was born or married. Now there are," says MSM founder Krishan Kumar Baba, the change maker.
Little girls' 'Santa',new dawn in Sirsa
Sirsa: A small but sure step in the right direction: continuing the tradition started last year, a modest group of progressive, like-minded people will gather on January 13 to celebrate the first Lohri of some daughters.
The members will bring the children's parents presents such as shawls and rewri-moongphali (sesame candy and peanuts), and hold "kua pujan", a ritual to rejoice a birth, of a boy, usually.
The group, named Nai Subah (new dawn) aptly, started its change-making work three years ago. This Lohri, it will honour the parents of six baby girls at Madhosingana, Pohadka, Maina Khera, Hanjira and Sakar Mondori villages of the district.
The idea is to end gender discrimination. "We do our bit for social reform," says Nai Subah president Sube Singh Chaharwala, teacher in a government school.
Last year, the NGO honoured six Dalit families of Khairankha village in the district on the birth of girls. "We went to their houses, congratulated the children's parents, and gave them sweets and new clothes in the presence of the other villagers," says Sube Singh.
Nai Subah also works for tree plantation and pollution control on Diwali and Holi.
From shame to fame
Nawanshahr: Once infamous for skewed sex ratio, the district is coming out of the dark, cold night. Upkar Coordination Society, a local non-government organisation, has lit the flame against female foeticide and gender discrimination, and shown others the light.
The fight against female foeticide started in 2005, with the first Lohri celebrations for daughters. Behind the idea is former deputy commissioner Krishan Kumar, whose volunteers took the function and its message to villages.
This year the district authorities and volunteers will take gifts to the families of newborn girls. "Because of freezing weather, we don't want people to expose children. At home they will get baby suits and sweets," says deputy commissioner Anindita Mitra.
"Every year, we celebrate the first Lohri of 150 girls. This year, 50 special babies will also receive greeting cards signed by the deputy commissioner," says Upkar general secretary Jaspal Singh.
Actor Aamir Khan, in his popular show "Satyamev Jayate", appreciated Upkar's work. Every month, the team organises "Prabhat Pheris" (morning procession) in villages to awaken people.