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How A Silent Epidemic In India Is Affecting Only The Girl Child

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By Bala Sai:

In India, there is a mysterious epidemic. Over the years, it has slowly become stronger and fiercer, spreading across our country’s geography like a vicious plague, silent and unnoticed. Eerily, it affects only the girl child. If, unfortunately, a girl child is born, she is destined to mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again. Perhaps, when a woman is expecting, the Gods flip a coin in the air. Heads or Tails. Smiles or Frowns. Boy or Not.

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Amid the din of awareness programs and television debates stressing on gender-equality, women empowerment and women’s rights, we have silently ignored these hooded figures roaming amongst us, armed to eliminate gender issues right at the womb. We pride ourselves on development, on economic growth and technology; we talk of being a global power. But a cursory look at a few appalling numbers should make us wince. Child-sex ratio in our country is on a shockingly decreasing trend. It has fallen gradually for the past two decades from 945 to 918 girls for every 1000 boys. Not a good statistic, for a ‘progressive’ country as ours.

It is all a matter of simple economics. A male child is a gift, an asset, while the female child is a curse, a bad omen, a liability. In states like Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the son preference still dominates choices that couples make. It is not surprising that these are the states which end up with a skewed sex-ratio. Misuse of technology has ended up making it easier for those looking for gender biased sex-selection.

In 2005, the Government launched the Janani Suraksha Yojana, which incentivized the parents of newly born girl babies by providing cash benefits of up to Rs.1400 per couple. The intention was a noble one- to protect the girl child, but according to chilling accounts emerging from states like Rajasthan, the government just ended up putting a price on their heads. Once the cash is pocketed, the babies disappear mysteriously in a matter of days.

“They kill girls overnight by poisoning them with opium, crushing them with stones and starving them,” says Hanuman Singh, the Sarpanch of Chaiyan village in the district of Jaisalmer. Rajasthan, along with Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh has as many as 10 gender-critical districts, landing in the third spot behind Haryana (12) and Punjab (11). Even in some states with healthier sex- ratios for children at birth, there is a serious decrease in the 0-6 age bracket, indicating a horrifying trend.

The Global Gender Gap Index has pegged India at 114th position out of 142 countries, with most South Asian countries ranked ahead of us, except for Pakistan. India has been one of the worst performing nations in the Index, and has actually been shamelessly slipping down several notches each year, rather than climbing up. When it comes to women’s health, India is at the 141st position. You read that right. Women’s healthcare in India is the second worst in the world. Maternal mortality at 190 for every 100,000 live births is extremely worrisome, with comparatively economically backward countries like Bangladesh posting much better numbers.

Even though gender biased sex selection is banned across the country, the practice has survived clandestinely. According to a recent study titled ‘Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence & Son Preference In India’ released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA-India) and International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) last month, “An overwhelming majority of men and women considered it very important to have at least one son in their family. In fact, more women (81%) than men (76%) felt so.”

Such gender preference means that women are bound to have more and more children either until a boy is born, or until enough boys have been born. This further exposes women to increased dangers of maternal mortality, as risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth increase substantially after the third child.

A change is required. Not just in our laws and policies, but in the minds of our people. Several NGOs have risen to this challenge, helping the government in combating this terrible epidemic. But evidently, it is not enough. We can’t educate the masses about the value of the girl child through mere posters and pamphlets. Patriarchy is inherent in our system. It needs to be gradually eradicated. Laws, policies, and government schemes need to be cleansed of patriarchal leanings. Legislations promoting gender equality that merely exist on paper need to be brought into widespread practice.

Every girl child is valuable to the nation, a cause for pride. It is our duty to protect them. This issue must transcend the realms of activism and percolate into public thinking. We cannot allow the situation to worsen. Such heinous practices are in effect, crimes against the nation; they are crimes against humanity. Until they are completely weeded out, we remain a backward country. Until it enters the public’s conscience that the girl child is not an economic liability but capable of the same achievements and successes as a son, we cannot call ourselves a progressive nation. Sex-ratio and maternal mortality rates are not merely numerical targets to be ticked off our Millennium Development Goals; they measure the health of our country. And in that respect, we are still ailing.

