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Save The Girl Child

Save The Girl Child

October 20, 2011

Where have India’s baby girls gone?

Where have India’s baby girls gone?

Many of them have probably gone underground - literally - as was evident from a news byte on TV last week showing that a farmer, from Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, while tilling his piece of land, accidentally discovered a female infant who was buried alive and left to die but who, by some miracle, survived. All infant girls are not that lucky. They succumb to the diverse ways adopted to snub out their lives as soon as they are born…suffocation with plastic bags or pillows, poisoning, strangulation and even drowning in milk: all ingenious ways of taking a life that is precious, a life that can give meaning to many other lives if only it is allowed to reach out to them. Apart from killing girls at birth, there are also rampant instances of the so called ‘honor killing’ where murder of girls is justified in the name of upholding values!

Two of my colleagues were recently blessed with a baby girl each. However, one of them out rightly refused, the other was reluctant, for celebration of any kind on the premise that their spouses had ‘only’ given birth to girls! These two men were from two different states of India, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Therefore I concluded that from this small incident it was not possible to arrive at a regional profiling of any kind regarding the apathy towards the birth of a girl child and that this is an Indian attitude.

However, if one were to look at census data there is a clear regional trend visible in the reducing ratio of girls to boys. From the data available, it appears that the worst affected states are Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Sikkim where there are less than 900 girls to every 1000 boys, followed by Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. The girl / boy ratio in these regions hovers between 900 and 950: 1000. The ratio is robust and healthy in the four southern states and in the hill regions Himachal, Uttarakhand, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura. Only in Kerala do girls outnumber boys.

Such an imbalance in the demographic matrix of a country did not appear overnight. Its causes run deep down in the collective consciousness of a populace. This apathy towards the birth of a baby girl, how far back does it go in History? The status of women in early Indian society was an enviable one. They could avail of the highest learning and there were many seers and philosophers among them. Ghosha, Apala, Lopamudra, Vishwvara, Surya, Indrani, Yami, Romasha – all these names highlight the position and the esteem which women enjoyed in the Vedic period. As far as the history of ordinary womenfolk goes, their position on the whole was free. Girls were normally not married till they were in their late teens and sometimes even later. They had a fair amount of choice in the selection of a mate, which is evidenced by the – then prevalence of the "swayamvara-system". The cases of Sita, Damayanti, Draupadi, Shakuntala are instances of the choice women enjoyed in choosing their husbands.

Nonetheless, there are episodes in the lives of these same prominent women in the Indian epics and myths that can be questioned as revealing quite another status of women in India. For example, was Shakuntala abandoned by her birth parents? Was the amnesia of her husband voluntary? Why was Sita found by King Janaka in a field? Was she left there by her birth parents to die? Later on in her life why was she required to time and again prove her purity and fidelity to her husband? Why is her death shrouded in mystery? The reference to ‘patal prabesh’ could allude to either suicide or murder. Draupadi in the Mahabharatha was subjugated to play wife to five men at the same time while apparently she had given her heart away to only Arjuna. Some analysts argue that the wrath of this scorned woman was the major cause of the bloody war that forms the central motif of the epic. Is there any substance to historians’ claims that the invasion of foreigners into our adversely affected the position of women resulting in the rigid systems like child marriage, the shaving of widows’ heads, the widespread practice of dowry and Sati? That a dowry had to be paid, or still has to be paid, to get a girl married, does it not in a way define her as a liability that has to be passed on from one man to another? This same liability had to be burnt alive on the same pyre as her husband as subsequent to his demise she was perceived to be not just another mouth to feed, but also a corrupting influence on society, and therefore again a burden as she would no longer serve any honorable ‘purpose’.

In post independent India, the Indian woman has improved her social status considerably. Her legal disabilities with regard to marriage, inheritance, guardianship and adoption have been removed. She inherits, by right, the property of her father on the basis of equality with her brothers. With regard to her economic rights, she can hold and acquire property and can enter public services and can take to any profession. Things are quite as they should be at least on paper but the question remains as to whether it is the same in practice, whether she herself actively contributes to creating and maintaining this perception of girls as only second best? There is an undeniable prevalent perception that the girl is not expected to add to the family income or financially support her parents in their old age. So the girl’s education is secondary to that of a boy. In modern India, however, girls are educated at par with boys at least in the upper, upper-middle and middle classes. But, wonder of wonders, I am told that the degrees and diplomas that many, if not all, of these girls earn help to make their marriage prospects better! So it is commonplace even today to find Indian girls with Master’s and PhD’s, Engineering and Accounting qualifications not in any active profession! It is understandable if a woman wants to take a break from her career post child-birth and return a few years later. But I find it unfathomable that qualified young girls actually look forward to domestic bliss after marriage.

