Monday, December 3, 2012

The price of a daughter in India

You sold your daughter,
tied her sari tight
and sent her off,
to strangers. The bonds
were there before she
left you. There for
all her new family
to see. Not that
they looked too closely
at her. They were looking
at the new car,
and the fridge,
because that was how much
you had paid them
to take her off your hands.

Your hands are empty now,
and so is her heart.
What a price
you were prepared to pay
to dispose
of the inconvenience
of 'daughter.'
Not that you can call her that
anymore; she is gone
to others
who should call her daughter,
but they do not.

"Lazy bitch,'
comes more easily
to their lips. They
 have no time for her.
Why should they?
You paid them
to take her away.
There was no talk of love.
You did not ask that
they love her.
You gave them a car,
and a fridge, and
all they had to do
was give her a roof
over her head. Love,
now that
will cost more.

Is your daughter worth it?
What daughter?
Well you may ask.
And you will
when there is an accident,
and her sari melts
along with her,
and another daughter
must be found
to take her place
and bring with her
gifts and money.
Such is the price
of a daughter.

I wrote this when I lived in India in the early 90's. At that time a woman a day burned to death in Delhi and a woman an hour in Gujarat State. These kitchen 'accidents' claim more than 100,000 lives in India every year and are sourced in the iniquitous dowry system, which, while banned, remains entrenched.
The husband and mother-in-law are usually responsible but charges are rarely laid and most young women, charred and dying, usually refuse to say who set them alight. Kerosene and nylons saris combined with the attitude to women in India and the dowry system makes for a deadly mix.


  1. Wow. Tragic so, so, so--tragic. Thank you for writing about this atrocity. Sometimes we just don't know how good we have it.

  2. stomach turns and my heart hurts...makes me think of the girls in thailand sold in sex slavery...we send a team in to teach them new ways and help them buy freedom...its hurts...well told

  3. Living here it's hard to comprehend how parents could give away their own daughter to a life of misery and possible death. It's heartbreaking and tragic. Such a disgraceful and heinous act. Powerful and thought provoking.

    1. Well they don't believe they are giving her to that and of course it is not a given - it is just tragically common. One of the big difficulties is that most families won't take their daughters back because that shames them. The culture is quite backward in regard to women and sourced in religious misogyny.

  4. Never knew any of this, sickening indeed. Such awful people in the world to do such acts.

    1. To be fair, they are not awful people - they are perfectly ordinary people trapped in a culture where women are of little value and material goods matter. People in India when they fall, fall into the gutter - there is no social welfare safety net and everyday they see people living in the gutter and they live with that fear.
      In addition, Hinduism, like so many religions is highly misogynistic and encourages a fear and hatred of the feminine. Combine this with a culture where illiteracy is common and caste-lines are entrenched and change of any kind is resisted and you get this sort of thing happening in the modern age.
      It is important to remember that just a few centuries ago the same attitude to women existed throughout the Western world.

  5. You took an important issue and set it beautifully to poetry. Thank you and I hope it helps those who read it see things in a different light. Sometimes poetry often succeeds where news accounts fail.

  6. Brave words, important to have said. I knew these things, and I know it exists even among people who feel they must arrange marriage for their daughters. I have a friend, her parents arranged the marriage for her daughter as she and her husband were in the states. She was one caste below Brahmin, but the husband was Brahmin. He was 30. They lived with his parents. The mother in law began abusing her the day she moved in. Finally my friend's family rescued her and got her a visa along with her sister to come to the U.S. When I met her she said she was sure that family would have killed her; yet her grandmother had been deceived by the "matchmaker" who stood to make a large percentage of the dowry for making the marriage.
    Thank you for highlighting these atrocities. It's time to stop them now!