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  1. Babar

    In India, the silent epidemic is against boys. Millions of boys are kidnapped for forced labour, drug peddling, sale of organs, illegal adoption, and begging. There is a silent epidemic against the blood, sweat, and tears of boys who work as labourers, cleaners, servants, in lock factories, as mechanics, in restaurants, as street-vendors, at tea stalls, as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, woodcutters, rickshaw pullers, etc. Many boys’ limbs are chopped off and then they are forced to beg for the rest of their lives.

    1. Fem

      Try using ‘children’ instead of ‘boys’. Children irrespective of gender are abducted and sold off for different trades. Girls get an extra advantage of getting sold off in sex trade too.

      Blindness is only going to effect you and those around you.

    2. TempleTwins

      Tell that to the author Fem. The fact is, society may prefer boys for their utilitarian value ie a better labor, nothing else. He and other UN loving misandrous one-sided pawns are doing a disservice by being overtly gynocentric.

    3. Babar

      Try using ‘children’ instead of ‘girls’, and stop being a hypocrite, bigot, two-faced, and full of double standards, just like other feminists on this blog.

    4. Fem

      But why should I?? The article is focused on the problems a female child faces. It nowhere says that boys live in paradise. It is just talking about one segment of society.

      My reply is to Babar who is discounting that and saying point blank that its not true and the only problem faced is by boy child. Girls are much better off in his opinion.

      So my stance. That children face violence. But girl child more than boys. I do not see any wrong in this statement. Do you? Please tell me how.

      The point both of you are raising is that author should have talked about both the genders. He could have, but he did not. Its entirely his choice what he talks about and what he doesn’t. If you want to talk about something, please go ahead and write on it. Why discount someone else’s work and bash him up because he did not round up the entire society and all the issues in his one article?

      Why this hate against people who pick up feminist issues anyway? Once again – dishing women would not help men’s causes. Until and unless men’s cause is to suppress women’s rights.

      Babar – The moment someone abuse you, you become saintlike and say that only hateful feminists indulge in slandering. You being the man/God (both synonym in your opinion I am sure) do not indulge in name calling. Please tell me what did you do in your comment to me here?

    5. Babar

      I stand by what I said. Feminism is bigoted and two-faced. Please give me one good reason why the 16 days of activism did not have a single article about the violence perpetrate by mothers-in-law, or daughters-in-law for that matter? Please tell me why, among an ocean of articles supporting women on this blog, feminists choose to keep silent on the abuse by mothers-in-law? I know you will not answer my question so let me answer it myself. Feminism aims to demonize men, and writing about mothers-in-law will not fulfill their agenda. If anything, it will bring to light how abusive women can be, and that is detrimental for what feminism stands for.

    6. Fem

      Cannot give you a good reason for that because frankly I have not gone through most of the articles. Because unlike you I have a life elsewhere away from this site and I do not spend my life clicking away on this website. Also I am not sure of your claim. You maybe right, you maybe wrong. But given your love for women-kind in general, I would not believe anything which comes out of you regarding anything woman related.

      Regarding abuse a women faces by another women (namely mother in law just for an example), there are article/lifestories here which talks about how a woman was tortured by her in-laws (including your favorite mother-in-law). Just read with non judgmental eyes and you would see it.

      The aim of this site is not to demonize anybody; be it mother in laws or men. The aim is to bring to light abuses a number of weaker sections of society faces by multiple agents. You choose to see what you want to see. Its the blind men and elephant story. If you believe an elephant is just its tail then that is what you would seek and that is what your would get. Never mind the whole elephant standing there attached to its tail.

      That was my answer which you didn’t want/expect.

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