If the allusion to such a broad spectrum of things seems irrelevant to the primary issue I started of with - female foeticide -I can only say that issues must be looked at from inside out. In a country of more than a billion population, any proposed cure from the externals, be it through moral policing or legislation, imposing penalties or threatening with imprisonment, cannot uproot this evil. Things can improve rather with the spread of education, real education that empowers a woman, with the active intervention of men and women alike who would think differently to lead a change. To begin with parents of girls must endeavor to build self-esteem in their girls, instill into them that they belong not only in the family but also in society, that they can and should make a difference, to leave the world a better place than they found it. Then perhaps there will be widespread jubilation and celebration at the birth of every girl child.

Photo credit: Salvatore Barbera 

21 Comments

  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    14.12.11 07:28 PM
    @ad,

    Yet no one India has so far thought of taking to the streets to protest against killing girl children. Children belong to schools and not in households working as slaves for people who can't do it themselves.

    It’s the parents of Indian men who demand money from would be daughter in laws parents. That's one of many reasons why girls are not wanted in a family.

    Nevertheless, you can believe me when I say, Just before I married my Indian wife I was asked how much dowry was I expecting. Without any hesitation I said to them I have enough money to look after your daughter, you can keep yours.

    If all Indian men do what I did, may be it's a way to save that girl child. By the way I won't need any bouquets.
  • ad
    By
    ad
    14.12.11 06:26 PM
    what a sick culture - truly evil, especially the educated, upper class killing their daughters
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    09.12.11 01:32 PM
    Why should a girl child in India be pushed into prostitution if there are enough people to donate for their education. For example http://childrencharityindia.wordpress.com/. I donate to a campaign by Caritas in Germany to collect funds for orphanages in India.

    There is enough evidence from Caritas to show that the money reaches where it should.

    The whole village (all Germans, me being the only outsider) donate very generously on an ongoing basis. We are the lucky ones who can afford to give everything for our own children but not to a poor child in India.

    We are so obsessed that our own child must be the best, get the best even though they sometimes stand up against cleaning their own mess.

    What I always think is what if it was my daughter was the one who had work as a domestic servant to avoid prostitution and how certain can I be that a guy of the household where she works does not rape her? Is there nothing we can do to change things? I have have nothing much more to say.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    09.12.11 12:56 PM
    @Harry

    Yes! it's always some else's child who has to be employed while our own are educated to stand on equal footing with man in this world. I would rather spend money on educating someone else's girl if I can afford to employ a domestic servant and do the domestic work myself. To keep my own ass clean, I don't need someone else's child's help.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    09.12.11 03:30 AM
    @ Rajpriya

    If children are not employed then they will be pushed in to prostitution and other illegal things, then what will happen, if you say no to domestic employment of children . As much as you and I don't like this but we got no choice but to let this happen.

    HARRY
  • rajpriya
    By
    rajpriya
    04.12.11 11:47 PM
    @Susmita,

    I read an article about two slum girls who had to get up at 5 am to work as domestic servants then go to school at 8 am. to pay their school fees. In the homes where they worked, were never offered a cup of tea or coffee leave alone food the news item said.

    The father is supposed to be an alcoholic and the mother suffering from a terminal illness. The news was reported in the Expressbuzz, June this year. All my attempts to send 1300,-INRs a month to each of them, to enable them to complete their education failed until last month.

    I contacted the school administrator a lady by phone end of June who after taking down my email address never got back to me ever.

    Finally I arranged a way to help them through some relations. I am making a journey in two weeks to India to complete what I started in June, that is to see that the money goes for their education ( not the old man' alcohol) and my wife will be in charge of buying clothes.

    I never could come to terms with the fact that my own daughter died prematurely born just after two weeks of her birth, a long time ago. Nothing sadder ever happened to me in my life so far but nevertheless I have to live with something that I was destined to miss. I am doing a few things in her name hoping that would make her happy wherever she is today.

    I hope people who read this will not employ children as domestic help but help needy children even the smallest way possible

    Rajpriya
  • Vivek
    By
    Vivek
    28.10.11 05:34 PM
    Percentage of girls is going down......but no worries..........GOD is great he will balance it. He has to KILL extra males males with some or other means. SO think, do you want this to happen and get killed your Vansh ka diya? No..? then save girl Child
  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com
    By
    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com
    28.10.11 07:24 AM
    Nice article. It's a tragedy that we are still witnessing such tragedy in this 21st century. There should be harsher punishment for domestic violence.
  • bemoneyaware
    By
    bemoneyaware
    24.10.11 10:54 AM
    Very touching..Things are changing albeit slowly..in urban areas birth of a daughter is also a reason for celebration. But yes the percentage is very low. What I really liked about the article was the reference to ancient events..birth of Shakuntala, Sita. Never thought that way..
    I just wonder if it is better in the long run. Don't get me wrong..will the girl who is not welcomed would grow well.
  • jerly
    By
    jerly
    24.10.11 08:57 AM
    It is common for women not to want to be responsible to earn a living. They may ofcourse do a job that they have a passion for
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    23.10.11 08:30 PM
    Is there a cure for murder, which has taken place in our culture and society this long ? I don't think so and I hope you are right SUSMITA , when you said regarding prevention better than cure.

