Why does this book speaks of the girl child and not of the child whether boy or Girl? The girl chills is the endangered sex in our society. Fifty years of independence have not been enough to guaratee her natural claim to childhood. She is entrapped in a complex social process which in a sense naturalizes her deperivation. The authors discuss areas requiring intervention and analyse the retrogressive forces that restrict the opportunities and choices available to the girl child.
The girl child place is within the family, which traditionally has been viewed as a nurturing and protective institution especially for girls. The book examines this view critically raising vital questions of gender-based discrimination within the family. In most families the girl child worked from morning to night. Yet it is as natural to deny her contribution which is invisible and to see her as a burden as it is to keep her out of school to deny her adequate nourishment and health care.
The thirteen case studies poignantly reveal the way discrimination occurs. For instance Gouri aged seven kept always hungry, says if there milk then her share is put aside to make tea. Others speak of how they hate being illiterate but they had to drop-out of school to look after siblings or do house work.
The first time the girl child received a special focus was when the SAARC countries declared 1990 as the year of the Girl Child, thus drawing attention to the particular problems she faced in this part of the world. A National Project on the Girl Child and the Family was sponsored by the Indian Government that was carried out by twenty-two women's studies centres, located in different regions. A survey-based collaborative research -cum-action project it aimed to generate comparative data on the condition of the girl child that would help to improve planning and implementation of programmes. The authors have used the data from the survey in West Bengal, carried out by the school of Women's studies, Jadavpur University to illustrate their arguments. It is interesting to note that because of the gravity of the crisis the SAARC countries have extended the time -frame of the special focus: the period upto 2000 has been declared as the Decade of the Girl Child.
Placing the Girl child in her historical setting the book traces her social construction in the colonial period, reminding us of the prolonged struggle that went into the appearance of the girl child, as distinct from the woman, in Bengal a situation that will have parallels in other parts of the country. Changes in perception in our time show that the girl child of the dominant class no longer occupies centre stage, and the discussions and debates now focus on the poorer, deprived sections of society. A common bond is that most girl children are deprived of their legitimate childhood.
An important contribution of this book is the discussion on the mother, drawing attention to her perceptions about her children in general and of her daughters in particular. Four aspects of the girl child life have been studied in detail: health, educational status,her work and socialization. Thirteen case studies of Christan, Muslim, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and general caste Hindu girls from rural and urban areas contain detail about their daily activities, their perceptions, ambitions and prospects, which also reveal the ideas of their mothers and other family members indicating whether or not their have been significant changes from one generation to another.
About the Authors:
Jasodhara Bagchi has just retired in September 1997 as professor of English and Director, School of Women's Studies Jadavpur University. She is specially interested in gender culture and development.
jaba Guha is professor of economics, Jadavpur University. Her special areas of interest are gender studies, classical political economy and development economics.
Piyali Sengupta is a research student Jadavpur University and a former editor, newsletter, Indian Association of Women's Studies.
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