Social Matter 2 continued….
A few days ago, I wrote a little something about female foeticide. I also ran a small female foeticide awareness ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram to spread the message “Don’t kill her” via a work of art that I had created. It reached close to 3000 people in total and I’m hoping to reach more people via such ad creatives in the future. I also had the chance to discuss this issue in detail with a few people and I wanted to put down my deeper understanding of the causes of female foeticide, effects and impact of female foeticide and imbalanced sex ratio, and the measures that are taken by the Government and media to curb this issue.
Female foeticide, as we all know it, is the deliberate killing of the foetus. This takes place primarily via abortion, but some other horrid methods like a sharp blow to the abdomen of a pregnant woman and using certain herbs and home-made medicines to cause miscarriages are also practiced in several rural parts of the country.
Female foeticide also has a sister crime, a more fatal one, called Female infanticide, where a newborn girl child is killed deliberately. But we’ll talk more about female infanticide in another post.
There was a very interesting article, a press release in fact, on the UNICEF website, which talked about the horrors of Female Foeticide in Haryana. The article opened with the line –
“Eligible Jat boys from Haryana travel 3,000 km across the country to find themselves a bride. With increasingly fewer girls in Haryana, they are seeking brides from as far away as Kerala as the only way to change their single status.”
That’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s kind of humorous, but the message this statement is trying to get across is extremely serious. Why does Haryana have such an unbalanced sex ratio? It can’t be that all the mothers in Haryana are drinking a magic potion to only deliver male babies. Such things only happened in books like Ramayana and Mahabharata, but we’re past that kind of miracle now.
So, what’s really going wrong in Haryana and several other states like Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir, among others?
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that play a strong role in female foeticide in these states and other parts of the country –
- Cultural Preference –
In many of my conversations with people, the dowry system came up quite often. A lot of people believe that the fear of dowry forces many people, at least those from the lower income group in smaller towns and villages, prefer male children over female. When a girl child is born, instead of experiencing happiness, parents start to experience the burden of future marriage expenses, which makes several poor parents kill their girl child before birth. When the reproductive practices make daughters into such economic burden, the threat of having to amass dowry is a motive enough to dispose female commodities (Barbara Harriss-White, 2009)
This cultural preference is also heavily felt in many families in India and around the world due to the age-old rules of the “line of succession”. The fact that a girl has to leave her house to marry a man and move into his house, leaves parents wanting for sons. After all, everyone wants someone to take care of them in their old age and keep adding to the family instead of taking away from the family. As Justice YK Sabharwal, Chief Justice of India, said in his speech about Eradication of Female Foeticide, delivered in Patiala on December 17, 2006, that “Investing in a daughter they say is like ‘watering your neighbour’s lawn.’ and who wants to do that right?
- Poor Family Income and Financial Burden –
Add poor family income to the idea of future dowry and other social responsibilities and you get parents who will advocate for a male child, calling him an investment. There’s no denying that it is a traditional thought that once you have a son, he will study and solve your money woes. If, for any reason, he doesn’t excel at studying, he will find something else to do and make enough money to run a family. Opportunities are readily available for men, as traveling to places and staying independent of parents is rather easier for boys than girls. This is a reality, because we’ve turned it into a reality. Several modern and liberal families in urban areas would disagree, but ask the girl who lives in a town named Barmer in Rajasthan about her struggle to make it as far as even Jodhpur for college.
- Socio-ritual factors
Our scriptures and our religious stories all talk about the damsel in distress. It also talks about women as an enchantress, born to distract righteous men. Women as just wives, daughters, evil aunts, or objects of desire. A woman is seldom a ruler, a savior without being born of a male God, a leader, or a pioneer. There are also practices and rituals that make a male heir or son a mandate, such as funeral ceremonies. According to the scriptures, a man cannot attain Moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre, putting a son on a higher pedestal than a daughter. A son is an ideal person to conduct havans (offerings into the sacred fire) for peace and prosperity, while a woman sits at a distance and watches. These are very small things that have been passed on for centuries. There are many who have forgotten these, many who make do with what resources they have, but the fact that they existed and continue to exist gives the idea of male superiority a boost, making female foeticide, female infanticide, and dowry very prominent in our country.
- Fear of Oppression and Family’s reputation
Have you ever heard of the line from the movie Jab We Met, “Akeli Ladki Khuli tijori ki Tarah Hoti Hain”. It doesn’t translate too well in English, but it means something like “A girl who’s lonely is often seen as a box full of treasure, open for a loot”. A lot of parents see their unborn girl child as someone who will later be exposed to male suppression, sexual abuse, rape, and similar trauma. Barring a handful parents, these thoughts are not for the safety of the child, but for the shame a raped daughter would bring to the house. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. I met someone in a small town called Balotra, which is close to Jodhpur in Rajasthan. She is an old friend who got married a few years ago and is now expecting a child. We were having a discussion about her child – what she hopes from the child’s birth, what her life would be like, what she wants to do, what are her dreams for the child, etc. While we were talking, she said, “Can I tell you something? I feel weird even thinking it, but it’s in my mind lately. I’m scared that if I have a girl child, I’m going to be in a constant worry for her safety and well-being. You hear such horrible things these days, sometimes it just feels like maybe it’ll all be a little less crazy if I had a boy.” All I had to say to her when she expressed this thought was that it’s okay to fear for the safety of your children, but do you always want to live in fear. Forget the child for a bit, what about your own safety, do you always want to walk the streets in fear of being harassed or raped?
There is one more factor that popped up in my conversation with a friend and professor from Manipal yesterday, she mentioned that many a times the population policies in countries like China, and to some extent India, play a pretty significant role.
You must have all heard of “Hum do humare do” policy by the Indian Government. While this policy isn’t as strict as it is in China, several people choose to make it “Hum do, humare do ladke” for reasons mentioned above. Can there be stricter mandates on the policy to maintain a balance between the sex-ratio? This skewed female and child sex ratio, which is spreading from urban into rural areas, is a phenomena which a new population policy must address. Discriminatory social barriers such as the absence of women’s ownership rights over property and land gives way to the son preference. Couples, not just in rural areas, but also urban areas, continue to try for a male child, even after having two or three female children. After several unsuccessful attempts to have a male child and hoarding female children, they resort to illegal female foeticide. I strongly believe that these developments need to be confronted as part of a new population policy. What are your views on it? What kind of population policies can address this issue? Would love to hear more from policy folks.
While we are talking about female foeticide and related policies, I also wanted to use this time to reflect on the impact that female foeticide has. The bigger impact. Because female foeticide doesn’t just stop at the death of a girl child. Suppression of woman starts from here and goes a long way, impacting us all in many ways.
I’ll talk about its impact and also review some of the measures taken by the government to curb this issue in my next post.
Please share your thoughts on the factors that cause female foeticide in our country – any experiences you’ve dealt with it, any stories you might like to share. If we don’t talk, who will.