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January 6, 1998


Farzana Versey

Maintaining Men

What on earth can we do with so many men? In spite of my resourcefulness, I am quite flummoxed. While people have ready answers for what to do about the ecological imbalance, and how to save wildlife from extinction, no one is really bothered about the inequality in the male female ratio as revealed by our census. Less than 950 women for every thousand men. Which amounts to a fraction of any man on my lap other than the one I am entitled to. Ditto for every other woman.

It is not as simple as it sounds. I mean, what can one do with a nth part of a man? There is one solution. Women can form themselves into small units -- at the city level maybe even groups of say 950, and in towns and villages perhaps half and one-fourth the number. Let us take the first group as a case in point. Here, they can be put in charge of a few men, taking care not to include one legitimately recognised man per woman -- either spouse, father, son -- who will stay excluded under all circumstances. A roster will be maintained for the chosen ones, and a man so honoured shall become a card-holder.

I'd like to add here that there is nothing one-track about this proposition. Among the males will most definitely be included those that come under the chronological age of below 14 and above 60, and there should be a fair sprinkling of each. About 950 women out to reform about 50 men is a radical and practical move for a better society.

Young boys can be de-stereotyped and taught about the role reversal. First aid needs like food and clothing must be within their reach through their own means. They must be exposed to hitherto soft work. However, a note of caution: In their enthusiasm women must not decry men, for they might end up with a bunch of kids who hate themselves.

Adult men must be compulsorily asked to do at least one household chore. This can be slowly increased. While this is being done, women are also expected to change simultaneously and make the most of the opportunity. For example, adult men can help in the female literacy programme. It would be a symbiotic relationship. In urban areas, where the group is literate, the arrangement would work something like this: If the man is an accountant and brings work home, some women can help out with it while he does some of the washing and cleaning. Those groups whose every member, male and female, is working, can maintain some other equation.

Retired and old men can be asked to assist in small-scale units for women, where they shall be paid a nominal salary. They can also be asked to look back on their lives and, since they will all have at least one strong female influence, the tale must take on the dimension of a folklore and be passed on to the younger generation.

Which brings me to the future. What can one do to maintain equitable figures? It must start now. Incentives for only-daughter families -- monetary in rural areas, in addition to admission facilities for the child's education that will also be available to everyone else. Every female foetus aborted forcibly would result in the father's imprisonment. In such cases, no fines will be permissible.

At the zilla parishad and unit levels, health workers must be made responsible for nutrition programmes and be publicly rewarded for meeting targets. The person(s) responsible for a female death -- if they are women -- must be imprisoned as per the law and then compulsorily put in a remand home; in the case of men, after the sentence is completed, they should be directed to an intensive 'reform' group that can be formed for the purpose within the larger unit.

Various permutations and combinations are possible. Experts can come in to fine tune the operations. It is no doubt important to look at things at the macro level. But that is like talking of 'existentialism'. What does one do about existence? In a world where female children have no say in what they eat and whether they get to study, where the fear of even talk of dowry is pre-empted by suicide, we can't leave it all to projects targeted at 2000 AD. Each of us must be made responsible.

For a start, I am already looking out for women who are willing to pool in their share of a fraction of a man.

Collage: Dominic Xavier

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Farzana Versey