by Annanya Chaturvedi
2nd year, English Honours
Lady Shri Ram College for Women
“Yulin, a festival in China where thousands of dogs are slaughtered for feast.
Gadhimai Mela, a festival in Nepal where buffaloes, pigs, goats, chickens, and pigeons are slaughtered in large scale
Eid, a festival observed throughout world where animals of various categories are sacrificed.
Come to the land of gods, India, where women are slaughtered each year, each month, everyday.
STOP female foeticide!”
― Debajani Mohanty
Post 73 years of independence in a diverse country like India, my liberal mind cannot help but wonder if girls are free in this country, after all. And so every time I read a newspaper report on a little girl dumped in a garbage box, I end up losing a piece of myself, the last shred of hope and faith in this ‘just’ society. There have been incidents of the foetus lying in farms, floating in rivers, wrapped up in jute bags, and left to die. The prolonged history of prejudice and stigma against women and gender roles is what has given rise to this heinous practice of female foeticide and female infanticide. Despite the existence of stringent laws, a large chunk of the population, primarily originating from the rural and traditional diaspora engage in such acts on a regular basis.
What’s the cause behind this ingrained prejudice of systemic oppression and killings? The irony is that even older women hate girl child. They do not realize one thing, that they too were born as a girl child and became women as they get aged. The society and religions we thrive in, worship female deities, while ‘sacrifice’ a girl child owing to the simple reason that she can neither provide a social nor an economic advantage to the family, at least not according to the mindset of a large population of the country. It’s extremely ironic how India or our “motherland” uses the pronoun ‘her’ to refer to herself and us, Indians, sacrifice this very her, thus losing India’s identity, its very last shred of thread binding everyone and everything together. The bias against females in India is grounded in cultural, economic, and religious roots. Sons are expected to work in the fields, provide greater income, and look after parents in old age. In this way, sons
are looked upon as a type of insurance. Men, considered as the bread-winners of the family go out to earn for the family, while the girl becomes a liability, especially until she is married off after paying a huge dowry. Even then, women who somehow survive this crime, are brought up as inferior sex, devoid of the basic inheritance and property rights. It was only in Aug 2020, when the Supreme Court gave a verdict on a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint legal heir and inherit ancestral property on terms equal to male heirs. Other causes include men as the carriers of the family name, while women being a bad omen to the same family name.
Various artists and activists have been relentlessly working for this cause since forever. For instance, the colors television show ‘Na Aana Iss Des Laado’ portrayed the social evil of female infanticide in the outskirts of rural India. Another song ‘Bekhauff aazad hai jeena mujhe’ by Sona Mohapatra on the popular reality show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ instills a sense of desperate dark realities of the country. It reminds us of who we are, and how we still have a long way to go in order to make a girl-child bekhauff in this country. The extent and horrors to which this issue is prevalent can be witnessed in an old folk song:
Prabhuji mein teri binti karoon
Paiyan Paroon bar bar
Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Na Dije
Narak Dije Chahe Dar…
Oh, God, I beg of you,
I touch your feet time and again,
Next birth don’t give me a daughter,
Give me HELL instead…
Let’s look at some statistics. Nearly 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in the country over the past two decades. Of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthday. About three-fourths of the women in the suburban area know about the sex determination test, and female foeticide is favored both in rural and urban areas. The United Nations has reported that India’s female ratio between 0-6 years age group has fallen to 896 females per 1,000 males, the lowest ever in a decade for the world’s second-most populous nation. A recent survey, dated August 2019, indicated that over the past three months, then, all of the children born in a region in northern India were boys, raising suspicions of rampant female foeticide. According to the Population Research Institute (PRI), around 15.8 million girls went missing in India due to prenatal sex selection between 1990 and 2018. Approximately 550,000 girls went missing in 2018 alone, PRI said.
The problematic conception of women being considered as the ‘property of another family’ has to be eradicated at the foremost level. The government has passed laws banning the usage of ultrasound tests for determining a foetus’ sex and sex-selective abortions. However, they have failed to put an end to the problem. Sociologist Pramil Kumar Panda says that changes in social attitudes toward women and girls take a long time. That’s why, he argues, laws against female foeticide haven’t been very effective. Sociologists warn that skewed sex ratios may, over a period of time, lead to a worsening of women’s rights in these communities and make women more vulnerable to sexual violence. India has yet a long way to go in her fight against the pre-birth elimination of females. Time is quickly ticking away. A shortage of girls would lead to a shortage of eligible brides, thus making the girl a “scarce commodity”. According to news, girls from Assam and West Bengal are kidnapped and sold in Haryana for marriage, where the child sex ratio is least in the country.
India needs stringent laws, and she needs them soon. More than the existence, implementation, and enforcement of such measures holds all the more importance. Campaigns like the Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, need to be more pro-active in order to make a significant contribution in changing the narrative of the country. Abhijit Das, co-chair of the Men Engage Alliance, a global network of organizations working on gender justice, and director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ) in New Delhi, says India’s sex ratio won’t improve unless men are part of the fight.“Technology will keep coming if an idea exists. In a patriarchal society, who can challenge an idea better than anyone else? Men,” he says, adding that CHSJ is training 10,000 male “gender champions” across eight Indian states. In conclusion, only if we, collectively as a society, progress and envision an India free from such baseless shackles and educate ourselves while educating those around, with the underlying idea “Accept life, refuse female foeticide,” can we really break free from this age-old atrocity.