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.
This post was previously published here