A senior Indian official acknowledged a “national crisis” of parents in richer states choosing boys over girls using technology to identify and abort female fetuses resulting in the loss of 10 million girls in the last 20 years. Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury was quoted bemoaning “shocking figures” and in many cases where abortion was not permitted, parents use inhuman methods such as putting “sand” or “tobacco juice” into the child’s mouth and nostrils “so she chokes and dies.”
Comparing global averages, UNICEF reported this week that 7,000 fewer girls are born every day because female foetuses are illegally aborted using after sex determination tests and through the murder of new born babies. According to the 2001 census, the national sex ratio was 933 girls to 1,000 boys, while in the worst-affected northern state of Punjab (also one of the richest states in India ), it was 798 girls to 1,000 boys. This ration has fallen since 1991 because of the availability of cheap ultrasound sex-determination tests. Such sex-termination tests are illegal and so is abortion for sex discrimination reasons. However, unscrupulous doctors and labs continue with this heinous practice with impunity because of the shield they get from corrupt politicians and police officers who partake in this practice.
Traditional practices of dowry and extortion of girls’ parents by the grooms and their families have disillusioned mothers who say that they their murder is mercy killing as they do not want their girl to experience what they did. On the other hand, men are seen as bread-winners and the same parents heap the same hardship on their daughters-in-law in order to make a quick buck. Ironically, in most cases in urban and semi-urban India, it is the illiterate or blue-collared man who is the loser, often addicted to alcohol, drugs, and womanizing and it is the woman who is the bread-winner who earns to support the children.
Chowdhury says that Indians have “more passion for tigers” and “stray dogs” but society at large “ruthlessly hunts down girl children.” Citing cases where four brothers had to marry one woman, she estimates that the country has lost 1% of its Gross Domestic Product because of these practices. Her solution is to “empower” women and when they “earn more or equal” the “social prejudices” will “vanish.”
These are highly dramatic grandstanding speeches than real solutions. The irony of the practice is that it is more prevalent in educated, high-income, and up-market districts than the poor. Hence, where is the question of empowering women to earn more—these women do. Even in dual income families, women are not necessarily free and willing to make independent decisions. Chowdhury says that it because of traditional practices where “Even today when you to a temple, you are blessed with ‘May you have many sons,’” however, she is again displaying her lack of understanding of her own culture and heritage.
Historically, traditionally, religiously, socially, and politically the Indian civilization has never mis-treated women or ill-treated them. Stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Silapadikaram, Manimekhalai, etc reinforce concepts that if a woman is wronged, even the strongest, most powerful, and high and mighty king will be destroyed along with his kingdom. The practice of dowry is skewed in India —originally, it was the man who paid the dowry to gain the hand of the woman but somewhere along the line, this practice flipped.
Therefore, instead of wringing her hand saying “How can we tell educated people that you must not do it,” Chowdhury should work with non-government organizations and the media to create an awareness of this horrible practice. Instead of decrying her culture with an incorrect understanding of it, she should first educate herself on it, seek the assistance of religious heads to create a campaign of messaging to the public at large. Instead of drawing illogical conclusions of “people who would visit all the female deities and pray for strength” and then murder their girls, she should realize that religion has nothing to do with this practice—it is simple greed fuelled by an inefficient enforcement mechanism and corruption of police and politicians that encourage its continuance..
In short, this is a simple law enforcement and awareness creation problem not a religious issue. Hinduism does not encourage female infanticide and let us not politicize the lives of female babies.