Village of a Girl-child
Otalana village, at a short distance from Samrala in Punjab, has a different and inspiring story about girl child. The girl child is held in high esteem in the village. Before starting a new work, blessings of the girl child or unmarried girl, are sought by all families in the village. “Whenever we wear new clothes , we first touch feet of the girl with clothes”, says Darbara Singh, a village elder. “It is a custom in our village”, he adds.
At the main entrance of the village, huge ‘darwaja‘ (an arch- shaped gate) has been bult in the memory of a girl, who, it is said, had preferred ending life for her and village’s honour four centuries ago. ‘Khera dhee-dhiani‘ (village of girl) has been inscribed in Punjabi on the front arch of the structure. “Dhee-dhiani in Punjabi is used to give respect to a girl”, says Behari Lal Saddi, a retired teacher and writer of the village.
“Long back our elders constructed 12 such structures in the village. Six of them are intact and others are in a poor shape. We have decided to reconstruct all those again”, says Shamsher Singh, a retired police official of the village. “The main entrance structure had also collapsed but its roof was recently replaced”, adds the police official. “When the main entrance structure was partially rebuilt sometime back, first brick was laid by seven village girls and Prito, who is an old woman now called ‘bhua‘ by the entire village”, says Dr Harbans Singh, sarpanch of the village.
All these structures are dedicated to girls. Centuries ago, it is said, Nawab of Sirhind had taken a village girl away with the intention to marry her. However, she refused. Before ending her life, she called her brothers and told them to give a message to all people in the village to hold girls in high esteem. Since them, it has become a tradition to seek blessings of a girl before starting a work. Each year, in the last week of August a festival is held in the village in the memory of that girl. On that day community kitchen of sweets is held.
No marriage party of the village boy leaves for bride’s place without paying obeisance at the memorial raised for the girl at the main entrance of the village.
On female foeticide in the village, Dr Harbans Singh said he had not heard about any case so far in this regard. “Our village appears to be above board in this regard”, he adds. Every village can become Otalana provided an initiative is taken by wise men of the state in this regard.
(Written by Sarbjit Dhaliwal, this story appeared in The Tribune, Aug 6 2008. Photo courtesy: Manoj Mahajan)