Monday, May 04, 2009

Revenge for Miss India over cruelty of father

When Pooja Chopra was 20 days old, her mother Neera was forced to make a choice - kill her child or forfeit her marriage. Neera decided to keep her daughter, defying the wishes of a bullying husband who wanted the baby destroyed. She knew she would be thrown out of the family home.

Twenty-three years later, Pooja’s survival is being celebrated throughout India. Now a vivacious young woman, last month she won a beauty contest to become Miss India World. She has also become a symbol for the campaign against a tradition that values boys above girls; it is said this has led to an imbalance in the ratio of Indian men to women and to social problems.

“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,” Pooja said last week. Neera has been thrust into the limelight by her daughter’s success. She has been dubbed Mother India and has already been approached by one Bollywood director who wants to film her story.

For Neera, the memory of her husband’s cruelty remains a “nightmare”. He had a respectable job but was a philanderer, prone to domestic violence. After the birth of her first child, a girl named Shubhra, he made her life a misery.

When she became pregnant again, seven years later, Neera clung to the hope that if the baby was a boy her marriage could be saved. Instead she had Pooja. Her husband and his relatives refused to visit the baby in hospital. “I had to make a choice,” Neera said. “I left the house with my girls and I haven’t seen my husband since.”

Pooja had nothing to say to her father, who “does not exist” for her. “I don’t even know if my father knows it is me, his daughter, who has set out to conquer the world,” she said. “Today, when people call to congratulate me, it’s not me they pay tribute to, but to [my mother’s] life and her struggle. She’s the true woman of substance.”

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