Murder in the womb
India may be the land where the Buddha preached non-violence, and Mahatma Gandhi practised it to perfection. But the country’s womb murders are a horrible reality.
UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children 2007” report reveals a bloody trail: About 7,000 fewer girls are born each day in India than the global average. This finding is based on the latest Indian census data and a study by the British medical journal, Lancet. UNICEF concludes that 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in the past two decades! India’s sex ratio is therefore a terrifying 800 girls to 1,000 boys.
While the nation pats itself for a variety of achievements, including a healthy democracy and a just judiciary, Indian mothers turn killers. Rather, they are pushed into slaying baby girls growing inside them. If the female foetuses are not aborted, infant girls are killed soon after they are born.
The methods are primitive. The babies are fed paddy husks or poisoned milk or drowned in water or milk or smothered with a pillow or buried alive.
Renowned economist Amartya Sen said as early as 1986 that 37 million women were missing in India.
The aversion for the girl child is age old. Ancient Indian religious texts such as the Vedas say: “Let a female child be born somewhere else. Here, let a male child be born”. Another religious manuscript, Manu Shastra, is well known for its vilification of women. The mood and the mindset have not changed much since then.
Today’s pressing socio-economic problems are added factors provoking such macabre murders – both foeticide and infanticide. Women in India are still second-class citizens. At least covertly they are treated so. Sons are preferred, because they will earn and support their parents, and in a largely farming society like India’s, boys are considered more helpful than girls. Daughters will marry and leave home, and, worse, they will have to be given big money as dowry, a practice that still festers like cancer.
The perpetrators of this crime -- cutting across religious and economic lines -- believe that the solution to a problem like dowry lies in eliminating female life. No wonder then the rich and the poor are equally guilty of this felony. In the posh, upmarket South Delhi area, the sex ratio is 798 girls to 1000 boys, implying that the rich are as much guilty as the poor.
Tens of clinics have sprung up in Indian cities that despite a ban carry out sex determination tests under the garb of examining the foetus for abnormalities. If it happens to be female, the chances are that it will be aborted.
A question that will arise here is how can a mother take the life of her own child. Writer Gita Aravamudan says: “The hand that takes the life of the infant may be hers, but the will is not… This will has been generated over many centuries by subjugating women to a subhuman status. The time-immemorial prejudice is so internalised by women that they hate their own baby girls and carry out murders with clinical precision…She remains mute when her backyard is turned into a graveyard.”
I remember seeing a Bollywood film where the scriptwriter and the director paint a horrifying picture of a futuristic land with hardly any women. Here men turn into carnal creatures, treating the few available women as pure sexual objects, meant solely for pleasure. A family of five men – a father and his four sons – ravish a woman to death!
But, is there a way out of female foeticide and infanticide? Yes, say some, and they point to education. In a highly literate State like Kerala in South India, womb murders are unheard of with a healthy sex ratio of 1058 girls to 1000 boys. Female literacy in the State is a high 87 per cent, and one can understand why little girls live.
Literacy certainly enables communities to get around issues like dowry. Education is equally helpful in making women economical productive and independent. Above all, it fosters a healthy respect for women, which in India is still a distant cry.
Ultimately, society must learn to turn a girl from an economic liability to an economic asset by educating her and helping her to lead a life without crutches of any kind, more so masculine. Only then will society fight and forget practices like womb murders.
(Webposted August 20 2007)