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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 12

In Celebration of Womanhood on March 8


Monday 10 March 2008, by SC


In the midst of the national euphoria generated by the cricket triumphs recorded by the Indian seniors and U-19 cubs in Australia and Kuala Lumpur we are observing the International Women’s Day on March 8.

On this occasion one needs to give more than a cursory and one-time attention to the most vital problem relating to womenfolk in general: the subject of ‘missing women’ due to the abhorrent practice of female foeticide (through the use of highly advanced techniques of sex determination followed by termination of the female foetus) currently thriving in prosperous localities of North India in particular.

The grim warning came seven years ago in the 2001 Census itself. Over the years the average child sex ratio has shown an adverse trend—it has been falling progressively: from 976 in 1961 to 964 in 1971 to 962 in 1981 to 945 in 1991 to 927 (an all-time low) in 2001; in fact the 2001 Census showed the States of Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and even Maharashtra having skewed child sex ratios falling below 800 girls for every 1000 boys. Among the worst affected were Mehsana (Gujarat) where the ratio is 798, Kurukshetra (Haryana)—770, Fatehgarh Saheb (Punjab)—754.

There has been no change for the better in this regard since then. Some reports suggest a marginal improve-ment in the condition in Delhi but the reality is different in the posh colonies of South Delhi in particular.

According to UN estimates, 2000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day; as per the government’s own admission, 10 million girls have been killed by the parents before or immediately after birth in the last 20 years. Female foeticide has doubtless given real impetus to this trend of late.

Laws have, of course, been made stringent to deal with the problem keeping pace with technological progress. Yet illegal sex determinations and consequent terminations of the female foetus continue unabated.

The Bombay High Court, in a landmark judgment on September 6, 2007, found it “shocking” that a couple from Andheri (Mumbai) moving the court could make such a submission that for a “less advanced society” like India where a “patriarchal mindset exists” and where a “girl child is not socially accepted”, it is better that such children are not born. (This argument is also propped up by the notion that if you spend Rs 5000 on sex determination and termination of the female foetus, you don’t have to spend Rs 5 lakhs on dowry for the daughter’s marriage later.)

In their verdict the judges, comprising the High Court’s Division Bench, unequivocally declared:

Sex selection is not only against the spirit of the Indian Constitution, it also insults and humiliates womenhood. It violates a woman’s right to life.

The judgment further observed, albeit with a tinge of sorrow:

It is unfortunate that people should be under the influence of outdated notions regarding sons versus daughters. As long as such notions exist, the girl child will be unwanted.

This is the crux of the matter that needs to be addressed forthwith.

The problem of female foeticide in its latest version was sometime ago presented in all its aspects by the Member-Secretary of the Maharashtra State Commission for Women who thereafter eloquently explained:
The attempts at legitimising the vetoing of female life even before it appears is worse than the earlier abortion related violence in the womb, precisely because it is so sanitised and relies on seemingly sane arguments against the policing of ‘human rights’ in a democracy in the intensely personal matter of procreation. This needs to be resisted at all cost.

The views in favour of female foeticide must be fought tooth and nail for these unmistakably endanger womanhood. As a woman activist in Mumbai indignantly asks,

Can we allow Indian women to become endangered species? Shall we be bothered only about endangered wild life—tigers, lions etc.? Massive resources are invested on ‘Operation Tiger’. When shall we start ‘Operation Girl Child’?

The same activist asserted that the notion “better Rs 5000 now than Rs 5 lakhs later” can be countered by insisting on a simultaneous battle against the outrageous practice of female foeticide and the pernicious custom of dowry. For this battle is intertwined with the struggle for gender justice and empowerment of women that the International Women’s Day seeks to promote and enhance.

To be sure, this cannot be kept within the four walls of the women’s movement. For the ramifications of female foeticide are indeed far-reaching affecting humanity as a whole. That is why it is necessary for all of us (not women alone) to take the pledge, here and now, to launch and sustain the war against this inhuman phenomenon, long overdue. And there is no better occasion for it than on March 8 that celebrates womanhood in general.

March 7, S.C.

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