Justice for India’s Missing Millions

How long will it take our venerable netas to wake up, really wake up to the problem of female foeticide? What will it take to shake them out of their stupor? How do we get them to actually do something about it, as opposed to merely paying lip-service once in a long while?

Or are we already too far gone for anything to be done about it?

This link on IHM’s recent post drove me to despair. I mean, here’s a village which is actually facing the consequences of the highly skewed gender ratio–its young men admit to fearing that they may never get married–and yet the village elders deny that this sorry state of affairs could be due to rampant, unchecked sex-selective abortions. The more acute shortage of girls in that part of the country could be attributed to better diet which makes their women bear only sons, they claim with a straight face.

Such mindsets are too deeply ingrained to respond to the lame media campaign we have witnessed so far–that much is evident for all to see. .All that the media focuses on anyway is how sex-selective abortions are illegal and how offenders could land in jail. What good can such messages be when everyone knows that offenders are almost never caught! (Consider this–all of 28 people have been convicted in the past five years under the Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) Act in the state of Haryana, which has the dubious distinction of having the worst sex-ratio in the country as per the latest census report.)

These mindsets will remain in place until girls come to be seen to be as good or bad a ‘budhape ka sahara’ as boys, until dowry is done away with–in short, until arranged marriages become a thing of the past. While some of these changes are already underway, it is reasonable to assume that one whole generation or two will have lapsed before they come to be the norm rather than the exception.

Till such a time comes, the government needs to do more than sit around waiting for these  obnoxious medieval attitudes to rectify themselves at their own sweet pace. The PNDT laws need to be given more teeth and implemented rigorously, and the government needs to figure out how.

I find it unbelievable  that a state, and one which is not doing too bad economically at that, with such an abundance of resources and manpower at its disposal, cannot stop its people from killing their unborn daughters in millions. Why is the Indian state so supremely indifferent to such pressing social issues requiring urgent attention? Are our politicians afraid of losing favour with those people– remember there are millions of them, so they make a large group– who indulge in this crime?

Why don’t we make sex-selective abortions a crime on a par with pre-meditated murder ? Surely drastic situations demand drastic measures? Today, a sex-selective abortion is apparently available at a price ranging from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 20,000. Maybe the threat of  more severe punishment in the event of being caught might drive up the prices so much as to make it out of reach of most people ? I am thinking in terms of cutting losses. The affluent in any case will continue to go to Bangkok to get it done.

Which brings me back to our netas. How many of of our political bigwigs have you ever heard expressing even a passing concern at the genocide against human foetuses carrying a Y chromosome? Renuka Chowdhary and Prafull Patel are the only ones which come to my mind. What prevents Manmohan Singh( a father of three daughters himself), Sonia Gandhi, P Chidambaram, Mayawati ,  Priyanka Gandhi, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj or indeed Narendra Modi from coming forward and publicly condemning the malaise and/or  expressing pride in being parents of daughters?

They probably cannot be bothered with wasting their breath over anything that does not involve one or the other votebank. This apathy on the part of our leaders, real or perceived, plays no mean part in shaping the attitudes of our law-enforcing agencies.

I do think it might give the cause a shot in the arm to have the Prime Minister and high profile politicos come on television and speak about it. And it wouldn’t hurt to rope in celebrities like SRK , Aamir khan or Sachin Tendulkar either.

Adverts on the issue on television, few as they are , are either singularly unremarkable or downright cringe-worthy.Take a look at this ad, for instance, which was recently doing the rounds on facebook. I am sure our ad-gurus can come up with better stuff than this. A well-worked out, sustained, multi-pronged media onslaught might yet make a difference. The reason why such a campaign hasn’t yet happened might have to do with paucity of funds–yeah right, these netas again.Private media companies can hardly be expected to spend a bomb on a large-scale public interest venture. The government has to do it.

Does it have the will?

