Female Foeticide: The Conveniently Forgotton Culprits

By Prabhakar Timble
16 May 2012 11:50 IST

The first episode of Aamir Khan's much talked about television show Satyamev Jayate dealt with the issue of female foeticide. This pilot chapter generated huge positive feedback and made this contentious issue explosive in rural and urban India. The stories of mothers who struggled to give birth to a girl child, because of the society's bias for `a boy' disturbed everybody.  The procrastination on the sex diagnostic centres and apathy of the government on erring doctors were brought centre stage once again. The frightening reality of the killing of unborn girls is more in urban households as compared to illiterate rural homes.  The visible partners in this crime are our learned doctors whom we worship as idols of health and Gods of life.

According to the Census of India 2011, child sex ratio is probably the lowest since Independence. Indicating a continuing preference for boys in society, the child sex ratio in India has dropped to 914 females against 1,000 males. We have a generation of young men, many amongst whom will find it very tough to get a life partner. Female foeticide is a menace which has eroded not just sex ratio statistics, but the entire social fabric of the nation. A woman, the creator of life in this world, is given scant importance with the distorted mentality spread across classes, castes, sects and faiths that the impending birth of a girl-child is undesirable.

The vicarious writers 

Largely, we single out only the sex-determination clinics, the “uneducated” men in white aprons, the culturally impoverished medics, the ‘professional’ quacks and politicians providing tacit support through inaction for the crime of female foeticide. Suspension of licences of diagnostic clinics and fast track courts to bring the criminals to justice, though necessary, are poor pathological prescriptions to deal with the virus. The real social criminals are hidden behind the curtains and are resting cosily buried in our ancient religious and divine wealth. The script of female foeticide and prejudice against the girl child is written, directed and produced by our religious texts and preachers, be it pundits, purohits, priests, imams, swamis and the modern brokers of spiritual products seen on Samskara and Sanskriti TV channels. The gullible families and the ‘needy’ doctors providing the foeticide products are mere stage actors. Our surgeons and medics are really destitute.  The cost associated with their speciality learning has made them penniless and they want to make a fast buck exploiting the social prejudices towards the girl child.

Why the female is unwanted or less wanted? Why this bigotry that the female is inferior stamped in the deep corners of our mind? Why the happiness diminishes and parents turn pale and gloomy on knowing the female foetus in the womb? Why the women’s behaviour was extremely limited in ancient times, much as the women of Afghanistan during the recent Taliban oppression?

The mythical Adam asserts his authority over Eve by naming her:  "......she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." In ancient times, one was believed to have authority over a person or thing by naming it. A number of verses in the religious literature of the Christians describe a woman as the property of her father. At marriage, her ownership was transferred to her new husband. A woman who has given birth to a boy is ritually unclean for 7 days. If the baby is a girl, the mother is unclean for 14 days. It would appear that the act of having a baby is a highly polluting act. To give birth to a girl is twice as polluting as is giving birth to a boy. The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women's right to speak in public, to the use of anaesthesia in childbirth. Today, the most organized and formidable opponent of women's social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Though Jesus preached a revolutionary message, the church leaders restored the status to the lowest level. As per the laws of Manu a girl, woman or even aged one cannot do anything independently even in her own house. A man can remarry if the wife dies but never the reverse. A woman must never be independent. As a child she should depend on father, in her youth on her husband and after his death to her sons.

The new commandments

Undoubtedly the State has a role. The politicians have the golden opportunity of coining campaigns like the “Beti Bachao” in Gujarat, the “Laadli Lakshmi” in Goa and the free education programmes for girls as enunciated in many States of India.  Revocation of licences and strict vigil on diagnostic centres are also ‘opportunities’ for government officers. To my mind, our religious leaders who even now hold a much wider and bigger sway over our minds and hearts can do the miracle of saving the girl child and arrest the murder of the female foetus just by propagating four simple new commandments.

First, daughters have equal rights to light the funeral pyre of the parents and participate in all the rituals associated with the event. Second, there is no religious sanction to the restrictions imposed on females during the menstrual cycle. Probably, this was the need of the times gone by but not of the times to come. Third, the concept of “Kanya Daan” built in rituals relating to marriage is abhorrent to law and human dignity and God would not authorise and endorse such practices under the changed social environment. Fourth, no rituals or fasts or yajnas or sacrificial offerings can deliver a male child.

In 2008 a congregation of saints, Shankaracharyas, eminent sadhus, celebrated politicians of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar asserted that female foeticide is a crime and it has nothing to do with the Hindu religion. However, none wants to shake the roots. The seeds of prejudice against the female child are sown by the sonnets in the ‘shastras’ of all major religions. The commandments of all major religions teach this ‘adharma’ in the name of dharma. We hold this preaching as Divine truth to be followed without question. It is these seeds which have grown into plants and matured into deep-rooted trees yielding the fruits of caste, the three D-flowers (dowry demands, dowry torture and dowry deaths) and the horror berries which kill the female foetus. These trees are to be uprooted. The best masons and skilled gardeners would be none else other than the modern human Gods, the Babas and Gurus who wield tremendous influence over professionals, men of science and the general masses. If they wish, they can engineer the recession in the sex diagnostic clinics and the female foeticide industry. I see the path for them to move from social culprits to human saints. But, is the road visible to them?

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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It is no secret that the Hindu religion has always placed women at a lower level than men. I have never seen a female priest at a religious ceremony, nor have I ever seen a female member of my family lead the ceremony. I don't even question this anymore; when has it ever been different? Women have it ingrained in them that their role in religion is cooking the prasad.

However, stopping female feticide won’t stop this attitude. Increasing the number of girls born won’t guarantee an increase the number of women alive in India. The law can, and should, punish the doctors and parents involved in this crime, but can it continuously keep watch on their well-being? They will still be abused, mistreated, and robbed of their rights.

The solution lies in education. Parents need to realize that a child’s gender doesn’t change the fact that they are a human being, a unique individual with a special spark inside of them. Given a chance, that special spark could one day raise that parent’s head high, whether it’s a girl or a boy.

- Mita Naik, Wausau, WI | 20 th May 2012 05:59


Excellent article, hitting out at a right place. Our religious teachings and customs & traditions is a major hurdle in overcoming the inhuman act of female foeticide.

Last year, I had a debate on the issue in Prudent. Shankaracharya (don't remember which one) had come. He said female foeticide is zero per cent among Muslims.

The story he told was also quite interesting. The Muslim community all over the world was killing even the born girl child in a most brutal manner. But Prophet Mohammad changed the whole scenario. He told them that the door of heaven opens for the parents if a girl is born in the house. More the number of girls and more wide opens the door to heaven. Since then, birth of a girl child is a celebration in every Muslim house.

- Sandesh Prabhudesai, Panaji | 16 th May 2012 21:31


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