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‘Unwanted’ is My Name: Culture, Patriarchy and Gender Bias Surrounding the Nakusa Girls of Maharashtra

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This study tries to explore the shocking ‘Nakusa’ phenomenon in the Satara district of Maharashtra by analysing the factors responsible for discrimination against girl children. Many parents have named their daughters as ‘Nakusa/Nakoshi’ means ‘unwanted’ in local Marathi language, in the hope and under the superstition that the next child will be a boy. A survey of ‘Nakusa’ households was carried out in 2013 in the selected villages besides case studies of parents and their ‘unwanted’ daughters. Most ‘Nakusas’ were either third or fourth daughter of their parents. ‘Nakusa’ girls are experiencing discrimination and socio-psychological problems, and are the silent victims of the most visible and crudest form of gender bias still persisting. Women called ‘Nakusa’, who have suffered on account of their name all through their lives, will they ever want to have a daughter?
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Article
Sociological Bulletin
66(1) 58–74
© 2017 Indian Sociological Society
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0038022916687063
http://journals.sagepub.com/home/sob
1 Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, India.
2 International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India.
Corresponding author:
T.V. Sekher, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Deonar, Mumbai 400 088, India.
E-mail: tvsekher@gmail.com
‘Unwanted’ is My Name:
Culture, Patriarchy and
Gender Bias Surrounding
the Nakusa Girls of
Maharashtra
V.P. Shijith1
T.V. Sekher2
Abstract
This study tries to explore the shocking ‘Nakusa’ phenomenon in the Satara dis-
trict of Maharashtra by analysing the factors responsible for discrimination against
girl children. Many parents have named their daughters as ‘Nakusa/Nakoshi’ means
‘unwanted’ in local Marathi language, in the hope and under the superstition that
the next child will be a boy. A survey of ‘Nakusa’ households was carried out in
2013 in the selected villages besides case studies of parents and their ‘unwanted’
daughters. Most ‘Nakusas’ were either third or fourth daughter of their parents.
‘Nakusa’ girls are experiencing discrimination and socio-psychological problems,
and are the silent victims of the most visible and crudest form of gender bias still
persisting. Women called ‘Nakusa’, who have suffered on account of their name
all through their lives, will they ever want to have a daughter?
Keywords
Gender discrimination, culture, patriarchy, Nakusa, unwanted daughters
Discrimination against the girl child in India is a well-documented reality and it
reflects serious gender-based differences, inequalities and neglects. The general
perception is that in most families girls suffer deprivation from ‘womb to tomb’.
The complex structure of the culture and socio-economic factors prevalent in
patriarchal society is responsible for this persistent discrimination. The family
attitudes towards children are shaped by the powerful culture of the community,
Shijith and Sekher 59
and it leads to different treatment based on their sex (Miller, 1981). Cutting across
regions and different strata of society, neglect of the girl child is widespread in
India. Some studies show that girls are given less food, healthcare and education
than boys, a situation highly prevalent in some parts of India. Even worse, in the
era of sophisticated medical technology, girl children are not even allowed to be
born. According to the 2011 Census, a further decline in the child sex ratio (par-
ticularly 0–6 age group) reflects a bitter truth. By analysing the male–female ratio,
Sen (1990) in his pioneering paper titled ‘More than 100 Million Women are
Missing’, highlighted the nature and magnitude of increasing gender discrimina-
tion in Asia, including India. The general attitude about the value of girl children
in India is reflected clearly in a Tamil saying—‘having a daughter is like watering
a flower in the neighbor’s garden’ (Sekher & Hatti, 2010a).
The naming practices of girl children represent behaviours that form a much
more concrete measure than attitudes and opinions. According to Sue and Telles
(2007):
selecting a name for a child represents an important cultural decision. Names often-
times signify ethnic identity, particularly the identity that parents expect for their chil-
dren. Given names have obvious long-term consequences; as labels they inuence
the socialization of children and contribute to the development of personal identities.
Although parents may choose from an apparently boundless number of names, their
choices are shaped by social and cultural inuences. (pp. 1383–1384)
The present study examines the naming of girls in the Satara district of Maharashtra
by analysing the factors responsible for the discrimination against them, including
choosing their names.
In the Indian context, most of the names of people are inherited from ancient
scriptures and Hindu mythology. A peculiar practice still exists in rural Maharashtra
of naming a girl child as ‘Nakusa/Nakoshi’, which means ‘unwanted’ in the local
Marathi language. In the context of the study area, naming a girl ‘Nakusa’ is a
clear manifestation of parental attitude towards daughters. Though this practice
has been prevalent for many decades, it received attention only recently when a
renaming function was organised by the district administration of Satara in 2011,
in which more than 280 ‘Nakusas’ got new names. The new names defined a
new ‘identity’ for these girls and were registered with the local civic authority.
