Women and Child Development Minister, Krishna Tirath launched the campaign against malnutrition in India and Aamir Khan was roped in to be the ambassador of this much needed campaign in India. Aamir Khan with his deliberative and emphatic style of speech (I think he is the next Vajpayee in the making where the pause between two words and thoughts will compete with eternity) and record for all do-good things is lending his image to this noble deed.
So far so good.
I saw the first of the print advertisements exhorting us not to have our girls married earlier than 18, as they are not mentally or physically ready to bear the load of that very obese institution called marriage and consequently will be in danger of giving birth to a child who very likely will suffer from malnutrition. I read and pledged and then hedged! Pledging was easy, why would I wish that my daughter marries under-18? Good for cricket but bad for everything else. And the reason has very little to do with malnutrition of a life that is a consequence of entering into matrimony when she is not yet 18years of age. I read and re-read but could not connect the dots between the cause and results. Marriage is out of question because of several reasons like- I do not want her doing the juggling act so early in life that takes her eyes away from her education, her career, her choices, her finances, her development and that’s right, her well-being. Visually, I find the wordings of this advertisement all wrong - ‘A girl of 18 years of age isn’t physically and mentally ready to become a mother. If such a girl should have a baby, the child is at risk of malnutrition’. Excellent for identifying the girl child as the root cause of malnutrition. A pat on the back for declaring girls under 18 as incapable mentally or physically……(to become a mother). Boys are fully developed since birth! Aha I forger, perhaps it’s a girl who has crossed that golden cusp of 18 years that has given birth to such a boy! I find this ad skewed.
Besides holding girls responsible for the biggest fallout of poverty- malnutrition, her well-being has completely been ignored even while keeping her at the core of the campaign- “I won’t marry a girl who is below 18 years of age so that……our child will be protected from malnutrition, the girl be damned’, (well the last three words are a thought bubble) The man who is shown with a steely resolve in his eyes and hands crossed over his chest looks to be at least 35 years of age. Good going Govt of India, but then such clumsiness was expected from you.
Oh also I forgot all about the Lady Panchayat (straight from hell-hole of HIndi serial on TV, something to do with female infanticide) one hand on her hip and other brandishing a stick (to drive the rats away) looking sternly at the readers forbidding them to marry away their girl children. By the by, I have seen such Panchayat only on TV. In reality all the female panchayats or corporators are trembling, bumbling, skittish doves under veils (figurative) fronting for their husbands with political aspirations, who have no say except to say aye aye to the males behind them.
Now back to malnutrition. How is malnutrition defined? When one does not get enough food or food that is of such low quality that it impacts health and mortality of the person consuming it. Close to 42.5 per cent of Indian children suffer from malnutrition which means that every second child is not getting enough food or being deprived of life-sustaining food. It means that millions of people in India are still living below poverty levels that they cannot afford to buy at food that has at least 2000 calories in it- 4 Idlis or the same number of Rotis, a couple of bowls of Dal and maybe (when the going is good) a half a bowl of sabzi. Though we have surplus food, it does not reach the one who needs it more and this is the problem. This can be attributed to corruption and mismanagement, which does not allow the right distribution of food. In various villages government has opened subsidized food shops that get fund from the Public Distribution System (PDS). These are supposed to give 35 kg of rice or grain in a month to every family that is living below the officially declared poverty line. But most of the times these do not contain enough supply to meet the demand. Grains rotting away in poorly built silos being destroyed by rain and pests while our poor live out a life of indignity in pursuit of food.
In the above I do not see the satanic hand of an under-age girl who has given birth to a child straight into the crib of malnutrition. Public distribution system- underage girl, corruption- underage girl, public storage system- underage girl, draught management system- underage girl, lack of employment with minimum wages-underage girl . I want to see the connection but alas sir I fail to do so and I am not an underage girl, I am a good sized 40 year-old woman. This advertisement inadvertently reduces the role of women reproduction at the wrong age, holds them directly responsible, medically to giving birth to children who might not survive. How about holding the partners/ spouses as well for not providing for decent maternity and post-delivery medical care, for providing two square meals for the mother and child in question? I know this is all twisted logic but then the best I can deal with this twisted advertisement under the guide of a benevolent social deed is to strike it with twisted reasoning.
Preventing child marriages is going to prevent malnutrition is like saying Manmohan Singh is responsible for all child marriages, after all he is the head of the family and nothing in the family happens without either the head being aware of it or his tacit approval or that he is merely the titular head while someone else pulls his strings!
Sheee! Ms. Krishna Tirath, hai hai Govt of India, we need a better idea, sound reason and at the very least better editing.