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17 Responses to Justice for India’s Missing Millions

  1. //What prevents Manmohan Singh( a father of three daughters himself), Sonia Gandhi, P Chidambaram, Mayawati , Priyanka Gandhi, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj or indeed Narendra Modi from coming forward and publicly condemning the malaise and/or expressing pride in being parents of daughters?//
    And then I saw the video, it’s not just cliched, but such thinking is actually the cause of India’s girl-child aversion, let me blog about it, I found it very sad and very disturbing.

    • IHM, I had come upon this ad when a friend shared the video on facebook, saying that it moved him to tears.
      I responded that I too found it disturbing but for entirely different reasons–you tell people that they should want to have daughters but only if they’re given a guarantee beforehand that they won’t have to spend either on their education or on their marriage? You tell them they should not kill a female foetus since she apparently already has a ‘bhaiya’, so is killing female foetuses okay if the elder child is female?
      It is so terrible, you cannot condemn it enough.

  2. Unknown Indian,

    I don’t think the political leaders are going to solve anything. The most obvious reason is that in a democracy, leaders do what gets them votes. Since sex selective abortion is clearly not a top issue for most people in the country, they’re pretty unlikely to push it hard.

    But it actually gets more subtle than that. You seem passionate about the feminist abuse. Let’s say you get elected to power from a constituency in rural Haryana, perhaps one of these villages. Happy situation, but here’s the hitch: the people in your constituency don’t give a rat’s ass about feminism or the campaign against infanticide. As an honest, dedicated, democratically elected leader, you wouldn’t even be SUPPOSED to raise issues that antagonize the people you represent! No matter how much of a feminist you are, you’d have no real mandate to do anything about this stuff, even though you might have the power.
    And this is a utopia scenario! Haryana politicians are no feminists. Real world political leaders are almost always both power hungry and opportunistic, and are therefore very unlikely to make this into a frontline issue until more people begin to make a noise about it.

    The bottom line is, political solutions do not and cannot MOLD peoples’ mindsets. It is mindsets which mold political solutions. A widespread Feminist movement must, by it’s very nature, start at the grassroots. It cannot be a top down process. The government can be made to provide support for it, but government in itself will never be a SOLUTION. It can only be an enabler.

    Until more women become financially independent and literate, basically until the whole social fabric of this place changes, legislation is not going to help. The social fabric IS changing, in fact, slowly but surely. But it’s not going to be a quick process. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I think bloggers like you are doing a phenomenal job raising the consciousness of people who don’t want it to be raised.

    For that, I congratulate you. I can feel the pain in this article. For what it’s worth me express my own solidarity with it.

    Cheers!
    CE

    • Thank you, CE, for your thoughtful comment.

      It is true that the social fabric is changing , but given the sheer size and complexity of Indian society, it might be decades before there is a perceptible change in the mindset of our people on the whole. And by that time we may already have a full-blown social catastrophe on our hands.

      I quite agree that politicians in India do not give a damn about anything not involving a ‘votebank’ and certainly it is impossible for a lone MP , however well-meaning, to change anything. But I am not so sure about this being a standard pitfall of democracy as a whole– western democracies regularly legislate on social/socio-economic issues, sometimes knowing full well that those legislation might be unpopular with the electorates.

      Adding more teeth to PNDT Act and ensuring rigorous enforcement might not be as unpopular as it might seem (except perhaps in pockets of rural Haryana, the khap country.) The way I see it, most people understand that female foeticide is a terrible thing to be allowed to happen (the reason why those village elders in that report refused to admit that it happened) and most would like to have stricter laws.

      It is like when you have a large department store and no CCTV cameras or security personnel, people will just be tempted to shoplift in large numbers. After a whole lot of such incidents, if the management finally decides to install CCTV, hire adequate security and turn those caught over to the police, will the shoplifters be up in arms? Unlikely. I think most customers will welcome it. Human beings intrinsically like to play fair, as long as they are assured that everyone else is being made to play fair too. Maybe I am being too idealistic/optimistic here.

      I do think that the problem here lies with Indian politicians rather than the system of governance we have.

      They lack the will. They find it too convenient to look the other way.

