Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


South Asia has many political, economic, social and cultural problems. While much is written and talked about the political and economic issues, which can easily be attributed to laxity or failure of governmental policies, less is said about social and cultural issues to which every one is a party in varying degrees. One such issue is the relegation of women to a secondary status. This is true among all religious communities and all castes of South Asia. Female infanticide is the extreme expression of anti-women prejudice.


Preference for a male child is well known in South Asia. Hindu religious texts uphold the superiority of males over females and the parent text of Ayurveda, the Atharvaveda, even has a recipe for conceiving a male child.


In the past, prejudice against the female manifested itself as neglect for girls leading to a higher mortality and sickness in the female than in the male child. Consequently, there was already a deficit of females. According to evolutionary laws, at birth there is an excess of males than females – approximately 107 males for 100 females. Because, genetically, females are sturdier than males, the number of males and females is expected to be about the same at a higher age. It follows that a deficit of females relative to males reflects less care for females than males; this was bad enough, but it got much worse with the availability of medical gadgetry, such as Ultrasound, which can unmistakably identify the sex of the unborn child.  The availability of this technology has led to a quantum jump in the selective abortion of female foetuses.


The use of Ultrasound for sex detection is illegal in India but so are many other medical practices. When abortion was illegal, abortionists were available in plenty; so are doctors who will identify the sex of the unborn and let it be known to parents either directly or by some obvious signals like thumbs up, distributing sweets etc. Earlier, female infanticide was an urban phenomenon but it is much more widespread now, especially with the availability of portable Ultrasound equipment.


In 2006, a team of Canadian doctors led by Dr. Jha reported in the British medical Journal Lancet (V. 327, – 211-218, 2006) a deficit of ten million female babies. The article below, reprinted from the Hindu gives a similar piece of depressing news. The more prosperous the state, the greater is the incidence of female infanticide; such that figures for Punjab are truly alarming.


Social prejudices, some of them in the name of religion, have caused much greater havoc than the worst of natural causes such as famines and state repression. Moreover, a deficit of women has given rise to another practice of women’s oppression. There have been reports that men from Punjab literally purchase women from Bihar as brides and subject them to forcible intercourse with all the brothers in a family. If female infanticide continues, this practice will become much more common and the victims would be poor destitute families.


From various reports it seems that the female infanticide in more common among Hindus than in Muslims and Christians and is unknown among Parsees. But there are other ways of punishing girls and women among Muslims and this crusade against Muslim girls is becoming a weapon in the hands of the Taliban. The story of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan is a glaring example.


Can South Asia, especially India, survive if an absolute curb on this abominable practice of female infanticide is not put in place soon? In the Mughal and the colonial period a number of reform movements were launched, such as the movement against sati, and they did have some effect. No such movement is in sight now. Female infanticide is of no concern to any of the political parties because it is resorted to by their members and supporters and it cannot be targeted by the central or state governments. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the Indian government to put a stop to female infanticide, and do whatever it takes in order to effectively end this cruel practice.

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