On Female Infanticide and Foeticide

“When the sun shall be folded up,
And when the female child,
That has been buried alive shall be asked,
For what crime she was put to death,
Then every soul will know what it did.” — The Quran.

Disturbing facts! Not for the faint-hearted.

Note: “The production of male offspring may be disadvantageous if the breeding and raising takes place at suboptimal conditions in terms, for example, of a limited food supply and stress (Trivers and Willard 1973). In such a case the production of females would be beneficial because their later breeding success depends less on their individual quality than it does in males.” [ref. : “Sex Ratios at Birth and Environmental Temperatures”, Naturwissenschaften 86, 340–342 (1999) Springer-Verlag.] So, biologically, you should have slightly more women in a society than men.

On the contrary, in India, according to United Nations figures, men outnumber women by 32-35 million. It is a frightening reality born of an entrenched societal preference for males, which leads to abortions and even infanticide of girl babies. India has something like 930 women for every 1,000 men. That is not normal!

To know the severity of the situation, go ahead with the following reports:

  1. India’s missing girls
  2. India ‘loses 10m female births’
  3. Harsh reality of India’s unwanted girls
  4. Vietnam’s desire for baby boys skews gender

Foeticide is seen everywhere in India, and it has become more common with the advent and easy availability of technology, such as amniocentesis and sonography, that enables the determination of the gender of the foetus. Despite government measures and laws against it, foeticide has seen a seldom decrease in rate; on the contrary, it is increasing rapidly. The real shock you get when you get to know the blatant cases of homicide in the form of female infanticides.

In Rajput families, “doodh pilana” is a common ritual reserved for new-born girls. Parents immerse the helpless child in a tub of milk, till she chokes to death.

In south Indian states like Tamilnadu, children are either fed the milk of poisonous plants or covered with a wet towel so that they die later of complications from cold.

In Bihar, holding the baby from the waist and shaking it back and forth snaps the spinal chord. Sometimes a child is stuffed in a clay pot. Babies are also fed with salt to increase their blood pressure, death follows in a few minutes. Grains of paddy husk are also fed to slit the tender gullet.

Furthermore, a change in the method of killing infants has been observed following the exhumation of bodies to get forensic evidence when it was suspected that an infant had been a victim of infanticide. People began to adopt methods such as starving the baby to death, which, unlike poisoning, leaves no forensic evidence as to the cause of death.

The birth of a girl child in India is often a source of sorrow. It is the most tragic thing to see. In Indian villages, one can hear wailing from houses when a mother has delivered a baby, and you know immediately that a girl child must have been born. In the western countries like the U.S.A., if you heard that kind of wailing, the child was probably stillborn or sick or handicapped. In India, the tragedy is that when you hear that kind of wailing, it’s the birth of a perfectly normal, healthy girl child.

The obvious question of ‘why’ has as obvious an answer: In India, couples continue bearing children to ensure they have enough boys, for very strong norm of what we call “son preference,” for many, many years. It’s a norm that is closely associated with Indian society, with the majority religion, Hinduism. Sons are expected to play a major role in the family traditionally, according to the religion. It is the son who lights the funeral pyre for the parents when they die. It is the son who is thought of as the one who will support the parents when they are aged. But it is not exclusive to Hinduism. P mentioned the case of a non-Hindu friend, for an unpleasant surprise, wherein a “progressive” friend has been trying for a boy child for a long time, and the family has opted for a few abortions because they already have two girls. T says that it is becoming a trend, now even in, known to be liberal, literate/educated, Kerala Christian families. Many would come out defending the religious values, but before you do that, please note that religion was replaced by a shared value system in the social transformation of 60s and 70s which has been weakened throughly in the recent years. The return of religion we see in the recent years is mainly in the political space and not in personal values.

Apart from the patriarchal rituals, emanating from religions, mentioned above, there is one major reason that has been overlooked again and again: Dowry! In upper and upper-middle-class sections of Indian society, it is accepted as a norm, and in most cases that section of the society does not have problems fulfilling the ‘demands.’ But dowry is in direct connection of the non-desire of having a female child in the other sections. Even the so called educated mass of the society is not untouched from this social evil. V mentions an incident where a friend of his told him: “Man, I’m going to graduate from such and such place… So I’ll be in demand, and I’ll demand at least Rs. one crore and a Honda City car.” T told me about the discussion he had with his friends and their parents, and their logic for dowry was something like, “They say that most of the property is in plantations or business which cannot be partitioned in a logical fashion in many situations. Hence, they claim, that the present system of dowry is the most amicable solution to the problem. The money is generally used to settle the new family and the rest is kept in an account in the girls name and does provide financial independence to them. Many of them are happy with this arrangement. The boys of the family are happy since the money transfered as dowry is much less than the legal share. Of course everything is not as happy as they claim as is easy to guess.”

So, what is the solution?

The only solutions that can presently be adopted are 1. to have a strict monitoring of the violations of the anti-dowry act and a serious crackdown on the centers providing sex determination facilities which has been outlawed and 2. proper education and awareness in all sections of society. I’d like to know others if you can think of any.

PS: I will follow it up with the social stature of women in India, that is nowhere near to what women actually deserve or have in other parts of the world, despite some of the greatest women achievers that India has produced.


4 thoughts on “On Female Infanticide and Foeticide”

  1. Wanted to know if you have individual case studies that depict different ways / methods that children (the girls) were killed. We are making a television serial and would like to highlight some of the issues through entertainment and hopefully make a difference in bringing down such practices. Thank you.

  2. Arun,

    You’d agree that individual cases are very hard to come to notice. If you go to an NGO , you can get what you want. My knowledge is based only on their information, some census reports, from various magazines and Internet articles.

    I, personally, have not seen any such practice, and I also believe that infanticides are on decline, in favor of foeticides. Cases of foeticides can be seen everywhere around us.

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