      I mean, I understand if they don’t want to act against graft–its because they are the biggest beneficiaries of it. I also understand why they don’t come down upon obscenely extravagant weddings in an attempt to curb dowry–its because the most lavish weddings are those of their own children,siblings etc. It is the lure of money/power that drew most of them into politics in the first place and they just cannot bring themselves to not show off their wealth/ power now that they have got it finally. But why can’t they do more to stop female foeticide–surely they don’t stand to gain anything by allowing it to keep happening?

      While we wait for mindsets to change, it will be a good idea to keep up the pressure on our politicians and goad them into doing more. I sometimes wonder if it will take another Anna Hazare type movement to make the government at least sit up and take notice. Because we have no hope at all if it doesn’t.

      By the way CE, my username is Scribblehappy (SH for short) 🙂

  3. CE has eloquently expressed much of my own thoughts on this.
    I feel doubly distressed when I note that even after having Indira Gandhi as our prime minister for so many years, and now having Sonia at the position where she can influence matters, Pratibha Patil as President, and with assertive fearless ladies like Mayawati, Mamta Bannerjee, Jayalalithaa as Chief Ministers the position of women in our society is still pathetic.

    I feel nature will have it’s revenge in Haryana. If the position worsens it is men who will suffer later. The demand for women will increase. Men willl pay a dowry instead of asking for it (no, that is not something I am comfortable with). The position of women will improve because men will want it to happen. Till then I guess there is nothing we can do except keep these awareness programmes going on. Bloggers like you and IHM, are doing great work in spreading awareness even though it is but a drop in the ocean.
    I feel bloggers in Hindi and our regional languages must take up this issue. Their reach is far wider.

    Regards
    GV
    `

    • GV,
      Unfortunately, most women-politicians are particularly loathe to take up anything even remotely related to female oppression. They perhaps fear being branded as feminists( a word which almost always carries negative connotations) and also being considered too wooly-headed, impractical and prone to raising a hue and cry on trivial issues . They strive to be seen as as good or bad as the male politicians in order to gain wider acceptability and thus seem to be even more reluctant to pay attention to such issues than their male counterparts.

      .

  4. Pingback: Do you think this video can make Indian parents want to have daughters? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  5. Ah, sorry about the wrong username.

    So. SH,

    I don’t think Western governments do that great on unpopular socio-economic legislation either.

    Let me offer the US as an example. Gay rights have been a huge issue there since before I was born. It took DECADES of intense lobbying for the Federal and State governments to come up with some kind of legislation that protects sexual minorities. And many people still believe that it’s nowhere near enough. The pro-life/pro-choice debate is another example. In the United States, a woman’s legal right to abort a fetus was established not by the Legislature, but by the Judiciary, in what is perhaps one of the most famous legal disputes in the world (Roe vs. Wade).
    Remember that we’re talking about the US here, which is a far more mature, streamlined democracy than India is right now.

    All democracies find it hard to push unpopular policies. But what democracies almost NEVER push are things that no one really cares about that much. Things like stopping feticide. Yes, people pay lip service to the ideal, like they pay lip service to stopping greenhouse emissions. But if so many people think it’s such a terrible thing, where are the agitations? Where are the banners? Where is the Anna Hazare of THIS movement? Where are the open letters to the Prime Minister? Why isn’t the opposition jumping down the government’s throat? The truth is that people don’t CARE enough. It doesn’t HURT them enough. It doesn’t cause that searing, burning sensation deep within them, that pushes a human to action.

    So what if we DO manage to sharpen the PNDT Act and improve enforcements? Will the lives of the girls we’ve “saved” be worth an hour’s purchase? Will they really be much better off than dead? Would we really achieve anything by bringing them into a life of submission and abuse?
    What’s the point of getting them into a world where they are hated for the crime of existing?

    Feticide isn’t the central issue. The pathological hatred of women IS. Feticide is the symptom. Hatred is the malaise. Feticide is a crust. Hatred is the diamond-hard core.

    Even if we enact the most stringent punishments possible for feticide, and even if enforcement is ubiquitous, all we’d achieve is a token victory. Sure, we’d have more women around, but so what? As far as I’m concerned, we ALREADY have a full blown social catastrophe on our hands! A better sex ratio won’t change a damn thing. Unless the social fabric changes, we’re headed for disaster, feticide or no feticide. There’s just nothing you can do about it except making as much noise as possible.