During the renaming function, parents took an oath to protect girls, discourage
discrimination and refrain from using the name ‘Nakusa/Nakoshi’.
The vast literature on sociocultural factors responsible for the discrimination
against the girl child in India indicates many factors which play a role in this
discrimination. In an era of overall improvement of female status and socio-
economic changes, daughters in India are still vulnerable to social and cultural
discrimination. Even if the socio-economic transformations have challenged the
foundations of the culturally established beliefs that have been perpetuating son
preference, the institutional changes regarding the relationship between genera-
tions still hold enough sway to perpetuate the belief that a son is necessary for
the family and a daughter cannot replace a son. The phenomenal increase in the
dowry transactions across the country has certainly reinforced the perception that
60 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
having daughters is a liability whereas having a son is a necessity. The improve-
ments that have taken place in almost all spheres of socio-economic life have so
far contributed very little towards reducing the bias against girls.
Gender inequality in Indian society is interconnected with the culture of
patriarchy and traditional stereotyping. Different kinship systems of India have
both adverse and positive situations for women. The marriage systems also vary
considerably across regions with different implications for female autonomy.
The northern part of the subcontinent had more exogamous marriages and
the southern part had more endogamous and egalitarian marriage systems with
matrilineal family forms (Dyson & Moore, 1983). Culture is a significant deter-
minant in deciding the position of women in the society. Where the culture is
female-friendly, the survival chances of the girl children are better (Agnihotri,
2000).
The term ‘son preference’ refers to the parental attitude that sons are more
important and more valuable than daughters. In many parts of India, parents value
their sons for economic, religious or social reasons (Clark, 2000). Generally,
there are three major cultural and religious reasons that are broadly discussed by
researchers for the preference for sons over daughters in India, namely, aspects
of inheritance, old-age support and rituals (Croll, 2000; Das Gupta, 1987; Larsen,
2011; Miller, 1981). Bumiller (1990) observed that the birth of a boy is a time
for celebration, but the birth of a girl is often viewed as a crisis in many tradi-
tional Indian households. Daughters themselves experience lesser expectations
and lesser worth than their brothers, and parents have the feeling that they are
bringing up girls just for another family’s advantage (Croll, 2000).
Marriage costs are the most imperative cultural motivation for strong prefer-
ence for sons. Hence, it is assumed that daughters are associated with loss or
double-loss due to the burden of expenses of her upbringing and marriage. A
daughter leaves the natal family after her marriage and the benefits from invest-
ment made on her upbringing go to the new family, so it is considered a loss by the
natal family (Croll, 2000; Hatti, Sekher & Larsen, 2004). A woman who herself
had a bad childhood experience (in terms of discrimination in all spheres includ-
ing food, education, mobility, etc.) had less autonomy and felt high instability in
her married life, is usually more responsible for discrimination against the girl
child, leading to a vicious cycle of gender discrimination and deprivation.
The most immediate form of female discrimination at birth is the practice
of female infanticide which has customarily been deployed to limit the number
of females and to determine the gender composition of families (Croll, 2000;
Sekher & Hatti, 2010a). Infanticide in India was prevalent among certain com-
munities during the 19th and early part of the 20th century. In some ways, female
infanticide was the earlier version of a phenomenon now prevalent among Indians:
the use of prenatal tests to determine the sex of a child and opting for sex-selective
abortions. According to Sen (2003),
there have been two opposite movements: female disadvantage in mortality has typi-
cally been reduced substantially, but this has been counterbalanced by a new female dis-
advantage—that in natality—through sex-specic abortions aimed against the female
fetus. The availability of modern techniques to determine the sex of the fetus has made
Shijith and Sekher 61
such sex-selective abortion possible and easy, and it is being widely used in many
societies. (p. 1297)
In many parts of India, both infanticide and fatal female neglect have been
replaced by sex-selective abortions (Sekher & Hatti, 2010b). Furthermore, as
social norms are changing towards smaller families, the availability of and access
to new technologies provide an easy way for parents to achieve such goals (Hatti
et al., 2004; Larsen, 2011).
During the last two decades, micro-level studies and surveys reveal the wider
distribution, privatisation and commercialisation of medical technologies, such
as prenatal diagnosis tests and abortion facilities which have mushroomed in
India, primarily used to avoid the birth of daughters (Croll, 2000; Patel, 2004).
Ultrasound scanning for sex detection has become a huge industry. With every
new technological advance, elimination of female foetus becomes much easier
and more efficient (Aravamudan, 2007). Designed for the detection of genetic
abnormality in the unborn child, technologies of amniocentesis and sonography
have put into the hands of ‘son-crazy’ parents and unscrupulous medical practi-
tioners, a means to detect and summarily eliminate female foetuses. Almost all the
foeticide victims were the second or third daughters of the family. A significantly
higher proportion of women who had less number of children ever born with no
male child experienced abortion than women who have one or more male child
(Agarwal & Unisa, 2010). Realising this, the Government of India banned the
tests at national level with the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and
Prevention of Misuse)—PNDT Act in 1994.
