Getting Away With Murder

Posted on April 6, 2010 in Society

Vidisha Nandi:

One defining feature of a Third world country is the treatment meted out to the female populace. In such countries the root problem seems to be a congenital hesitation in implementing measures necessary to ensure equality among the sexes. Therefore, while on the one hand exists a seeming victory in the form of reservation to the extent of 33% for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies, on the other, female foeticide and the same women being burnt alive on suspicions of being witches make headlines in national newspapers. As the mainstream middle class, we remain isolated from the problems plaguing the backward pockets of the country; heedless of the impact these occurrences inevitably have on the holistic growth of the nation. Even as we speak, a victim of an honour killing laments in an article on April 4th, 2010, “what change are we talking about, when men still kill their daughters?”

Violence against women exists all over the world and female infanticide is an extreme manifestation of this very violence. It has only recently been recognized as a public health problem, the complete eradication of which is integral to growth, parity and peace. There are inherent differences between the roles played by men and women based on their physical attributes and based on what they can or cannot do. However, how does this logical differentiation for role-playing devolve into discriminating between the basic human rights of a boy or girl child? Inequality and inequity not only seem the glorified fate of the female, it seems valid to even deny her the right to be born.

Census figures highlight the drastic declines in the male-female child sex ratio, and also reveal a disturbing paradox in the data from the affluent pockets of industrially progressive states like Punjab and Haryana. Dr Nita Mathur, Reader, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU, advises that since a majority of Indian families are patriarchal in nature, it is the men who make the decisions and therefore, they need to be sensitized as to the worth of women.

The term ‘cide’ means to kill and foeticide therefore refers to the killing of the foetus. The traditional method of female infanticide involved doing away with the female baby after birth or more unsafe, illegal techniques to induce abortion, often at a very high risk to the pregnant woman. With the advancement of medical technologies and increasing access to the same by a large section of the population, apart from processes to get rid of a foetus post conception, pre-conception sex selection has been made available, a process which frees people from the ethical burden of abortion. Laws which prohibit female foeticide in India are the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) Act, 1994.

Demographers point towards the accessibility to sex determination, the safe medical termination of pregnancies, social parasitic practices like the dowry system, and poverty as some of the primary factors for the hateful practice of female foeticide.

When a woman’s life is said to be a struggle from the womb to the tomb, it does presume that she is given a fair chance to fight against the odds. The impact of the practice of female infanticide is more fatal to a society that is already skewed and imbalanced. An example has been made of unmarried young men called guang guan or ‘bare branches’, and who according to Chinese estimates will reach a count of forty million, on account of the adverse sex ratio, by 2020.

The effective implementation of Laws and acts ultimately depends on a complex variety of psychological, sociological, financial, technical and administrative factors, and the government seems to nurse a dangerously indifferent attitude towards a crime that hits out at dignity of women even before their conception. However, this problem requires to be tackled at multiple levels and the responsibility of the same must be assumed by focussed institutions from an ethical, rational, economic and humane perspective.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz

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