More than 200 Indian girls are hoping for a fresh start after shedding the label “unwanted” in a renaming ceremony Saturday, aimed at combating a nationwide problem with gender discrimination.
“Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” two variations of the Hindi word meaning “unwanted,” were among the names 285 girls abandoned in an effort to promote self-worth and dignity in India’s dwindling female population. “Nakusa is a very negative name as far as female discrimination is concerned,” Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, a Satara district health official who came up with the idea, told the Associated Press.
Donning their best attire, clad in bows and barrettes, the young women gathered in the central state of Maharashtra to receive certificates bearing their chosen new names along with a bouquet of flowers from Satara district officials.
“Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” a 15-year-old girl told the AP after the ceremony. The teenager was formerly named Nakusa by her disappointed grandfather, but chose to be called “Ashmita,” which translates to “very tough” in Hindi. Channeling more positive thoughts, girls selected names for Hindu goddesses like “Savitri,” or glamorous Bollywood starlets like “Aishwarya.”
Government officials became concerned after this year’s census illuminated the recurring problem, with India’s sex ratio dropping from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 to to 914 girls. In Satara, where the ceremony occurred, the ratio sits even lower at 881. Previous attempts to fight gender discrimination include a nationwide ban on hospitals disclosing the sex of the child, however, some believe this is not reinforced, the AP reports.
Indian families find male births preferable in order to avoid the nuisance of marrying off daughters and providing lavish dowries. Further, for Hindus, religious customs only allow male offspring to light a parent’s funeral pyres.
“When the child thinks about it, you know, ‘My mom, my dad, and all my relatives and society call me unwanted,’ she will feel very bad and depressed,” said Sudha Kankaria, an activist with Save the Girl Child. But Kankaria said she hopes the ceremony is the beginning of a larger campaign for female equality in India.