It was a highly anticipated show. India’s ‘Thinking Star’ Aamir Khan has used his persona to address the country’s problems. And the picture he paints in the first episode isn’t pretty. Female Foeticide has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades to a horrifying statistic – 30 million girls killed before they even had the chance to be born.
He traces the genesis to a state-sponsored policy to reduce the number of women in the 1970s because the population growth in the country was assuming alarming proportions. The government believed that if the number of child bearers was reduced, the population growth would slow as well. Instead, it led to a flourishing industry of unscrupulous doctors and ultrasound machine manufacturers systematically eliminating girls in the womb. The business has developed its own code – Jai Shri Krishna if the scan revealed a boy and Jai Mata for girls. The second is a virtual death sentence and a ‘package deal’ where the cost includes an abortion.
The social effects are already apparent. There are villages like Kurukshetra in Haryana where men over 30 are unmarried because they simply aren’t enough girls. So, another industry has sprung up around the procurement of girls from poorer states who live a life very close to prostitution with no legal remedy.
And for all those who live smug in the misconception that female foeticide is a rural and a ‘poor people’ problem, he demonstrates that it is the middle class and the rich who have access to advanced medical facilities who are the biggest culprits.
Indian families see girls as burdens since they have to bear the cost of marrying the girl off and providing the dowry. The boy, on the other hand, is seen as the saviour, the one who can be depended upon when parents grow old. But the stereotype is no longer true. India has had to enact a law where the rights of elders are protected and they are not driven from their homes when too old to take care of themselves.
Against a more forgiving and a more inclusive society, there was the joint family web that protected the aged and women. But with the development of the nuclear family and the ‘every man for himself” attitude, there is little tolerance for those who are not ‘useful’ anymore – or for those who live beyond it
It’s heartening to note that Aamir Khan has put his charisma on the line to speak up for those who need a voice – and to shine a light on the problems that most people wish away or change the topic. The format of the show – part talk, part documentary, part activism, with a musical flourish at the end does not break away from convention. A number of options were probably explored before the team decided that this would be best way to present sensitive subjects. Most stars tend to use their charisma to build their image – but this is an exception. Instead of walking on the red carpet, Aamir has taken the pains to explore the dirt that is routinely swept underneath it. And moved from mythology at prime time to exploring the myths we comfort ourselves with – just because the truth is so hard to take.