Bhat’s research explains the century-long trend of a falling proportion of
females in the Indian population by identifying the age groups, regions and social
categories of the estimated 21 million females gone ‘missing’ between 1901 and
1991. The accelerated fall in the child sex ratio after 1981 seems largely due to
the diffusion of prenatal sex-selection techniques in regions with well-entrenched
gender bias (Bhat, 2002).
Most of the studies on girl child discrimination in India mainly analyse socio-
economic factors including income and educational characteristics of parents,
economic value of children, son preference, imbalance in sex ratio, masculinity
of the population and sex-selective abortions. A detailed examination of deeply
rooted cultural assumptions about gender identity and its relation to the girl child
discrimination has still not been attempted in India. Some researchers emphasised
the cultural aspects of discrimination against the girl child and concluded that son
preference occurs not only because of economic factors but also due to strong
cultural postulations.
As Goffman (1963) proposes, a stigma is an attribute on the other who does not
come under the societal stereotypes established by the society itself. This attribute
is called virtual social identity as opposed to actual social identity. In order to get a
personal identification of someone, we make use of his/her social identity and all
other things in the society he/she is associated with. A stigma discredits a person
into an abnormal one. Goffman talks about three types of stigmas. One is because
of the physical deformities people were treated differently. Second is because of
62 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
the character of the person (dishonesty, unnatural passions, addictions, etc.). Third
is ‘tribal stigma’ of nation, race and religion which spread like an epidemic from
generation to generation and infect every family member. In the case of ‘Nakusas’
in Maharashtra, the sole reason for imputing the name ‘Nakusa’ (unwanted) is her
gender. Taking Goffman’s views, there are huge discrepancies between ‘actual
social identity’ of the female gender and the ‘virtual social identity’ (being wor-
shipped as mother goddess). ‘Nakusas’ are the living examples of discrepancies
between theories that establish society and its praxis. As stigma theory predicts,
the person is reduced in the eyes of other ‘from a whole and usual person to a
tainted, discounted one’ (Goffman, 1963, p. 3).
Rationale of the Study
The present study becomes relevant as it looks into the discrimination of the girl
child from a different perspective by analysing the belief behind the naming of the
girl child. Pronounced traditional customs of the society reect gender bias;
several parents in the Satara region of Maharashtra have named their daughters as
‘Nakusa’ which means ‘unwanted’ (in the local language), in the hope that the
next child will be a boy. By rejecting daughters, parents try to provoke the gods
into giving a son.
The present study intends to:
1. Examine the belief behind the naming of girl children by analysing the
factors responsible for such a practice.
2. Examine the socio-economic profile of the families who named their
daughters as ‘Nakusa’ (unwanted).
3. Examine how far naming of girls reflects discrimination against daughters.
4. Understand the discriminatory experiences of ‘Nakusa’ girls in their own
households and in the village community.
Methodology
The present study is primarily based on a sample household survey conducted in
Satara district. The eldwork was carried out from January to March 2013. The
household survey was conducted based on available information from a list of
girls whose names are changed recently through a renaming campaign of ‘Nakusa’
girls by the Satara district administration. The list of 280 girls from eleven tehsils
of Satara district, whose names were changed was collected from the Zilla
Parishad ofce and used as sampling frame for identifying the respondents. The
list includes information about the present names of ‘Nakusa’ girls, their age,
place of residence, village as well as tehsil. From the list of ‘Nakusas’ of seven
tehsils of the district namely Satara, Jaoli, Mahabaleshwar, Phaltan, Koregaon,
Karad and Patan, 100 ‘Nakusa’ households, spread across many villages, were
selected randomly. The parents of ‘Nakusa’ girls from these selected households
were interviewed using a structured interview schedule.
Shijith and Sekher 63
Due to seasonal migration and unavailability of the household members, only
seventy-seven families were contacted and interviewed. Among them, forty-
two ‘Nakusa’ girls (aged 10 years and above) were also interviewed. The inter-
view schedule had three parts namely household information, parental attitude
towards ‘Nakusa’ girls and a section particularly for interviewing ‘Nakusa’ girls.
The interview schedule comprised questions on socio-demographic and eco-
nomic characteristics of the households, factors behind the naming of the daughter
and manifestations of neglect and discrimination against ‘Nakusas’. Apart from
the household survey, two case studies of parents of ‘Nakusa’ girls and five case
studies of ‘Nakusa’ girls were also conducted. Key informant interviews were
conducted with non-governmental organisation (NGO) activists, social workers
and government officials who are directly involved in the renaming campaign of
‘Nakusas’ in Satara.
