Neera Chopra: I Protected My Daughter as Every Parent Should
In 2009 Pooja Chopra was crowned “Miss India World.” On receiving her title she said, “Today, as I stand here a Miss India, I don’t even know if my father knows that it is me, his daughter, who has set out to conquer the world, a crown on my head.”
The truth is, that Pooja Chopra could have been one of the millions of little girls who are killed after birth in India, simply because they were born as girls! She lived because her mother Neera Chopra refused to give in to the pressure to kill her, and chose instead to endure tremendous hardship to protect and raise her daughters.
Most assume, it is poverty and illiteracy that compels parents in India to kill their girl babies. But that is a fallacy! In fact the only strata in India where the gender ratio is normal is in the poorest 20%. The more wealth a family has the more likely they are to get rid of girls! [click here for more on this] Pooja Chopra could have been one such girl — born into a well-off, educated, middle class family in India.
When Pooja was 20 days old, her father gave her mother a choice:either kill the child or leave the marriage! One day, when her father tried to suffocate her by putting a pillow on her face, her mother finally decided to leave.
Pooja’s mother, Neera talks about her life and her decision to save her child, and the struggle to raise her two girls. She says, “My husband was well-placed, but the marriage had begun to sink almost as soon as it began. Like most women do, I tried to work against all the odds . My in-laws insisted everything would be alright if I had a son. My first child was a daughter, and that didn’t do me any good… but I couldn’t walk out. I had lost my father, my brother was in a not-so-senior position… I didn’t want to be a burden on my family and continued to live in my marital home in Kolkata.”
Like most Indian women, Neera Chopra tried to be complacent and subservient to her husband and in-laws, and also tolerated abuse and violence in the hope that it would please them and help keep her marriage going.
She explains, “I looked after my mother-inlaw, who was suffering from cancer, and while bathing her, I would tell myself she would bless me and put things right. I don’t know how I tolerated it all. The least a man can do, if he must philander, is to not flaunt his women in his wife’s face. Then began the manhandling [violence]. I still wanted my marriage to survive. I was a pure vegetarian and learnt to cook non-vegetarian delicacies thinking it would please him. Then, I was pregnant again. When Pooja was eight months in my womb, my husband brought a girl to the house and announced he would marry her. I thought of killing myself. I hung on the slight hope that if the baby was a boy, my marriage could be saved. ”
However, Neera gave birth to second girl, Pooja. She talks about how her husband and family treated her before they gave her the final ultimatum to either kill Pooja or leave their family.
She says, “When Pooja was born a girl, for three days, nobody came to the hospital. There was someone on the opposite bed, who was kind enough to give me baby clothes for Pooja to wear. When Pooja was 20 days old, I had to make a choice. I left the house with my girls — Pooja and Shubra, who was seven then. I haven’t seen my husband since. I promised myself, even if we had just one roti, we would share it, but together.”
But it wasn’t easy for Neera to raise her two daughters alone. Survival was a fight for all them, even after she left her marriage. How did they manage?
Neera says, “Truth be told, I would put a chatai (mat) on the floor, leave two glasses of milk and some food, and bolt the door from outside before going to work [at night at the Taj Colaba]. I would leave the key with the neighbours and tell the kids to shout out to them when it was time to leave for school…I used to struggle for shoes, socks, uniforms… Pooja would walk four bus stops down to school…[and] too little to cross the road, she would ask a passerby to help her. I had to save the bus money to be able to put some milk in their bodies.”
Neera says her daughters were also her support and gave her moral courage to go on. “Through the years, Shubhra has been my anchor and Pooja, the rock. Pooja’s tiny hands have wiped away my tears when I broke down. She has stood up for me, when I couldn’t speak for myself. Academically brilliant, she participated in all extra-curricular activities. When she needed high heels to model in, she did odd shows and bought them for herself.”
Interestingly, Pooja believes that her success in the modeling and beauty industry, her crowing as ‘Miss India’ is somehow a payback to her mother for allowing her to live, and believes her success to be her mother’s victory. But her mother seems to think that she didn’t do anything extraordinary. She did what any parent should for their child!
Pooja Chopra believes her mother is the true hero and winner in her life. She says, “All the girls in the [Miss India] pageant worked hard, but my edge was my mother’s sacrifice, her karma. Today, when people call to congratulate me, it’s not me they pay tribute to, but to her life and her struggle. She’s the true Woman of Substance. She is my light, my mentor, my driving force.”
Pooja says, “When my mum walked out on my dad, she said to him, ‘One day this girl will make me proud’. All my life I’ve wanted my mum to be proud of the decision that she chose me.”
However Neera sees it differently. She says, “Today, I’ve no regrets…I continue to finish my day job and come home and take tuition, as I have done for all these years. I also do all my household chores myself… As a mother, I’ve done nothing great.”
Please Note: We had also included a poll with Pooja’s story. The question we posed to the public was: Should wealthy and glamorous women like Pooja be used as a role model to convince people in India to not kill their daughters?
The two options people had to choose from were:
- NO – , because the message India needs to hear is no parent has the right to kill their child, regardless of whether a child becomes successful or not! If they can raise a son, there is no reason why they can’t raise a daughter!
- YES -- , because Indians see their children as economic investments! So we need to give Indian parents economic incentive to not kill their girl children, by using successful, famous, wealthy women as role models.