‘Indians Want Women as Deities and Wives but not as Daughters’
It’s the strongest in China and India.
According to a recent UNICEF report, nearly 50 million girls are missing from India’s population as a result of gender discrimination.
The problem is increase due to scientific ways of detecting the sex of a baby and abortions becoming safer.
As Bismillah Geelani reports from New Dehli a campaign has been launched to turn things around…
At New Delhi’s Parliament Street, dozens of paintings hang on fence along the footpath.
One of them shows a girl sweeping the floor, washing dishes and serving her brother as he studies.
The slogan on another reads “Girls are the nation’s soul don’t kill them”.
A group of men and women dressed in black are stand nearby, singing:
“If you are alive believe in the victory of life, if there are heavens somewhere bring them down to the earth, you are alive.”
They are students and social activists marching for India’s vanishing baby girls.
Amongst them is Meetu Khurana, a doctor.
“What we are seeing is that the government is trying to protect the guilty.”
An estimated one million girls are killed in India every year either before or soon after birth.
The practice has been happening in some parts of India for a very long time. But in the last two decades with Ultrasounds more parents are opting for abortions after knowing the sex of their baby.
Vijay Laxmi Nanda is coordinator of the Camping Against Pre-birth Elimination of Females
“In India people have become so averse to daughters that they are misusing these technologies to only give birth to boys. They don’t want daughters at all. If you have technologies which proliferate in this way and they are used against girl child there will be no more girl children left.”
Girls are often considered a burden mainly because of the dowry system which is illegal yet rampant in India.
Dr. Punit Bedi is a gynecologist.
“People want woman in every other form be it a deity, wife or a prostitute but woman as a daughter is acceptable to none because then she becomes a liability, they have to protect her virtue and give her a dowry.”
Dowry is the money and other things like gold, cloths a bride’s family gives to the bridegroom at the time of marriage.
But it usually doesn’t end with the actual wedding as the bride’s family is expected to continue giving.
Bride burning happens when the girl’s family cannot afford to fulfill the demands of her in-laws.
Dr. Bedi says the practice of aborting a female fetus is common among all communities and social classes.
“We call it an equal opportunity disease. Though it began from the posh colonies because the facilities were earlier available to only the affluent as they could afford the expenses but with the technology now becoming unfortunately cheaper even the poorest of the poor have access to it. So whichever social class one comes from, whatever educational background one has and what ever region one belongs to, everyone now wants a son.”
According to the 2001 census India has only just over 900 women for every 1000 men.
In some areas like Punjabi and Delhi it’s even more dramatic.
In 1996, the government of India made it illegal to find out the sex of a child before birth and sex selective abortions.
Parents and Doctors who violate the law can face up to five years in prison.
But Nanda of the Campaign against Pre-birth Elimination of Females says it has not been enforced.
“The government cancels the registration of clinics which have been found to be practicing this or suspends them for two days and then they again reopen it. Many organizations have used decoy customers, they take in women who are pregnant and portend to ask for sex determination, and they catch the doctors but again let them off. We are asking the government to implement the law effectively and bring all guilty to book.”
The government says they are taking action but law enforcement is not the only answer.
Sushma Dureja is the Assistant Commissioner of family planning at the ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
“We have prosecuted 712 persons so far. These include doctors who had not registered their clinics, not kept records or disclosed the gender of the fetus to the parents. But this is a problem which cannot be dealt with at these levels. The entire society has to come together and find ways of dealing with it. What is most important here is that we have to bring about a mindset change.”
Both the campaigners and the government are keenly awaiting the results of the 2011 national census.
The headcount has just finished and early results will be released in the coming weeks.
The preference for male children is common in many parts of the world.