More than half of the ‘Nakusa’ girls belong to Maratha caste and also from poor
households (Table 1). Most of the ‘Nakusa’ girls (61 per cent) interviewed were in
the age group of 10–19 years. Only 8 per cent had more than 11 years of education
(Table 2). At the time of survey, more than half of the (56 per cent) ‘Nakusa’ girls
were students and 10 per cent were working, mostly as wage labourers. Based on
the survey, we found that naming the girl ‘Nakusa’ was reported among Hindu
households only. The list provided by the Zilla Parishad also reveals that all the
‘Nakusa’ cases were reported from the rural areas only.
More than 90 per cent of the parents interviewed admitted that they were
expecting a boy and not a girl. Unfortunately, they got a girl and they named her
‘Nakusa’, in the belief that next child will be a boy. We observed that this belief is
still prevalent among the rural communities in Satara district.
A mother of a 12-year-old girl said—‘at the time of Nakusa’s birth, I was
expecting a boy and was very upset when I got a girl’. She said that compared
to her other children, she did not particularly care for ‘Nakusa’ during her child-
hood. Sometimes she left for work without paying much attention to her daugh-
ter. According to her neighbour, ‘mothers usually give golden earrings to their
daughters, but “Nakusa” did not receive any such signs of affection’. A majority
of ‘Nakusas’ are either the third or fourth child of their parents (Table 3). These
parents desperately wanted a son, but unfortunately got a daughter. So they felt
that the girl was an ‘unwanted’ arrival and hence named her as ‘Nakusa’, hoping
that their dream would be fulfilled and that they would get a son soon.
Among the surveyed households, twenty-six ‘Nakusa’ girls had three elder
sisters and twenty-three girls had two elder sisters. Twenty-six ‘Nakusas’ had at
least one younger sister, five had two younger sisters and four had three younger
sisters. Ninety per cent of parents interviewed admitted that they were actually
expecting a boy when the ‘Nakusa’ was born. According to many, her birth was a
great disappointment for the entire family.
A social activist explained the factors behind this naming practice: ‘If the first
few children are girls, then parents surely need a boy. In this situation if once
again a girl is born, then parents name her “Nakusa”’. During childhood, most girls
do not know the actual meaning of their name. Once they start going to school,
their friends start teasing them. Parents do not have a problem explaining to others
why they have named their daughters ‘Nakusa’. One father stated, ‘We don’t want
64 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
Table 1. Background Characteristics of Households and Parents Having at Least One
Girl Named as ‘Nakusa’
Background Characteristics % Frequency
Type of family
Joint 26.0 20
Nuclear 74.0 57
Caste category
Scheduled Castes (SCs) 13.0 10
Scheduled Tribes (STs) 23.4 18
Other Backward Classes (OBCs) 11.7 9
Others 52.0 40
Name of the caste
Maratha 52.0 40
Dhangar 14.0 11
Mang 8.0 6
Ramoshi 5.0 4
Others 21.0 16
Type of house
Kachha 8.0 6
Semi-Pucca 82.0 63
Pucca 10.0 8
Monthly income of households
Up to `2,000 65.0 50
`2,000 to `10,000 35.0 27
Father’s education
Illiterate 30.3 20
Primary 33.3 22
Upper primary 16.7 11
High school and above 19.7 13
Mother’s education
Illiterate 71.2 52
Primary 19.2 14
Upper primary and above 9.6 7
Total 100.0 77
Source: Survey data.
this girl; and that is why we kept this name for her’. They told this to neighbours
and even to strangers. They also talked about it in front of their own daughters
without any hesitation. One parent during the interview said, ‘This is “Nakusa”;
we gave this name to her because we were actually expecting a boy instead of her’.
Interestingly, many parents do not even have any regrets for naming their daughter
as ‘Nakusa’.
When the parents were asked why they named their daughters ‘Nakusa’, most
of the respondents revealed they already had daughters and do not want a girl
child again. Some stated that they kept this name because of the suggestions from
elders, grandparents and relatives. Many of them had a belief that if they keep the
name ‘Nakusa’ for their daughter, then the next child would be a son (Table 4).
Shijith and Sekher 65
Table 2. Socio-demographic Profile of the ‘Nakusas’
%
Age at the time of survey
Below 5 years 4.0
5–9 years 18.2
10–19 years 61.0
20 years and above 17.0
Years of schooling completed (those above 6 years of age)
No schooling 13.0
1–4 years 32.5
5–10 years 46.8
11 years and above 7.8
Source: Survey data.
While interviewing a mother about the reasons for naming her daughter as
‘Nakusa’, the daughter was sitting beside her. The mother said—mala hi mulgi
nako pahije (I don’t want this girl). After hearing this, the girl started weeping.
But the mother did not bother and continued the conversation. When we asked
the mother again if she knew the meaning of ‘Nakusa’, first she refused to give
a proper answer and replied that she did not know the meaning; but when the
question was repeated, she revealed the meaning of the ‘Nakusa’—she said that it
meant nako aslely mulgi (‘unwanted girl’). Though she did not have any regrets
for naming the daughter as ‘Nakusa’, her daughter would always ask her why she
had been named so. Mother, however, did not pay much attention to her ques-
tions. Interestingly, many parents believe that because of naming the daughter as
‘Nakusa’, later they were blessed with a son.
According to a father: ‘I had three girls. No boys. When the third daughter was
born, I decide to name her as “Nakusa”. I didn’t want any more girls’. Everybody
in the household agreed to his suggestion. Why? He continued. ‘Three girls, and
no boy, and I asked myself—Do you want Vamshacha Diva (bearer for the family
name) or not?’ He finally decided to name his daughter ‘Nakusa’ and continues
to call her that. During interviews, we observed that whenever parents started
explaining about the reasons behind the name ‘Nakusa’, the ‘Nakusa’ girls became
very emotional. Their facial expressions indicated that they were upset. When
parents consider their own child as ‘unwanted’, it is bound to leave lasting scars.
Other derogatory names given to girls in this region are ‘Dagadi’ and ‘Dondi’
means stone.
The naming ceremony (Barse) is one of the important customs in the com-
munity after a baby is born. When a male child is born, the naming ceremony
is celebrated in a grand manner by inviting relatives and the entire village and
distributing special meals to all. But for a girl’s naming ceremony, the function
is very simple and very few are invited. We also observed that after many girls,
when a son was born in the family, parents give their sons the names of gods. For
this, some parents gave the following explanation: ‘After many girls, a boy was
born; we believe it is a gift of God’. We also found that there are many more girls
in these villages having the name ‘Nakusa’ than listed by the Zilla Parishad.
Table 3. Birth Order of ‘Nakusa’ Girls with the Number of Brothers and Sisters
Birth
Order
Distribution
of Nakusa
(%)
Number of Elder
Brothers
Number of Younger
Brothers Number of Elder Sisters Number of Younger Sisters
No One No One Two No One Two Three Four Five No One Two Three
Second 16.0 11 1 4 6 2 1 11 0 0 0 0 5 3 3 2
Third 25.8 18 1 5 12 4 0 1 18 0 0 0 10 10 0 1
Fourth 36.4 23 5 11 15 2 0 0 5 25 0 0 17 9 0 1
Fifth 19.0 13 3 8 6 0 0 0 0 1 13 0 9 3 2 0
Sixth 2.8 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0
Total
No.
77 67 10 29 40 8 1 12 23 26 13 2 42 26 5 4
Source: Survey data.
Note: This table is based on the actual number of sons and daughters of the households interviewed.
Shijith and Sekher 67
Table 4. The Parental Reasons for Naming Daughter as ‘Nakusa’
Rank Reasons
1 We already had girl/girls; we do not want another girl
2 Elders, grandparents, and relatives suggested this name
3 If we name her as ‘Nakusa’, the next child would be a boy
4 It is our request to God to give us a son, instead of a daughter again
Source: Survey data.
In majority cases, the name ‘Nakusa’ was suggested by parents and grand-
parents of the girls (Table 5). More than 81 per cent of the parents interviewed
believed that naming their daughters as ‘Nakusa’ would naturally end the birth
of girls and a boy would be gifted next. Only few stated that they never had any
such beliefs. The majority of the parents are still addressing their daughters as
‘Nakusa’, even after renaming their daughters. It may be partly due to the habit
of using that name for many years. Sometimes, it is very difficult to remember a
new name. Most of the respondents said that out of habit, they still use the name
‘Nakusa’. Second, they justified doing this because ‘Nakusa’ was the original
name given by the parents (Table 6).
Some parents accepted that it was due to lack of knowledge and superstition
that they had named their daughters as ‘Nakusa’. Although the name was changed,
they continue to call her ‘Nakusa’. ‘Why should I call her with a new name? Her
old name was habitual to us. When the Government starts giving us financial
support, then I will call her with the new name’—said one father.
The renaming did not have much effect in many villages. Most of the neigh-
bours and villagers were still using the name ‘Nakusa’. More than 61 percent
of the parents stated that the girl child is a burden to the family. Financial con-
straints are the most important reason reported by the parents. ‘Bringing up girls
is so expensive. It is very difficult to afford their education and then getting them
married’. A mother of ‘Nakusa’ was trying to justify why she did not want a
girl. ‘We have to give so much dowry for a daughter’s marriage; otherwise her
husband’s family may create problems later on’. One father explained ‘I have five
girls and one son. Because of these girls, I have so much tension. I have no job
or money. My situation is very pathetic. The marriages of three of my daughters
were performed in a temple in a simple manner due to financial difficulties’.
