Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
A land where baby girls were drowned in a pot of milk.
For years I had read about it and heard about this social horror and wondered how the mothers could consent to it. But through some literature and bollywood films it became clear that the mothers had themselves suffered so much that they did not want their infant girl child to live such a fate.
And so they participated in the killing of their baby girls out of love – to spare them the life that lay ahead – to give them the gift of death that would be easier to bear than the life.
It is mercy killing of a different type.
Unless one has seen the suffering of the these women it is impossible to even fathom this suffering that makes them kill their own sentiments before they kill their baby girls.
Here is a textile that is possibly the most precious piece of art in my experience – for it contains the heart-wrenching story of such a mother – the artist-creator of this village embroidery.
A tale in which she was forced to watch.
A tale in which she was helpless and had no choice.
It documents her trying to stop her man – as he clubs the baby girl with the butt of a rifle.
A scene of apparent female infanticide. A social problem that was rampant in those days.
How do we know that this is a female child? All the females in the rest of the piece are wearing a shirt on the upper body while most men are not.
Who were these people?
Would it help to know?
Would they be the only ones in their time to have done this? Could such people be found today?
Sadly the answer is ‘yes’.
This Sainchi phulkari is over a hundred years old. But this social problem continues even today.
Is the girl child the problem? Definitely not. It is a symptom of the problem that ails some communities / regions. And so addressing the issue of the girl child and female infanticide in isolation is not the solution. To change this, the minds of a whole large community will need to be washed for at least 2-3 generations.
I am not a social activist and I have not studied it enough to comment further.
All I know is that in this textile, I can feel the despair of the woman who made this.
She could probably tell no one about this pain as that would mean that she would be getting her family to get into trouble – and it would result her being turned out by her in-laws family. Uneducated and helpless in a world where women lived only under the protection of men, she was helpless to do anything.
And so in silence she documented her trauma into this Sainchi. Hoping that no one at home would notice her documentation. The men in her home probably didn’t see this scream rendered in silk.
And eventually it found its way into the market. And decades later it found its way to me.
I cry for the little girl.
But I cry more for the mother. And all the mothers in India whose screams went unheard.
p.s. An analytical note from a friend – an expert on Phulkaris – suggests that perhaps this could also be the depiction of a post-partition murder scene driven by religious sentiment. Perhaps more analysis and more interviews with the elders might throw some definitive light on the matter. Female Infanticide – Documented in The Wovensouls Sainchi Phulkari Textile