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The Unwanted: Girls without names
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The Unwanted: Girls without names

Trans World Features (TWF)

Roughly translated from Marathi, the word “nakusa” means ‘unwanted.’ And this is the name these girls in Maharashtra’s Satara district have been christened with at the time of their birth because their parents and families did not want a daughter! This comes across lucidly in a film called Nakusa –The Unwanted, a documentary directed by Rima Amrapurkar and Sanjay Shukla. TWF correspondent Shoma A. Chatterji explores

“We do many film projects for various NGOs. While shooting for one such project last year, we came across this school girl named Nakusa. This did not ring a bell till someone told us that her name had been recently changed because her original name Nakusa meant‘Unwanted.’
“Then, a few more conversations with people in the area revealed that it was quite a common phenomenon,” says Rima Amrapurkar, a noted documentary and feature filmmaker. Incidentally, Rima is the daughter of Bollywood actor Sadashiv Amrapurkar.
The directors approached the girls of different ages but mostly from impoverished backgrounds in different pockets of Satara district in Maharashtra. One says that she was named by her grandmother while another says she does not know who named her, but it has been a cause for embarrassment for her in school till she got used to it and so did her friends.
The thought of carrying around the fact of being unwanted from the time one remembered and that too simply by name, so not only is one constantly reminded about being unwanted but also unwittingly spreading the news across one’s world that one is really unwanted.
“We realised the impact of the psychological torture these girls must be going through. So we felt this urgent need to tell the world about this cruel social truth because few know about this. This motivated us to make the film,” informs Rima.
Nakusa – The Unwanted is produced by NRI Madhav Namjoshi who lives in New Jersey and was impressed with another documentary made by the director duo on female foeticide and wanted to fund films on critical issues to create social awareness. Madhav Namjoshi Productions produced it and Amrapurkar and Shukla’s Samvedana Film Foundation handled the production of the film.
Satara is one of Maharashtra’s comparatively financially better off districts. This does not change the fact that families still have a strong preference for the male heir. The film shows how in an effort to change attitudes towards daughters, its district collector initiated renaming ceremonies and rewards for families who agreed to give their girls a ‘new beginning’.

According to journalist Haima Deshpande, Satara’s villagers do not hold naming ceremonies for baby girls. Nor do they spend on their nutrition, welfare and education. Many lactating mothers are not allowed to breastfeed their little daughters. Girls who are privileged enough to have been breastfed are not entitled to milk once they are weaned off their mothers’ milk.

Typically, even otherwise, male kids get to eat first, and their sisters make do with leftovers. Likewise, new clothes or toys are a boy’s prerogative. Incidentally, Satara, home to a majority of Maharashtra’s politicians, has a sex ratio of 881 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Sometime in August-September 2011, the district collector, Dr Ramaswamy N, hoped to change things for the better and towards this end, he launched a house-to-house campaign to identify all girls named Nakusa, and accord them dignity.

The DC’s office identified 900 such girls since the campaign but the older girls confessed that they were already so used to Nakusa as their name and known by that name within the family, school and neighbourhood that the change in name did not quite matter anymore but did make them feel a bit better than they did before.

The collectorate held a lavish naming ceremony for all Nakusas, and gave them all a new name. This name defined a new identity for them and was registered with the civic body or municipality. It does not stop there. Their parents are given free rations, and the renamed girl child gets access to the state government’s free education and transportation schemes. Social workers have promised to monitor such families and ensure that the child is treated well at home.

But the film does not get into the minute details of this official renaming and chooses to focus on the girls instead. Says Rima, “Personally, we believe that official renaming has not changed the status quo of their lives because as long as everyone around them does not call them by their changed name, they will never be able to forget that their names were such.”

The film includes interviews with a psychiatrist, a social worker and a religion expert, which, feels Rima, were necessary to bring out the finer points of the issue. “This was a private project, so we did not face any pressure for interviews of leaders or government officials,” she says.

Having lived for several years with the socially ostracizing name, the feeling of betrayal by their loved ones is still deeply rooted in the hearts of these girls. So, even if their parents and others in the family do call them by the new names, they are confused about whether they are being called by their new names because the government wants this or whether the family really wants to call them by their new names.

“Basically, the girl identifying herself with her childhood name says that she is still not sure if her status as ‘unwanted’ has changed. To put it straight, these girls were betrayed by their family by being labelled ‘unwanted’. Then, the government made an event of renaming them, but did not bother to change the names in places where it mattered.. on birth certificates, on school/college registers, gazettes.. So the confusion of their status wanted/unwanted still continues,” sums up Rima.

Image: Still from the documentary capturing the girls who were named Nakusa.

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