Table 5. Who Suggested ‘Nakusa’ Name to Girls?
%
Grandparents 34.0
Parents 34.7
Relatives 14.0
Neighbours 13.0
Others 4.3
Source: Survey data.
68 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
Table 6. Reasons for Addressing Daughters as ‘Nakusa’, Even after
Her Name Was Changed (According to the Parents)
1 Due to habits/practice of many years
2 ‘Nakusa’ was her original name
3 It is very difficult to remember and call her with a new name
4 Everybody calling her by old name, we also do so
Source: Survey data.
Experiences of ‘Nakusa’ Girls in Family and Community
This part of this article presents the experiences of the ‘Nakusa’ girls mainly due
to the name they possess. Apparently, they were exposed to many problems and
humiliations. A ‘Nakusa’ said ‘Wherever I go, I face the same question “Why is
your name Nakusa”’? Until the Class 10, I did not know the real meaning of
‘Nakusa’. But when I nally understood the meaning, I was shocked. I kept on
wondering whether I am really an unwanted one to my parents. ‘Why I am an
unwanted daughter?’ She was troubled with these thoughts for a long time. Then,
she decided that never to behave like she was ‘unwanted’ in front of the people.
She said ‘But the feeling of “Nakusa” still there somewhere in my mind’. She
could not erase this feeling even after changing her name. Recently, she got a new
name ‘Namrata’ in the function organised by the Zilla Parishad. ‘I am happy with
my new name and you can call me with this name’ she requested.
When asked ‘What was your feeling when you came to know the actual meaning
of your name?’ another ‘Nakusa’ (19-years old) answered—jeva mala ‘Nakusa’
cha arth kalala tevha majyavar aabhal kosalyasarkha votala (I felt like the sky
was falling down on me when I came to know the actual meaning of my name).
She was afraid of revealing her name to others because people laugh at her. ‘People
used to call me ‘Nake’, a short form of ‘Nakusa’’. She really wanted to change her
name in school. Now her name has been changed, but still all her certificates bear
the old name. ‘I always felt that my friends and siblings have nice names but only
my name is very bad. Why did it happened to me?’ She was confident that one day
she would prove to her parents that she is a wanted daughter to them.
Table 7 shows the various reasons as stated by the girls interviewed for their
name as ‘Nakusa’. The most cited reason for having the name as ‘Nakusa’ is
that there are many girls already in the family. The other reasons are the parents
needed a boy, not a daughter, and parents do not want any more girl children.
A ‘Nakusa’, who is now 32-years old, was very upset. ‘I feel I am really an
unwanted girl in the family’, she said very angrily and looking at her mother, she
continued. ‘My mother and father were concerned about my brothers only. I was
always given different treatment. That is the case, it would have been better for
them to kill me in the beginning itself’ she said and started crying.
The difference in treatment experienced by ‘Nakusa’ girls and their brothers
were also probed (Table 8). Sixty-nine per cent of the ‘Nakusa’ girls interviewed
had a brother. About 50 per cent of the girls felt that their brothers get preferential
treatment from their parents.
Shijith and Sekher 69
Table 8. The Differences in Treatment Observed/Experienced by ‘Nakusa’ Girls in
Comparison to Their Brothers
1 All facilities for boys first, then only for girls
2 Parents are ready to fulfil boy’s wishes only
3 More attention and care for boys
4 When giving food, parents give preference to boys, then only girls
5 Parents give preference to the demands of boys but do not do so when girls
want something
Source: Survey data.
Table 7. Why the Name ‘Nakusa’ Was Given (Opinions of the Girls Interviewed)
Rank Reasons
1 Many girls were already in the family
2 Parents needed a boy, instead of a daughter
3 Parents do not want a girl at all
4 Parents believed they would get a son, if they name the daughter as ‘Nakusa’
5 Grandmother’s name was ‘Nakusa’
Source: Survey data.
A ‘Nakusa’ (19 years) shared the experiences of the ill-treatment of girls in her
family.
When guests or relatives come home, we are not allowed to go in front of them, whereas
boys can. The society and the family consider boy as a ‘vamshacha diva’, but at the
same time girls in the family are considered as a burden. The boys are given respect in
the family. They get priority in each and every aspect like education, health care, etc.
Even in the case of marriage, I was forced to accept the decisions taken by my parents.
I was never consulted even in the selection of my life partner (husband).