    Sorry for the insanely long comment!

    • I get your point. It probably is too much to expect our government to do any darn thing about the problem. I still wonder if Western governments would have been as complacent and laid-back if faced with such a problem, but then we get the government we deserve, don’t we?

      What I vehemently disagree with is your opinion that its not worth even trying to save the lives of those girls.

      //So what if we DO manage to sharpen the PNDT Act and improve enforcements? Will the lives of the girls we’ve “saved” be worth an hour’s purchase? Will they really be much better off than dead? Would we really achieve anything by bringing them into a life of submission and abuse?//

      A life of submission and abuse is worse than not getting to live at all? Lets consider the women at the bottom of the pyramid–our domestic helpers, who more often than not are stuck with alcoholic, violent husbands . I have had occasion to interact with my own household helpers, most of them women who have had pretty hard lives . Not ONE of them ever said that they’d rather die than live their hard lives. Not ONE of them appeared to regret that they were ever even born.They’ve enjoyed life at their own level, found joy in indulging in little luxuries, loved their kids, had hopes for the future. They obviously find their lives pretty much worth living.
      And lets not kid ourselves, sex-selective abortions is hardly limited to the poorer, less educated sections. They are actually more common in educated,relatively affluent families, where women don’t even have it that bad. Gender bias and its insidious repercussions like dowry, yes, but surely abuse and submission is not that much the norm?.In any case its not for us to pass judgement on whose life is worth living and whose isn’t.

      //What’s the point of getting them into a world where they are hated for the crime of existing?//

      In effect, that is akin to making them pay for not being wanted, all because of an absurdly patriarchal system that does not value them. How fair is it? Take it a little further and one may well say, whats the point of letting these xyz people live, because everyone only ever hates them–lets just kill them to relieve them of the misery!
      Let the people hate girls all they want, as long as they let them live.

  6. My era says:

    This is an issue very close to my heart for various reasons. Mainly because it brought about a sea change in my life (I’ll blog about it in details soon).

    But I agree with CE and Vishwanathjee on the point that nomatter how much we push the politicians to back this serious issue, it boils down to the masses, us who make up the country and whose actions make a massive impact. An impact countable in millions.

    It’s our deeds over the past decades that is responsible for all this, so the change too has to come from us.

  7. “Nudge” “Nudge”
    It’s been 8 days.
    Time for another “scribble” from you.
    Have I to keep coming back here to check or has my email address been included in your mailing list? I remember I had subscribed.

    Regards
    GV

  8. Pingback: Being Pro-Choice In India | Scribblehappy

  9. savedaughters19 says:

    Beginning of December, a program aired on ABC 20/20 about India’s deadly secret. It was about 40 million girls who have vanished. All aborted before they could take their first breath. Their crime was that they were girls. As you know the gender ratios is India are terribly skewed about 914 girls per 1,000 boys. In Punjab it is about 833 girls per1,000 boys. Unfortunately this happens amongst the privileged and the educated also. The only woman who has brought cases against her in-laws and husband is Dr Mitu Khurana. Please watch her story and sign her petition for justice. Please give those 40 million girls silenced forever, a voice. Please forward this to as many friends as possible.

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/a-mothers-fight-to-save-her-daughters/

    http://gendercide.epetitions.net/
    and here is the link to her website-
    http://www.mitukhurana.wordpress.com

    After you sign the petition, there will be a request from the site for a donation. This donation is totally discretionary and does not in any way or form affect or benefit Dr Mitu Khurana. All she is asking for is your support (signing this petition) so that pressure can be put on the Indian authorities that the whole world is watching them in total disbelief as they make a young mother run around in vain for four years in search of justice

  10. Pingback: When The Truth Is Spoken | Scribblehappy

  11. Scribby says:

    I tried to view that ad but I guess the voices have been muted out…though I had seen this commercial sometime back so I know the girl child’s monologue ….

    I agree with your reasons of concern regarding this video…

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