A Death Unsung: Female Foeticide in India

As one grows through the difficult experiences of puberty, enjoying the liberty of education, exploring the joys of womanhood, it is nauseating to know that someone will never feel the thrill of dancing in the first shower of rain, never breathe the air of freedom, will never be the person she could have been, without any fault of hers but only because she was a girl, a woman in the making.


Once in our lives, most of us must have heard that a child is a ‘gift’ from God. Though whatever biology may suggest, it is not an uncommon sight in India to see couples praying to be blessed with a child. But almost half of India, no longer considers it a blessing if that child happens to be a girl. The blessing soon becomes a curse and the ‘precious gift’ is done away with as soon as possible before extending another demand to God, that of a ‘male’ child. The doing away often includes either being ‘given’ in marriage to another toddler (or in some cases, to men twice or even thrice their age) or worse, slaying her even before she can take one free breath. Of late, technology seems to have facilitated this diabolical slaughter even before the birth of the child in the form of female foeticide.


The United Nations says an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.


Female foeticide is a practice that involves pre-natal sex determination and a subsequent abortion if the sex of the foetus is female. While the methods of detection may vary from amniocentesis and chronic villus sampling to ultrasonography, the reasons often cited are family pressure, the ‘expenditure’ required for having a girl child ( an obvious reference to dowry that would be necessary for the future marriage) and the perennial desire of the patriarchal society to have a son, an heir, a successor. The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice but conformity. So people who don’t dare to carry this ‘burden’ often end up conforming to the ludicrous norms.


Strange as it may sound to many, especially ‘urban’ people but this unfortunately, is a reality that cannot be ignored with reports of some of the worst sex ratios being found in India. Punjab, Orissa, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra and even the capital Delhi that have shown the most pronounced effect and it was in these states that the private foetal sex determination clinics were first established. More shocking still is the fact that this trend is far stronger in urban than rural areas and among the literate than the illiterate, exploding the myth that education and affluence will help to eradicate gender bias. (Even some tribal areas are much better off than cities as far as sex ratios are concerned). Recent government figures show that in high income South Delhi, the sex ratio is 762 females per 1000 males, while in Mumbai’s Borivalli it’s 728 females per 1000 males.


Though the government enacted the Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in 1994, which came into force in 1996, situation far from improving, further worsened. A concomitant rise in the number of private clinics providing sex determination test was seen as a result of banning such practices in government hospitals, with even farmers with marginal incomes willing to take loans at 25 percent interest to have the test. Before the Act was amended in 2003, the technology had already reached even in areas which do not have potable water. As a result, the sex ratio recorded in India in 2001 in children was 927 females per 1000 males as compared to 1961 when it is 976 females per 1000 males. UN reports reveal that between 35 to 40 million girls missing from the Indian population.


It is appalling to see in what is still considered one of the noblest professions, doctors participating in this illegal and inhuman money making venture, completely ignoring their ethical duties. Often the result such detections is subtly conveyed with a nod for a boy or a shake of the head or a grimace for a girl, as if she is an incoming catastrophe. It is ironic to see that maximum sex- selective abortions are performed by lady doctors. Even more disheartening is the fact that women agree (whatever may be their justification) to undergo a sex – selective abortion knowingly contributing to the depletion of their own sex.


The hypocrisy of Indian society is pellucid here as on one hand it worships Durga, Kalli and Lakshmi, on the other it doesn’t hesitate to kill what is believed to be their manifestation.


While an abortion is understandable for medical reasons or keeping a small family, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that a child is aborted only because it is a girl. Though female foeticide had entered the lexicon of feminist struggle long back yet the fight still continues. The whole concept of women empowerment is subject to a brutal shock with ghastly cases like polythene bags stuffed with female foetuses being found in Bhubhaneshwar, Orissa. Instances of villages in Rajasthan with not a single girl present, throws glaring light at the horrid fact which also painfully comes across in movies like Matrubhoomi-A Nation Without Women.


It is a subject of grave concern especially when there is a vocal and influential school of thought that justifies selective abortion of female foetuses. Though the matter has been brought up now and then, this issue needs to be taken more seriously than ever and it needs be rewritten and revocalized until it the dogmatic mindset of people undergoes a change.


Apart from the looking into factors responsible for female foeticide like low status of women in society and dowry, one also needs to be vigilant and brave enough to speak against this evil if one witnesses or comes to know about it. Also a more scientific approach towards things is required and the forestalling religious and cultural beliefs need to be replaced by rationality.


No society can survive without women. The practice of female foeticide not only is a violation of human rights but also puts a question mark on our integrity as humans. It stagnates our growth as people. If the patriarchal society has made the rules then they can surely be reworked. Why do we need to have different attitudes towards men and women? Why can’t they just be treated as individuals and valued for their worth?


Her every unformed limb is battling for her rights, her every stifled cry begs for freedom and her every unsung death mourns the dilatory demise of humanity.
Apoorva Gupta

[Image source:http://www.calicutnet.com/articles/rajesh/foeticide.jpg]