This question was posed to ‘Nakusa’ girls: ‘Why does your brother get pref-
erential treatment over you at home?’ The answers to this question include the
following responses: most parents prefer boys over a girl, he was the only boy in
the family, parents feel that girls really do not belong to the family and go away to
another family after marriage, etc. (Table 9).
‘Nakusa’ girls, because of their peculiar name, have experienced various prob-
lems. The most common problem experienced by ‘Nakusas’ is that they feel bad
when someone call them ‘Nakusa’. Second, when friends start teasing them, they
feel sad and angry. In many cases, ‘Nakusa’ girls find it difficult and uncomfort-
able to tell their name to others, including schoolmates (Table 10).
A ‘Nakusa’ (15 years) said that when people call her ‘Nakusa’, she felt like she
did not want that name. However, she was helpless and could not force others not
to call her that name. Even after her renaming, when people call her ‘Nakusa’, she
tells them that her name is changed to ‘Aiswarya’. But they told her that ‘Nakusa’
is tondvali (always in our tongue, due to many years of use). One day, she heard
70 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
Table 9. Reasons for Preferential Treatment Given to Brothers (According to ‘Nakusa’
girls)
1 Parents always prefer boys over girls
2 He is the only boy in the family
3 Girls do not belong to the family and will go away after marriage
4 Boys are more powerful than girls
5 Boys can take care of parents in old age
Source: Survey data.
Table 10. Problems Experienced by ‘Nakusa’ Girls because of Their ‘Peculiar’ Name
1 Feel bad when someone calls ‘Nakusa’ (unwanted)
2 Friends tease her because of her name; she feels sad and angry
3 Feel uncomfortable in telling the name to others
4 When people tease by name, it is irritating
5 Feeling nervous and tensed while interacting with others
Source: Survey data.
one of her classmates talking to another, ‘You know her name is “Nakusa”; she
is an unwanted child to her mother and father, then why should we care for her?’
When I heard this, I became speechless and felt very sad. After that incident, I
became more and more introvert; I could not speak properly with my classmates.
When I really understood the meaning of ‘Nakusa’ from one of my teachers, I felt very
upset. I could not sleep properly that night. Why would my parents choose this name?
There are so many good names for girls and they could have selected a better one for
me—she wonders.
Table 11 shows the extent of humiliation experienced by ‘Nakusas’ because of
their peculiar name. More than 68 per cent of ‘Nakusa’ girls interviewed reported
as facing humiliation outside their homes. The villagers and relatives humiliate
them. Nearly one-third of them are facing some sort of humiliation during social
and public gatherings. A woman aged 25 years narrated her bitter experience
during her schooldays. When she was in sixth standard, her teacher was lecturing
on grammar. As part of it, he had given her the homework of splitting the word
‘Nakusa’, which in fact was her own name. She could not do that exercise. The
very next day, when teacher asked her about that homework, she told him that she
does not know how to do it. He became angry and wrote her name on the black-
board by splitting it into three words. ‘Nakusa’ = nako asleli mulgi (‘unwanted
girl’). ‘Was it my mistake having such a name? My name is the biggest problem
and humiliation in my life’. ‘If our society is treating girls like this, I do not want
to have a daughter at all. Why should she also suffer like me?’
Another ‘Nakusa’ girl said:
Whether in school or outside, everyone is calling me the same old name. Nobody is
calling me by new name. Some of my classmates and teachers tease me by saying ‘Nake
Shijith and Sekher 71
Table 11. Humiliation Experienced by ‘Nakusas’ because of
Their Name
%
Whether experienced humiliation?
Yes 68.3
No 33.4
From where (multiple responses)
Schoolmates 26.2
Teachers 9.5
Relatives 55.0
Villagers 64.3
Social/public gatherings 33.3
Source: Survey data.
Nako’ which really hurt me a lot. When they are teasing me by calling Nake, I feel it is
much more painful than ‘Nakusa’; what can I do?
Another girl was attending a function in her neighbourhood. During the naming
ceremony, one relative asked her, ‘“Nakusa”, shall we give your name to this new
born girl?’ Then all the women gathered there started laughing. ‘I really felt suf-
focated during social gatherings’—she narrated her predicament.
Humiliation is the foremost problem experienced by ‘Nakusa’ girls, followed
by inferiority complex and stress. No one is happy with the name. A ‘Nakusa’,
who is now working as a teacher, stated that she could now very well understand
the bad things that have happened in her life. Most girls from villages may undergo
similar agony and distress. The feeling of ‘undesirability’/‘unwantedness’ may
haunt them throughout their life. ‘It is not my mistake that I was born in this world
as an unwanted one; why I am being blamed for that?’ Another ‘Nakusa’, now
renamed as Padmaja, said, ‘One thing always comes to my mind that I was born
as an unwanted child to my parents. I now understand how bad my name was. I
feel angry about those who call me “Nakusa” even now’.