    The only solution I see is put the lot on the ship and sink them in the middle of the sea. I am not violent or angry person, but when i here this kind of stuff in modern times it hurts me like hell and I will not apologise for this.
    HARRY
  • Susmita Sen
    By
    Susmita Sen
    23.10.11 03:31 PM
    Vyankatesh,
    A very informative post there with the issue almost clinically diagnosed. Thanks for sharing.
    Rajlakshmi,
    Thank you...and we live in hope.
  • Rajlakshmi
    By
    Rajlakshmi
    23.10.11 01:20 PM
    brilliantly written article... it's a real shame that we still live in times when such barbaric acts of abandoning and murdering of girl child is prevalent.
  • Vyankatesh
    By
    Vyankatesh
    23.10.11 12:35 PM
    A nice post on an important topic.

    Catch my thoughts at http://vyanks.blogspot.com/2011/04/save-girl-child.html" rel="nofollow">Save The Girl Child
  • kofykat
    By
    kofykat
    23.10.11 11:33 AM
    It is sad. But for the most part, the only way that the death of the girl child could be reduced slightly if anyone practising dowry is given a serious sentence. And anyone involved in domestic violence is given a through taste of their own medicine. Nice article.
  • Susmita Sen
    By
    Susmita Sen
    23.10.11 10:55 AM
    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts here...
    Roy has a very valid point about the paucity of retirement plans or health plans for the poorer segments in India where there is maximum disdain for the girl child.
    Harry, I agree with you that all women who were idolized in History may not have been immune to the widespread stigma against women prevalent in India. But think about it, how many criminals can be put behind bars? Is that a practical solution? Is prevention not better than cure? Eradication of any evil practice must strike at the root. In that sense I see education and financial & legal empowerment of women as more desirable/ feasible options.
    And thanks Dee Kay, I have myself not seen the film “Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women”, will try and watch if it is downloadable.
    One last request: let the discussion continue, not only in cyberspace, in real time and space as well. Let's spread the word against atrocities committed against women, and especially against defenseless unborn foetuses & baby girls.
  • Dee Kay
    By
    Dee Kay
    21.10.11 08:46 PM
    I think "Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women" should be shown to everybody of child bearing age. It's a film that imagines a world where female foeticide continues and the results are horrific.
  • tys
    By
    tys
    21.10.11 04:08 PM
    i cud never understand this...

    well, in the future perhaps these idiots will all be pandavas with 1 wife...that will teach them...

    but hopefully these backward thinking monkeys will die before that happens..those who do not respect others lives do not deserve it either.
  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    20.10.11 10:19 PM
    Already there are no girls for guys to marry. They'll understand when there are no girls at all. It's so sickening, I can't even think of it for too long.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    20.10.11 09:29 PM
    Is it possible to save a girl child in india, I don'd think so . Sinces beiging of time , our culture have murdered girls and came with the idea to justify it with, and we have bought their bullshit till now.

    Women will always be second class citizen in india as long as our attitude toward them remain same.

    I can't speak from history point of view because looking at what's happning now and things that have happened to women would you bielive it ??????.

    You named all the great women in your article, do you think they were treated fairly and if your answer is no, then histrory cannot bielived, to me it is only mayth, and that's how it should be treated . It is also a point of view of idealist and that's the other reason it should not be relied on as truth.

    I am not disputing the figures and other things in your article. The truth will always be truth, which in this case is murder of the girls.

    We call our selves civilised , are we civilised ? when we can't treat another human being with same curtsey as the one with dangly bits.

    One thing I don't agree with article is , about educating people . Murder of a human being is murder weather it's boy or girl and all of us know it's wrong but it's allowed to happen even today in the name of culture and society. Those who commit this crime and it is a crime, should be locked up and keys thrown away.

    I have a daughter who is privatley educated in uk but not my son's, so she can stand on equal footing with man in this world , even at times she is pain in the neck , but i can't stop loving her. This is not about geography but it's about doing the right thing.

    HARRY
  • Roy
    By
    Roy
    20.10.11 02:29 PM
    Hi, I liked ur research on the blog and the blog is as good as it could be. I think main problem is in rural areas where people are more dependent on farming or a small job in other cities. These people don't have any pension or retirement plan or any saving as they hardly earn enough to meet the minimum necessities of life. Due to these reason they r dependent on son nd his family for old age wen they can't work. I think this is one of the most important reason for not liking girl child. If we could do something to ensure their old age then I m sure people will change their attitude towards female feticide.

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