"There is a little-known battle for survival going in some parts of the world. Those at risk are baby girls, and the casualties are in the millions each year. The weapons being used against them are prenatal sex selection, abortion and female infanticide — the systematic killing of girls soon after they are born.
According to a recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) State of the World Population Report, these practices, combined with neglect, have resulted in at least 60 million "missing" girls in Asia, creating gender imbalances and other serious problems that experts say will have far reaching consequences for years to come."-from UNESCO
"Nagapushpan" by Kannan Lakshmi-Chennai, India) is a beautifully told
story that deals directly with a terrible evil, the practice of female infanticide in India. An estimated minimum 500,000 female babies are killed at birth (mostly in rural India) every year. The practice is illegal but no one is arrested for it.
As the story opens, a young girl from a wealthy family is hiding up in a tree. She is sulking because she is demanding that nagapushpan flowers be used in a celebratory event her family will soon sponsor. Her mother tells her this cannot be as once years ago her family brought one of these flowers into the house at it attracted a poisonous snake that killed a young female child. "Naga" means snake and has deep roots in the cosmology and culture of South Asia. The image of giant snakes are all over the temples of South Asia.
As the girl gets older she wonders why her parents gave her a name that seem to honor the snake (the naga is most often depicted on temple carvings as a hooded cobra), "Nagapanchami". One day her mother tells her she is old enough to go with the women to the temple for a special occasion. There is a lot to be learned in this story about Indian culture. The scene in the temple had to be very confusing for the girl. Her mother, her grandmother and many other women are giving ambulations to stone statues of snakes. The pour milk over them. They walk around the statues until they collapse in exhaustion
These snakes have a special function in the lives of all women (no need to get too Freudian!). I will let the story tell itself.
"The snakes functioned by taking on different forms and shapes. They got into the delicate spinal cord of the newborn Nagaratnas, bent it backward and snapped it, helping the midwife kill the female baby. The snakes transformed themselves into ropes, twined around the neck of the tender, young female infant and strangled her. Or they turned into a large, black rock salt, blocked the mouth of a baby till she struggled for breath and choked to death. They even metamorphosed into fertiliser and finished their mission by poisoning the baby. They changed into various forms. They became ropy dough that was coiled around the lid of the large earthen pitcher to seal off all air. The female infant stuffed inside struggled for breath. Slowly, very slowly indeed, they granted freedom to the female soul that was trapped inside the pitcher and helped the midwife again in snuffing out the young life.
The snakes also entered the bodies of husbands whose wives protested against the killing of their baby daughters and who sobbed and screamed. The snakes made the husbands hiss in fury and spread out their hood. They slithered into the strong, muscular arms of these fathers of tiny daughters, helped them fling their own infants against the walls of the saurighar till the tender young brains spilled out. Snakes and more snakes. Venomous snakes, wherever you looked."
As the story closes, the young girl has grown up and is married. She recalls her grandmother telling her if a wife does not give her husband a son then there is no point in her living.
Kannan Lakshmi lives in New Delhi. She has a Phd in English from Cambridge. She has taught at several prestigious universities and is a leading advocate of the rights of women in India. She writes in Tamil (a very old language spoken in parts of southern India and in Sri Lanka-it is also one of the official languages of Singpaore). She translated this story herself. She has written numerous novels, short stories and works of non-fiction that have been widely translated. You can buy collections of her short stories on Amazon.
This story can be read online HERE.
This story can be read online HERE.