They are happy that their names are changed now and they have new names.
However, most people continue to call them ‘Nakusa’. Most of these girls have
accepted the reality that the ‘renaming’ has had very little impact in their life.
They wanted to change their names earlier, but their parents were not ready. The
government officials and social activists behind the ‘renaming’ campaign believe
that new names will help to end the ‘humiliation’ faced by these girls to certain
extent and will boost their self-esteem and confidence (Shijith and Sekher, 2015).
Concluding Observations
This study carried out in the selected villages of Satara district found that the
naming of girl ‘Nakusa’ was reported among various Hindu communities. The list
of ‘Nakusa’ girls gathered and prepared by the Zilla Parishad reveals that all
cases were reported from rural areas only. Majority of the households are poor
72 Sociological Bulletin 66(1)
(about 65 per cent of the households have their monthly income of less than
`2,000).
Interestingly, it was found that the ‘Nakusas’ are mostly between 4 and 48 years
of age, indicating this naming practice was old and still prevalent in these villages.
Most of the ‘Nakusa’ girls are either third or fourth daughter of their parents. Only
seven ‘Nakusa’ girls had at least one elder brother and forty ‘Nakusa’ girls had at
least one younger brother. Importantly, twenty-six ‘Nakusa’ girls had three elder
sisters. Most parents interviewed stated that, they already had girls, so they did not
want a girl again. Owing to beliefs, they gave the name ‘Nakusa’ to the daughter
hoping that the next child would be a son. Due to severe financial constraints,
majority of the parents consider girls as a burden and liability to the family.
‘Nakusa’ girls experience various socio-psychological problems due to their
peculiar name. The most common problem experienced by ‘Nakusas’ was that
they felt really upset when someone calls them as ‘Nakusa’. Furthermore, when it
takes the form of teasing, it really irritates them. In many cases, ‘Nakusa’ girls find
it very difficult and uncomfortable to reveal their name to strangers. Humiliation
is the foremost problem experienced by the ‘Nakusa’ girls, followed by inferiority
complex and mental stress.
The hierarchical structure of the patriarchal society and its gender considera-
tions and prejudices discriminates against the girl child. The low status of the girl
child continues mainly because of existing cultural ethos and value systems. This
study illustrates how strong the prevailing son preference among parents, and tra-
ditional beliefs as well as sex-segregated norms leads to deliberate discrimination
against girls. The parents naming their daughters as ‘unwanted’ is the most visible
and crudest form of gender discrimination. So, it is very clear that the naming of a
person itself signifies the influence of the culture and beliefs. When the intention
behind the naming of a person is more than identity, then ‘Nakusa’ girls are the
living examples of strong gender bias still exist in the society. It is also an indica-
tion of how little value is placed on girls in our societies. This study indicates that
even after changing their names, the discrimination and humiliation still continue
for ‘Nakusa’ girls.
Many parents have a strong belief and faith that if they name their daugh-
ter as ‘Nakusa’, the next child would be a son. The ‘Nakusa’ girls are facing
many problems socially, emotionally and economically. This study highlights the
need for socio-psychological as well as economic support to these girls. Special
programmes need to be implemented to improve the socio-economic condi-
tions of these ‘unwanted girls’. If they are unable to get much needed support
in education, healthcare and socialisation, they may continue to feel ‘unwanted’
throughout their life. They need to be given the opportunity to prove that they are
not at all unwanted and that they are valuable assets to their family and society.
Since the renaming of the girls itself does not change the attitudes of parents
and community towards the girls, there is an urgent need for the implementation
of special programmes to tackle this practice. Regular campaigns, particularly
against the beliefs/superstitions, are the need of the hour. The government should
come out with an appropriate mechanism for changing their names on all records/
certificates at the earliest. Though renaming of ‘Nakusas’ is a new beginning,
much more needs to be done to support these unwanted and unwelcome girls. As
Shijith and Sekher 73
evident from other studies, financial incentive schemes (conditional cash trans-
fer programmes) aimed at girl children can lead to positive impact on parents in
enhancing the value of girls in families and society and also changing the paren-
tal attitudes (Sekher, 2010, 2012). The Maharashtra government may consider a
special package for financially supporting these girls, who are the silent victims
of the most visible and the crudest form of gender discrimination.
Acknowledgements
We are thankful to the faculty and students of Yashwantrao Chavan School
of Social Work, Satara, for helping us to conduct the data collection in selected
villages. The interactions with ofcials of Satara Zilla Parishad and district
administration, NGOs, panchayat members, activists and school teachers were
very useful. The comments of the reviewer of the journal were very useful.
Note
1. The final revised version of this article was received on 29 August 2016—Managing
Editor.
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