openDemocracy, an independent online magazine, is hosting openSummit featuring the views of women activists, academics and journalists from a variety of organizations worldwide in the run up to G8. The idea is to prevent women’s perspectives to decision-makers at G8. Of course, who knows whether any of them will read this but this can’t stop us from trying, can it? Please drop by to read and contact them if you want to contribute something.
I contributed a post on gender cleansing in India. I had recently interviewed Gita Aravamudan, author of Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide and discussed the issue with Donna Fernandez of Vimochana as well so it was haunting me. Even while writing the piece, I felt a slight hesitation. The words–the thought–gender cleansing is so stark, so bleak, so strong somehow. One is worried about being accused of sensationalizing or exaggerating the issue. But my conversations with Gita and Donna and my reading on the subject had convinced me that nothing I said could be strong enough. It sounds horrific because it is. Anyway, this is what I wrote and it is cross-posted here.
Stop India’s Gender Cleansing
There are plenty of murmurs but not enough people are talking about it. Something deeply horrifying is happening in India: Gender Cleansing. India is systematically wiping out her female population. This is not an exaggeration. This is not a joke. I am not being clever. According to a 2006 UNICEF report, 80% of India’s districts have recorded declining child sex ratios since 1991. Thousands of girl-children are killed before or at birth. The all-India sex ratio is 927 girls for 1,000 boys, which puts the country right at the bottom of the global charts, worse off than countries like Nigeria (965) and neighbour Pakistan (958).
Gita Aravamudan, whose book Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide has just been published, talks in her book about how our hugely skewed sex ratio is due to advanced pre-natal diagnostic techniques. But the real revelation is that educated people are more likely to kill their female foetuses, not less. According to Aravamudan, two generations of girls in India have already been murdered in the womb. This is not “family planning”. This is organized genocide, aided and abetted by sophisticated medical technology.
“The only women likely to keep their daughters are the truly independent-minded women, not just the financially independent,” she told me over coffee when we met to discuss the book. “Often women have abortion after abortion, even when they don’t want to” she said, recounting her meetings with women in different parts of the country. Mostly, this is because of pressure from the husband and in-laws. Women are scared of facing anger at home. They are scared of being thrown out of their houses. They are tired, defeated and trapped by the need to retain a modicum of peace in their domestic lives. It is tragic that in a country where God is often female, there is no place for girls in the home. Dowry is a large part of the problem, but so are issues of lineage, family name, inheritance, social attitudes towards women and the deeply ingrained belief that women are inferior.
“This is genocide. This is gender cleansing. There is no doubt about it,” said Donna Fernandez of Vimochana, an organization that works against violence against women, and a stalwart of the women’s rights movement in India. Fernandez believes that we need to begin by referring to it truthfully instead of euphemizing the problem. This does seem a necessary first step—to accept the magnitude of the problem and find the words that will adequately express the tragedy, evoke the horror and the devastation. This is as bad, or worse, than any holocaust that humankind has known. Why aren’t more people talking about it? Why aren’t world leaders declaiming it? Why isn’t there visible the shock, the fury, the sadness that usually accompanies any mass murder? Why is it important only to a handful of academics and development workers?
India needs to be taught, encouraged, cajoled, coaxed and, if necessary, compelled to value its women. It is imperative that we the Indian woman’s self esteem, her strength, her ability to feel safe, to live, to thrive is built. Every tool we have at our disposal—art, entertainment, popular television, media, religion, spirituality, law, policy and education must be marshaled to say just this: the woman is important. She is necessary. Value her.
India must be stopped from killing her women.