“I felt like we could keep it only if it was a boy and kill it if it was a girl. I just strangled her soon after she was born and buried her. Since we were not having any boys, I killed eight daughters”, says a rural women as if it was an everyday thing to do. The culture she was conditioned in makes it seem like it is. Her face says it all. She didn’t even have the awareness that there were other options! I wonder what a mother goes through when she strangles and buries her newly born daughter.
As I see the documentary “It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words” by Evan Grae Davis, I am struck by the stark reality that even in the modern 21st century that we live in, there are 200 million girls missing all over the world, out of which 50 million are Indians!
I ask myself the question – are we really that oblivious and ignorant? Every single one of us knows that female infanticide exists, but did either one of us ever spare a minute and think about the fact that 10 million female foetuses were aborted in the last two decades only in India? When we think of the reasons for female infanticide, we come up with the most obvious answers: the burden of a girl child, the dowry one has to pay to get her married, etc.
Though the government has taken enough legal measures starting from ‘The Female Infanticide Prevention Act’ in 1870, ‘The Dowry Prohibition Act’ in 1961, ‘The Baby Cradle Scheme” in 1992, ‘The Girl Child Protection Scheme’ in 1991, and ‘The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Revaluation and Prevention of Misuse) Act’ in 1994, we still find ourselves in a place where female infanticide happens everyday.
As I ponder over this, I remember a wonderful speech given by our country’s current HRD minister, Smriti Irani, at the International Women’s Conference this year, and I recall the story she told of a women belonging to a village in Punjab. Her brother made a deal with her husband, that her newly born daughter should be dead or should vanish by the end of the month, only then would the women be allowed back into the house. The husband wanted a son, not another daughter, and he certainly didn’t want the burden of raising and marrying three daughters. So, the woman goes back to her house with her three daughters. That night, she places her daughter in the chilling December cold, out on a bed, without so much as a piece of cloth, and she sits by the bed. Eventually, she falls asleep as she was tired and by the time she wakes up the next day, the sun was up and her 3-day-old daughter, who was completely blue due to the cold, was still alive. That was the moment when a mother asked herself, that if her 3-day-old daughter can fight death, can’t she find the strength to fight her husband for her daughter?
In the state of Tamil Nadu, a woman named Lakshmi gave birth to a daughter and killed her by poisoning her, as she didn’t want to raise two daughters. When asked how could she kill her own child, Lakshmi firmly replied by saying that instead of letting her daughter suffer the way she does, she thought it was better to get rid of her. She said that daughters are liabilities, and how could she possibly bring up two?
In a country where we worship women, why is giving birth to a daughter a sin? Is it because people think that boys can provide livelihood by working whereas girls can’t? And we come back to the age-old question, of Â ‘Are women really inferior to men?’ When time and again, women have proven themselves, why are they still considered inferior? Is this misogyny rooted in the fear that men have of female sexuality? Is this antagonism towards women a defensive response by men for absolute power even when they find themselves vulnerable as they completely depend on women for the preservation and continuation of the male sex?
The 2011 Indian census reveals that for every 1000 boys, there are only 914 girls under the age of six years. Which means that for every 1000 boys, at least 60 to 70 girls are killed before they turn six! To avoid unrest, families kill these girls in torturous methods. Be it by poison or dipped in cold water, which causes pneumonia, at the end of the day, girls are being killed.
In her book ‘Sex and Power‘, Rita Banerji concludes that in India, female genocide is never called ‘genocide’; rather, it is represented as a gender ratio, like an arithmetic problem gone awry. She also emphasizes the need to recognize the term ‘genocide’. Gita Aravamudan, in her book ‘Disappearing Daughters‘, compares female genocide to a ‘holocaust’ and ‘serial killing’. She says that a whole gender is getting exterminated in a silent and smoothly executed crime, which leaves no waves in its wake.
Now comes the big question. Is awareness and education enough to stop female infanticide? How would people in rural areas react when they are educated and are left with the stark contrast of the Indian culture and modern culture, when we, who have grown up in the modern urban world, are confused and are striving to find a balance between the modern world and the Indian values we have grown up with? Awareness and education might not be enough, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Change always starts with you. I will be completely clichÃ© and quote ‘Be the change you want to see’, even if you change only one person or your own ideology, you have contributed a step. Now ask yourselves. Have you done your part?