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50 Million Missing: The Story of Indian Women

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By Alam Bains:

50 million women missing in India? How could that be possible? Where did these women go? Its a fact that is hard to swallow, isn’t it? Well, the word missing here stands for “ELIMINATED”. The term “missing” was first used by Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen in the year 1986 to draw attention to the vast divergence in India’s gender ratio whereby, according to the census data, India was missing about 37 million women, who should have been in the population but could not be accounted for. In the year 2005, the International Herald Tribune reported that 50 million women were “missing” from India’s population. According to the United Nations, this figure has reached 62 million in the year 2008.

So now the question is, how could 50 million women be eliminated? The methods are female foeticide, female infanticide, dowry related murders, starvation of girls under the age of 5, maternal mortality, honour killings and witch hunts. It still sounds like 50 million is an exaggeration. Right? There is huge skepticism surrounding the veracity of this claim, after all 50 million is almost the populations of Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal put together. So lets take a look at some statistics to support the claim.

An estimated 1 million female foetuses are selectively eliminated in India each year and the number is expected to reach 2.5 million in the next few years. Although, sex-selective abortion is illegal, it is a multi-million dollar industry. There is no national average for female infanticide because it is difficult to track, but studies show that thousands of girls are drowned, strangled, poisoned or buried alive and it costs less than $2 to pay a mid-wife to kill the girl child. Every 20 minutes, one young woman is murdered for dowry and most of these cases go uninvestigated or are written off as accidents or suicides.

According to CRY, one in every six girls dies before the age of 15 years and as per the findings of UNICEF, the mortality rate for girls is 40% higher than that of boys under the age of 5 years. This is because of starvation and deliberate medical neglect. In the year 2007, India accounted for the highest maternal mortality rate in the world with 1 woman dying every 5 minutes due to pregnancy related causes. This is because women are forced to undergo repeated abortions to get rid of the girl child or conceive in quick succession in order to have a male child.

India has laws to tackle almost all these issues yet the scenario seems to be getting worse and worse. Why? Its because of our attitude towards these issues. We look at them as something that happens and we could not do anything about it.

50 Million Missing is a campaign to stop India’s female genocide which was founded by writer and gender activist Rita Banerji. It works steadfastly on boosting public awareness on issues concerning India’s female genocide and spearheading action for change. Please sign the petition started by 50 million women in order to add to the global momentum demanding government action in order to do your bit in making India a better palce for women to live at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-female-genocide-in-india.html and read about the campaign at http://50millionmissing.wordpress.com/.

I would like to conclude with a few words by Rita Banerji, “The change begins with us. Each one of us. It begins with how we respond to this issue. The first thing we need to do is to abnormalise what our history has normalised for us. We must refuse to allow this normalcy. So the next time you hear a case of female infanticide or foeticide or a dowry murder- please speak up. Speak loud. Rant, rave, protest, resist but do not say – ‘this happens’ and look away.”

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You must be to comment.
  1. Rita Banerji

    Thank you Alam! Thank you for being so pro-active. The change does begin with each of us. When people hear members among friends, family and relatives discussing dowry, money or things given in weddings, the gender of a baby, please comment right then and there. Even if they don’t listen. It is important to have the voice of dissent out loud. If each of us puts out the spark in our own homes, only then can we put out the fire that is consuming our nation. So speak up please!

  2. Alam Bains

    All thanks to you Ma’am for initiating the campaign and trying to raise awareness about such an important issue, which is so crucial to the development of our country.

  3. Sumit

    Thanks Alam Bains and Rita Banerji for an informative piece and describing a precarious situation .We as a society are ignorant towards these larger issues while forgetting these all can have an irreversible impact on our society if not addressed now. Apart from expecting strong laws from administrators for punishing the culprits, we all have to play an important role to prevent these social evils as we are the primitives of these evils . So rightly said, be aware, make people aware,be courageous to report these issues when you observe in your vicinity.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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