By: Ravinder Sharma*
Hindu religion glorifies the mother through devotional songs addressed to goddess Parvati, the mother of the universe, seeking her blessings. Why then her human equivalents are not accorded the same respect and care – especially the tiny ones, or those not born as yet?
One of the principal reasons has to do with dowry that needs to be given when the girl child grows up and is given in marriage. Raising young girls is considered a liability. The gender bias is also related to the fact that male children are called upon to work in the fields and provide income to support the family in poor rural families while the female child is considered incapable of such activity although that trend is changing now.
It is estimated that some 10 million girls were lost in India over the last 20 years. The national average gender ratio (female to male) has gone down from 972 in 1901 to 933 in 2001. The number is a lot lower (as low as 500-700) in some selected areas of various states.
If we express the female foeticide in a poetic language then it will be like the muted anguish of the newborn female child who was yearning for the sweet sight and embrace of her mother once coming out of the womb but suddenly made to lose her life by her own mother.
If the foetus could speak up, what would it say, “Mom, don’t drop me. I am a life just like you and have the right to come in this world!” or “Mom, it’s OK, I know I will be a burden on you and Papa. So please drop me and give birth to my brother-to-be!”
India has the notoriety of having one of the lowest female to male child ratio (in the age group of zero to six years) in the world. On December 15, 2006, UNICEF issued a report which said 7,000 fewer girls are born each day in India. It is a case of female foeticide aided by ultrasonic diagnostics. In addition, there are unknown number of female infants being deliberately killed by their mothers and/or her close relatives.
WHY? Haven’t we all read or recited the cute verse, “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” Perhaps not, when it comes to those who commit such atrocities. Are those who commit female infanticide and foeticide, heartless monsters? If they are committing such a heinous crime, although reluctantly, is it due to the fact that society is imposing a constraint on them?
In an age when females have made progress in almost every field, there are people who still accord a lower status to women. In some of our Indian societies, while a childless woman is perceived as incomplete, one who has given birth to daughters is partially complete. Only the one who has produced a son enjoys a status of sorts. The problem is intimately related to the institution of dowry. “If it’s a girl child, we will have to spend first on her education and then on her marriage and dowry…” It doesn’t stop there. “We will also have to meet some of her expenses after marriage. How I wish I could get a son!”
Social pressures in India, and the presence of low-cost technologies like ultrasound, have led to sex-based abortion of female foetuses, and an increasingly smaller percentage of girls born each year.
The bias against females is also related to the fact that sons are looked at as a type of insurance. Even our religions have been prejudiced towards women. According to Manu, a woman has to be reborn as a man to attain moksha (redemption). A man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre.
Also, it says a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year of marriage. It is a common saying in India, Ladka marey kambakth ka; Ladki marey bhaagwaan ki (“It’s a fool who loses his male child and the fortunate one who loses a girl child”). Obviously, it shows the gender bias in our male-dominated, patriarchal society. In India, the practice of sex-selective abortion or female foeticide (in which an unborn baby is aborted or killed before birth simply because it is not a boy) is only the latest manifestation of a long history of gender bias, evident in the historically low and declining population ratio of women to men. Moreover, the medical fraternity in India has been quick to see entrepreneurial opportunities in catering to the insatiable demand for a male child.
What is a woman’s role in all this? Does her choice or decision really matter when choosing a spouse, contraception methods, the first pregnancy or place of delivery? Is it really possible for a woman to decide about having an abortion, if she has to survive as a daughter-in-law in the family? Let’s assume her husband supports the birth of a female child. Even then she may prefer to have a male child in order to get respect from her in laws’ family, in order to save her marriage.
If a woman doesn’t have any say in this matter, a good case can be made that female foeticide is an act of violence against women. So where is the cure of this disease? With law? Doctors in India believe two million foetuses are killed every year through abortion, simply because they are female, even though it is an illegal practice.
Editor’s note: The above article is relevant because the sex ratio in Himachal is 803; i.e. there are only 803 women for 1,000 men. Female foeticide is not just an issue that concerns Himachal but the whole of India. Though the article above does not reflect on the status of Himachal, but we thought that the issue was worth highlighting.
* Govt. Polytechnic College, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.