On September 19 afternoon, a loud wail rang out from a three-room house in village Detwal of Ludhiana. Charanjeet Singh, 36, had received a phone call, announcing the birth of a daughter. He hadn’t accompanied wife Jaswinder Kaur to the hospital, and when his brother told him he had had a daughter again, for the fifth time, an angry Charanjeet rushed into a room and burnt the two religious books his wife used to pray to for a son throughout her pregnancy.
The 36-year-old has been held for “sacrilege”, while elder brother Ranjit Singh, also named in the FIR, is absconding. Sitting in a charpoy on the verandah of their home, their mother Nacchatar Kaur, 70, says all they wanted was “balance”. “Ranjit has two daughters, now Charanjeet has five. In one house, seven girls have been born. It is not that we don’t love our daughters, but we thought there would be balance if god gave us a son,” says Nacchatar, holding her head in her hands.
They don’t hate daughters, she adds. “We didn’t do a sex determination test or abortion. All our girls are studying and we will try to give them the best education we can.”
Jaswinder lies with her newborn inside the house, within earshot. The girl, since named Navjot, was born a healthy 3.5 kg. As Jaswinder refuses to talk, Ranjit’s wife Kulwinder Kaur says she is very weak and taking rest. “We have not told her anything,” Kulwinder adds.
Belonging to the Ramdas community, a Scheduled Caste, Charanjeet works as a daily wager in the fields of landlords. To supplement their income, Jaswinder works as a mid-day meal cook in the Detwal government school, often doubling as sweeper.
Neighbour Dalip Singh, who runs a kirana shop nearby, says Jaswinder raises her daughters essentially on the Rs 12,000 a month she makes, as Charanjeet spends his entire income on drinking. That day too, Dalip adds, Charanjeet was drunk. “As if all hell had broken loose, he just went inside the room and took out the Gutkas of Japuji Sahib and Rehras Sahib (Sikh prayer books) and burnt them, even as we rushed inside to stop him.”
Charanjeet was arrested on charges of hurting religious sentiments, and sent to judicial remand. Nacchatar says Ranjit, who is a member of the panchayat, was not even present at home and still named in the FIR. She pleads that the matter not be dragged to court. “I agree my son made a big mistake and must be punished. We are ready to do seva at the gurdwara as per the instructions of the gurdwara management. But the matter could have been solved within the village. What will happen to us if both my sons are in jail?”
She also claims that many of the villagers who pressed for Charanjeet’s arrest had misbehaved with the family. “They made casteist remarks. Even they need to be booked.”
Another neighbour, Dilip Singh, also urges for lenient punishment. “Charanjeet got carried away, he never wanted to hurt anyone. The charges should be relaxed.”
According to him, there could be local politics involved in the matter. “The issue was blown out of proportion by villager Ajmer Singh, who is a Congress supporter, as Ranjit is an Akali Dal panchayat member. He wanted to implicate Ranjit, and this was the reason he called police immediately, rather than try solve the matter at the panchayat level. We pleaded with him repeatedly not to call the police.”
SHO, Dakha police, Jasvir Singh says they will investigate if anyone else was involved. “The burnt pages have been cremated at Gurdwara Angeetha Sahib as per tradition,” he adds.
Kulwinder, who is in her mid-30s, points out that targeting Ranjit isn’t fair as he never pressed for a son. “Both my daughters are studying, in Classes 10 and 7. We decided not to try for another baby in the lure of a son. After all, you need funds to raise a child.” Ranjit works as an electrician, and she is a housewife.
But for Charanjeet and Jaswinder, this was their fifth child in 13 years of marriage. Pardeep Kaur, the eldest, is 12; then comes Harjinder Kaur, at 11; Simranjot, 6; and Manjot, 4. Except Manjot, all go to the government school where Jaswinder works.
The girls don’t know where their father is, and can hardly hide their excitement about their new sister. All the three elder ones say they want to become teachers. Showing her Punjabi notebook where a teacher has complimented her for a drawing, Pardeep adds, “Assi kuchch vadda karna chaundian haan (We want to achieve something big).”
Ranjit’s elder daughter Jasdeep Kaur, who will be appearing for board exams this year, wants to become a lawyer.
Darshan Singh, a relative of the family, calls Charanjeet’s actions a blunder, and cites the example of the movie Dangal, on wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat who trained his daughters to be champions. “We all need to change our mindset. Only education can do that. People still cry at the birth of their daughters, while their sons don’t even take care of them as they grow up.”
Nacchatar sighs. “There is no difference between boys and girls, I understand very well. Charanjeet himself hardly takes care of me, and now has created this big problem for the family. Is this what we yearn for in sons?”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines