What’s in a name?

I always thought it was pretty normal for an expectant parent to have a secret hope for the sex of their child. I know that after my sister was born, and my mom was pregnant with me, she and my dad were of the wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have-one-of-each mentality.  When my little female self was born, though, they were still pretty happy (according to my baby video, at least).

I kept thinking about this the other week. My assignment, you see, was to research the concept of “Nakusa.” The term is local and all too common in the Maharashtrian district of Satara. This district has gained recognition nationwide for the discrimination that the girl child faces. Specifically, Satara district is known for the concept of naming unwanted girl children “Nakusa,” or “Nakushi,” meaning “unwanted” in local Marathi language (Culture and Gender Discrimination). This idea has come from the archaic notion that having a son is more desirable than having a daughter, and it is also believed that naming a girl child Nakusa will bring the family a boy child next (Ibid).

The birth of a girl in a family is seen as a crisis, often times a financial crisis. There are many financial responsibilities associated with marrying off daughters, where the natal family bears what is considered a loss, because the “investment” is given to the family that the daughter is married into. India’s history with gender discrimination has caused extremely dire circumstances for the girl child. There are 3 main ways in which the girl child faces discrimination: feeding, dispensation of medical care, and allocation of love and affection (Culture and Gender Discrimination). Of course, there many more ways in which discrimination is shown. It boils down to the fact that girls are often not given importance. These areas of weakness cause long-term ill-effects not only in one woman, but they cause the perpetuation of societal norms, making change much harder to achieve. Many families with “Nakusa” girls were interviewed and it was found that the girls who were named “Nakusa” were subject to overt neglect, verbal abuse, and discrimination (Ibid). The mental anguish that comes with bearing that name is one that many girls bear for life.

It’s amazing, but the love, or lack thereof, that goes into choosing a name has the potential to determine so much in a person’s life. But, perhaps it’s never too late to change the narrative. There have been initiatives that are working to rename many of these girls to give them a renewed sense of self and life. In 2011, over 200 girls were renamed (‘Nakusa’ no more) and I can’t help but wonder how different their lives have been since.  

 

References

[1] Culture and Gender Discrimination: An Exploratory Study of “Nakusa” (unwanted) Girls of Maharashtra, India, Mr. V.P. Shijith and Dr. T.V. Sekher, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad

 

[2] ‘Nakusa’ no more: 220 Indian girls participate in renaming ceremony, CNN, http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/24/nakusa-no-more-220-indian-girls-participate-in-renaming-ceremony/

Although being an Indian-American, Nisha has never been to India like her parents did and now is excited to integrate into the Indian culture and make it a strong part of her identity. She is passionate about health and education and is looking forward to working in the same field through AIF and her host organization. Through this fellowship, she wants to learn about the issues from the people who are living through them and wants to gain a deep understanding of them. Prior to AIF, she was living and working in Peru and Tanzania, an experience she things that would help her in this fellowship.

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