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Uttar Pradesh’s Missing Girls: Choked, Drowned Or Simply Abandoned To Die?

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In India, “You have 2,000 girls who are killed in the womb every day,” Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development, India, told news channel NDTV in an interview. “Some are born and have pillows on their faces choking them.”

The unabated prevalence of foeticide and female infanticide in India is creating a huge decline in the sex ratio, especially in the Northern and Northwestern States. In the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh recorded the 10th lowest Child Sex ratio (CSR) in the country. The CSR in Uttar Pradesh has been consistently declining from 935 girls per 1000 boys in 1981 to 902 in 2011. In the span of 29 years UP registered a decline of 33 points in CSR. Based on WHO estimate of natural sex ratio of 105 males per 100 females, about 1,34,865 girls went missing per year in Uttar Pradesh in the age group of 0-6 years, implying a loss of 13,48,645 girls between 2001 to 2011.

Located in the northern part of India, Uttar Pradesh is the most populous State in the country and has over 200 million inhabitants. With Lucknow, a historical city as its capital, Uttar Pradesh borders Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi on the west, Uttrakhand and Nepal on the North, Bihar and Jharkhand to the east and Madhya Pradesh to the South. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, has the worst in CSR in the country and is closely followed by Haryana, Punjab and Uttrakhand. Uttar Pradesh is the 10th highest in the skewed child sex ratio in the country, with the districts of Bagpath, Gautam Buddha Nagar and Kanpur Nagar reporting lowest ratio numbers in the state.

UP is mostly agrarian, with more than 77% of its population still residing in rural areas. According to the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh ranked 18th out of 23 States on the Human Development Index. It also has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the country with 62% of pregnant women without access to basic ante-natal care. Faring low in health indicators, Uttar Pradesh is also the largest contributor to the communicable and non-communicable disease deaths in the country. On literacy rate, Uttar Pradesh ranks 29th out of 36 states and union territories, with female literacy rate at a low of 59.2 % in 2011.

Uttar Pradesh has reported many saddening stories of parents of girl children abandoning the infants on the roadside, parks, railway stations, stray bushes and railway tracks. There are multiple reported cases of sex determination through ultrasound resulting in selective abortions. In 1994 India enacted the ‘Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques” (PNDT) Act to address the rampant issue of sex selection, which was amended in 2002 to provide for regulation and punishment for sex determination and/or sex selection, but has largely remained ineffective. One field study showed that more than 84% of gynaecologists admitted to have performed amniocentesis tests for sex determination. According to the Crime report in 2000, the foeticide cases reported showed an increase of 49.2% over previous years and infanticide cases by 19.5%. Given that such cases largely go unreported, one can safely assume that these numbers are on the conservative side.

There are multiple socio-economic and cultural reasons for the preference of the male child over female. Culturally in India, sons are responsible for caring for their old parents and carrying on the family name. In Hindu mythology, the majority religion in India and in UP, only when the last rites of the parents are performed by the son, do they achieve heaven. This further results in the desire for a son. Social norms also put men as the head and the provider of the family, while girls and women are considered consumers.

The tradition of the women becoming a part of the groom’s family makes them a ‘redundant investment’ and the cultural norm of dowry paid by the woman’s family to the grooms’ makes them a ‘financial obligation’.

The practice of the Hindu religion, as it has existed for centuries, is dominated by the caste system where communities are divided into high and low castes on the basis of their profession and a social hierarchy dictated by some ancient texts. The instances of foeticide and female infanticide prevail equally in higher caste and rich families as they do in low caste and poor families. Higher caste families tie the prestige of the family name to the sons in the family and their riches makes it easier to access illegal sex determination and abortion services. In middle class and lower-class families, the acts of infanticide and foeticide arise out of the need for ‘protecting the child’. With growing crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh, bringing up a girl child implies a ‘burden’ of providing additional security and safety. In such situations, infanticide is considered as a way to prevent any abuse of the girl which may bring shame to the family in future.

Besides the need for a son in Hindu families for final rights of the parents, there is little data available in religious texts that show preference of a male child over female. However, the religious demography census on 2000 showed that the child sex ratio is more skewed in Sikhs and Hindus than in Muslims or Christians, even though a bigger percentage of Muslims live under poverty line than Hindus.

The roots of such acts can be found in the history, from as early as 1700s. Records show that that the practice of female infanticide and foeticide was prevalent in Rajput communities in the then Jaunpur district which is now a part of Uttar Pradesh. The practice was so entrenched that there were entire taluks of ‘Jadeja’ rajputs with no female children. It was considered a ‘traditional practise’ in multiple socially influential communities in the north, western and central part of India including Ahirs, Bedis, Gurjars, Jats, Khatris, Lewa Kanbis, Mohyal Brahmins and Patidars. According to Marvin Harris the practise was especially common among Rajputs and elite land-owning warrior groups as a means to avoid paying dowries. The need for warriors also put a low value on the life of a female child. The most common methods of killing the female foetus or infant were administering low doses of poison, sometimes by the mother herself or a nurse.

Female infanticide and foeticide have dire effect in the make-up of the society. The skewed sex ratio is creating a whole generation of unmarried single men, without children, which not only adds to the economic depravity of the State but also creates an unsafe society. Fewer women than men is also leading to a ‘bride crisis’ which is resulting into growing ‘bride trade’ in the country. Multiple studies on the issue reveal that thousands of marriageable girls from rural parts of multiple states in India have been bought for the purpose of marriage, who then suffer physical and mental torture at the hands of the new family.

The issue of female infanticide and foeticide is not only a social and economic issue, it is a human rights issue. Anthropological evidence shows that the regions where the sex ratio is low, there is a high prevalence of the most inhuman practices against women. Dehumanisation of women through forced polyandry, rape, abduction, dowry murders, and degraded status of widows and deserted women, feeds into the practice of female infanticide and foeticide which results in low sex ratio feeding back into low respect for female life. It’s a vicious circle that is in desperate need for being broken. The United Nations World population prospects report in 2000 estimates a total of 44 million women missing in India largely due to female infanticide and foeticide.

Female Infanticide and foeticide are genocides that have been continuing in India for centuries. and have robbed millions of girls and women of their basic human right – ‘the right to life’. We remain a country where we ‘worship’ goddesses and feed ‘mithai’ to our mothers on their birthdays, on camera, to gain political brownie points, yet continue to kill our girls without flinching.


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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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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.

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 native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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