Over centuries in India, the female manifestation of divinity has been venerated and glorified as ‘Devi,’ the invincible and omnipotent that has both creative and destructive powers. She, the divine mother is worshipped in many forms, such as ‘Durga,’ (the creator), ‘Lakshmi,’ ‘Parvati,’ ‘Saraswati,’ (the preserver), and ‘Kali,’ (the destroyer). The Hindu mythology is an epic of her celestial gallantry, beauty, and artistry that kindles the eternal life that every Hindu desires. It is said that without her the male manifestation of the supreme is incomplete. She is revered in faith, invoked with prayers and fasting, and implored for blessings and forgiveness. But if this is the devoutness for ‘Devi,’ the feminine figure of adherence, then why does so much abhorrence still exist for infant girls in India? Why is that ‘she,’ the goddess is adorned in every Hindu temple, but ‘she,’ the female infant is slaughtered through violent means? Can devotion for god contradict with the principles of life? Or has religion become a gimmick of greater good?
Sadly, discussion on female infanticide and feticide has remained a mute argument despite substantial picketing against it. There are spoken and unspoken stories of the 50 million girls that have gone ‘missing’ on account of female infanticide and feticide over the past century in India. CBS news reported that in 2006, upto 10 million female fetuses had undergone selective abortion since 1976 in India. UNICEF reports that India has been experiencing a decline in child sex ratio. Based on the 1991 census, there were 947 girls per 1000 boys, a figure that had fallen to 927 girls per 1000 boys ten years later. The census as latest as 2011 reveals that for every 1000 boys, 914 girls are born. Today India’s population has hit 1.21 billion, but the country has been impuissant in ending sex-selective abortions. The figures indicate the widened gender imbalance that India has been experiencing in every decade since its independence.
Some horrific incidents of female infanticide in rural areas include mother killing the newborn through poisonous potion, especially if she has already bore a daughter in the past. Other incidents include killing the fetus while it is still in gestation after the sex has been confirmed through an illegal prenatal diagnostic test. Sometimes it is the in-laws that pressurize the daughter-in-law to sacrifice her unborn through a forceful abortion, as happened with Dr. Mitu Khurana (http://mitukhurana.wordpress.com). However, most distressing is the fact that such decimating evil is not just a conservative call in rural areas, but an oblivious practice among educated urban Indians too. Gender discrimination in India accounts mainly due to male patriarchy in society. Cultural mores like dowry, ignorance, and perspectives, such as sons as the sole bread winners, or sons as the superior ascendants are some other significant contributors to the heinous crime of female infanticide and feticide. Girls rarely are seen as propitious investment in the long term and, thus are discouraged and deprived from education and gaining independence. In the given scenario, attitudes towards infanticide become more permissive and less sinful.
Over the years, the Indian government has enacted anti-feticide laws and stipulations to prevent decreasing sex ratio though these efforts do not seem as rigorous. In addition, it is important to reform attitudes, which is a long drawn process of social change. Much action needs to be uprooted at individual and institutional level (private & public), including the corporate sector. Indian youth whose voices have the power to plead should be encouraged in societal change. As ideologues, the youth can educate and empower besides initiating radical changes at the policy level. For starters, spreading the word may be an action in its foundation. Also, the Indian Medical Association should undertake uncompromising and punitive action against those health centers or professionals that practice illegal abortions. Perhaps media can act as a goliath in discouraging negative messages and encouraging positive messages of parenting a girl child and the corporate sector can fund such powerful campaigns. In addition, state governments need to establish stringent statutes against corruption, which is one of the main causes of unreported infanticide and feticide cases. The Indian Diaspora abroad can also get involved in many ways.
A mindful way to end this post would be to remember a verse from the ‘Guru Granth Sahib,’ a pious religious scripture that says “of woman are we born, of woman conceived; to woman engaged, to woman married. Woman are befriended, by woman is the civilization continued. When woman dies, woman is sought for. It is by woman that the entire social order is maintained. Then why call her evil of whom great men are born?”
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