“Bhakton ko darshan de gayi re, ek choti si kanya …” As I drove past a well-lit shamiana in a busy market place, I heard a melodious voice sing this popular Bhajan in praise of Maa Durga on a Navratri evening. The vision of the Divine Goddess flashed in my mind’s eye, bedecked with red saree, beautiful gold ornaments, a sword and a conch. I wondered why it was that the loudspeakers were always stretched to their potentials in a Jaagran. Was it to make the Bhajans reach out to the Goddess or to invoke the Divinity within or was it to reach out to everyone in the vicinity?

I stopped at the traffic signal and happened to see some little girls being given money, bangles, bindis, halwa etc. by devotees. The girls looked happy and had that look of ‘feeling important’ writ large over their faces as they grinned from ear to ear. “Hmm,” I smiled to myself, “Kanya’s (little girls) are in so much in demand in the Navratri days.”

Honk! Honk! … Oops! The traffic light had turned green and everyone around me was honking impatiently. I was shaken out of my thoughts and stepped on the accelerator to move on.

The next mornings’ newspaper had the news of a four year old girl being raped by her neighbour and four others. With disgust in my heart I thought; is this the country where we worship the Devi in her Kanya-roop during the Navratri festival? Are we really worshipping the Devi or is it just a facade? From my window I saw two little girls, all dressed up in school uniform, waiting for their school bus. And my heart pounded … are our girls safe? Is it okay for them to go out unescorted? But, then how can we lock them up in the house anyways?

The Navratri festival is one that is celebrated in different ways through the length and breadth of India. It culminates on Asthmi day when prepubescent girls, are worshipped as the Kanya-roop of Goddess Durga. Should this holy festival, that comes twice a year, not be reminder enough that girls are to be respected and loved; not abused and raped; not battered and murdered?

If each mother were to counsel her son; if each sister were to counsel her brother, we could change the mind-set of these sick men. The perpetrators of crime against women, are men who are surely some woman’s son or brother or husband or friend. These men with animalistic tendencies are sick in the mind. Each of them need counselling and watching over. If women were to take up the cause of keeping an eye on the men in their lives, perhaps other women could be safer.

In a society that is predominantly patriarchal, girls may not ever get even, but is it too much to ask that they have a right to be alive and not be objects for use and abuse by some sick men who are better called monsters? The skewed sex ratio of our country is proof of the fact that female foeticide and infanticide is rampant in the country. And then … we still worship the Goddess? Ironical, isn’t it?

There is a maze of issues revolving around the girl child. Foeticide, Infanticide, Education, Dowry, Rape, Sexual abuse etc. Everything starts from our attitude towards the girl child. If each one of us were to realize that a child is a child, be it a girl or a boy, so much would get solved and resolved.

I often wonder who made the custom of worshipping little girls during Navratri festival. Did our forefathers of yore, know that a time would come when our girls would be unsafe? Did they start the practice in the hope that a society obsessed with male progeny shall recognize the value of the girl child too?

In this Universe everything exists in pairs. Day and night, Dark and light, Morning and evening, Sun and Moon, Mountains and valleys, Fire and water and then the jewel in the crown of God’s creation … Man and woman! If woman ceases to exist, man too shall die out. If women are wiped away from the surface of the earth, men too shall cease to exist. If there are no girls, who will give birth to the new generation? The world will surely come to an end.

Bharat is the land where we worship five mothers namely, Deha Mata (Physical mother), Gau Mata (Cow being the provider of milk), Bharat Mata (Mother India), Dharti Mata (Mother Earth) and Devi Mata (Divine Goddess). It is during the Navratri festival that we worship the Devi Mata in her Kanya-roop.

This Asthmi Day, when you are preparing the halwa, poori, chana for your little kanya’s, do remember, that some parents were kind enough to give birth to these girls, so they are there for you to perform Kanya Poojan. Women have immense power; if they take up the cause of the girl child, The Navratri festival can be more real. Value the living Devi’s in your homes. Let not the girl child become an endangered species!

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Originally published at priya.tandonindia.com.