Female foeticide is a pressing issue – which calls to be addressed at once. However, to get to the root of this issue, it is essential to understand the causes behind it. In India, however, there isn’t actually a need to investigate into the problem much. We don’t need to delve into any lengthy and detailed investigation or case study. The issue lies right on top, in front of our eyes – in fact, it is a very part of our lives. One of the simplest and most obvious causes is a preference for the male child.
It’s simple – couples prefer a male child over a female one. Reasons? Plenty. The root lies in our very own traditions, customs, beliefs and above all, our thinking. It is a general perception that the birth of a male child is beneficial and advantageous to the family. A male in the family is traditionally considered to be a source – source of money, source of respect, source of name and fame. A man is expected to work and earn for his family – in the process repaying all that was cost to bring him up.
A woman is considered a financial obligation, as money spent on bringing her up, educating her, marrying her will not be repaid – as she will go to her husband’s house after marriage, and the benefits of all that ‘investment’ shall go to his family. As Justice YK Sabharwal, Chief Justice of India, rightly says (in his speech about Eradication of Female Foeticide, delivered in Patiala on December 17, 2006), that “Investing in a daughter they say is like ‘watering your neighbour’s lawn. ” A boy shall grow up to be the head of the family, and he shall offer a sense of security to his aging parents – take care of them, serve them and take over the responsibility of running the family. He shall also continue the name of the family (whereas, the girl shall take up her husband’s last name). A male is considered to be a producer, whereas a female is considered to be a consumer. All this is mainly due to the patriarchal form of the Indian society.
One simple assumption that can be made is that this preference is based on the form of society and families, a couple of decades back. Back then, a male was expected to work and earn, whereas a female was supposed to sit at home, cook, and manage the house and children. This made a male child desirable, as he was, then, the only source of income and respect.
This system was abolished – today, females work nearly as much as men – but the thinking remained unchanged. Another major cause – and arguably the most prominent ne – is the age-old dowry system. Dowry is the money, goods and/or property a woman brings into a marriage. It is basically a payment done by the bride’s family to the groom’s family during marriage. Reasons for dowry include provision of “base funds” for the husband to start a new family, establish his household and to feed and protect the family. Another reason is to support the woman and her children, if the husband were to die – especially since women have a better average life-expectancy than men.
However, in most cases, dowry is seen to be payment to the groom’s family, for accepting the woman, and for taking responsibility for her there on. Dowry is very common in South-Asian countries like India. In India, expected dowries are huge – hundreds of thousands in cash, car(s), some property. It is well beyond the capacity of many families to afford this, especially in rural areas (where the expectancy remains the same). Dowry is illegal in India, but this has not stopped families all over the nation from giving (trying) and accepting it.
Also, in most cases, the bride’s family is expected to arrange and sponsor the wedding – and Indian wedding are rightly nicknamed: Big-Fat-Indian-Wedding, pointing to the immense amount of effort, money, and glamour put in. Therefore, the birth of a female child indicates huge amounts of expenditure later in her life, when she shall be married – which incidentally, is considered the most important time of a woman’s life. Couples do not wish to have such financial burdens on them – loans and debts, for example: which most dowries force – which is why they do not want a girl, to spare them from such huge monetary requirements.
This is prevalent to such an extent, that many small clinics that perform illegal sex-determination tests and help couples abort female foetuses, advertise using the slogan, “500 now, or 5,00,000 later” – the former indicating the price of an abortion, and the latter that of the dowry. Another reason for the unwanted status of the female child is the burden on her parents regarding her safety. Incidences of girls subjected to rape, molesting, sexual abuse, domestic violence, trafficking, etc. are growing every day, and parents don’t want to risk their girl child’s safety (with a male child, such things aren’t a worry).
There are a couple of other minor reasons, such as the higher rate of migration (studying and/or living abroad) in men than women (a child studying abroad is a matter of pride for parents, traditionally), and the responsibility of parents to ensure the ‘untouched and clean’ status of a girl before marriage and that to instil in her the right attitudes, and to teach her to be a good wife and to please her in-laws, failing which, the parents are blamed. However, these are the major and most prevalent reasons for female foeticide in the Indian society, today. A commonly suggested reason is illiteracy.
It is assumed that people are illiterate and not educated, and hence they commit this heinous act. However, logical as it may sound, this cannot be safely established. Numbers tell us that, this practice of female foeticide is equally prevalent, if not more, in urban parts of India (which host the so called ‘rich’ and ‘upper’ class people) as in rural areas. Clinics are flocked in huge numbers in urban areas, to facilitate the ‘facility’ of illegal sex determination. How can one then point the finger at illiteracy? It is also argued, that some of this has bases in religion too.
For example, according to Hindu scriptures, it is a male who’ll light the funeral pyre of his dead parent(s). However, this does not explain the cause for this foeticide. No Hindu scripture or religious text asks to kill a female child or foetus. On the other hand, Hindu books, Rig Veda, for example, hold women in a much respected light. Many women, in these texts, were highly regarded and respected. It is unjustified and unfair to point a finger at religion as a cause for female foeticide, for it our (mis)interpretations and understandings that are at fault.
Another shocking fact is that doctors use the trust placed upon them for their own benefits. Knowing that the couple will abort the foetus if it is female, the doctors proclaim a female foetus even if the tests show a male foetus – to avail the extra fee they receive for abortion. Understanding these reasons behind this practice of female foeticide, it is evident that the change has to be in the thinking and mentality of the people, and also the laws of our country – to abolish and eradicate immoral and unjustified customs like dowry.
These reasons have to be addressed immediately, if any change and improvement is desired – it cannot be expected that female foeticide be stopped without changing anything else. Major and instantaneous changes are required in the way our country and its people basically function. Only then can we think about bringing about a change, and making India a better and safer nation for the fairer sex. Dear friend (name), I was highly shocked to hear that you met with a serious scooter accident. Thank God you were saved. Your serious condition, however, has caused serious concern here.
I would soon be becoming to be by you bed. It is some consolation that Minu is with you and taking proper care of you. She is very good at nursing and her jovial temperament would help in your early recovery. I hope your father must have been informed of the accident. It would, however, take him a few days to come from Kolkata because thorough trains to Kolkata have been suspended following incessant rains which have caused breaches on the track at several places. You have not to worry at all because very soon I shall be there at your disposal. Praying for your speedy recovery.