I saw a 'promo' on TV against female infanticide. It was simple, subtle, and no gory details were sounded. There was just music, a baby girl, a toy she was playing with and a sheet of cloth that was thrown over her and removed promptly. But even this 30-second promo shook me up completely.
I imagined what a real girl child would have gone through, having her life snuffed-out either by choking, or by having been fed with poisoned milk - her first meal as she came to life. And then I thought of the uncivilized humans who did this to a newborn baby, which had just come into this world. I thought of their lack of emotions, their cruelty and just how inhuman and animal-like they would have been.
Female infanticide occurs all over India, but there are a couple of districts in India, which are infamous for intolerance for female infants - Madurai and Dharampuri districts in South India.
The yearly statistics in these two districts have been closely monitored for a few years now. The reasons are not so obvious - the administration keeps a check on the infants that are mercilessly murdered for purpose of reporting the ill, but I wonder why they do nothing to stop this crime.
For the last five years, nearly 1500 female infants are murdered in Madurai district soon after their birth. In the year gone by, the crime witnessed a considerable reduction. The count of murders went down to 800. I am not sure if this is because the murders were not reported or has there really been a factor that has reduced the crime. But newspaper reports said that only "800 female infanticide cases were reported" - so I take it that only these cases were talked-of and the others were stealthily done away with.
The government is always conservative in reporting the ills it cannot control. The real case however, is that Non-Governmental Organizations working in the area report a much higher number of murders. They point their fingers at the local midwives - the 'Dais' who are instructed to ensure that if the newborn is a female, she shouldn't live. Many a times, mothers don't even find out if their newborn breathed at all - because as soon as the 'dai' discovers the gender of the infant, and if it is a girl, she is choked even before she learns to breathe. And these are women who murder female infants for a little more money. The district also has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, and it averages around 90 per cent.
It is a joke that the district administration is trying to come up with welfare measures to safeguard the girl child. What they are trying to do is strike fear amongst those who participate in the infanticides - by regularly booking cases against reported crimes. Until April 2000 they had booked all of 3 cases! The exhumed the bodies were sent for postmortem and the reports were being awaited until June. After that I stopped keeping track of the happenings in this district, out of complete and utter disgust at the government and administration.
The ridiculousness of the Government's efforts is apparent. There are those shell schemes that exist on paper that the administration waves like the holy grail under the press's noses - the Indira Vikas Patra (a Rs. 1500 help for starting rural enterprise), some miniscule loans, a non-existent Girl Child Protection Scheme, women ration shops etc. and some meaningless programs that teach people the importance of the girl child. These schemes are absurd - as neither the administration nor the inhabitants of the district understand what could be done with these and no one has been able to comprehend the relationships between loans and female infanticide.
Female infanticide is about poverty but more than that - it is about the ingrained attitude of a civilization that believes in the worthlessness of a girl, a people who feel that a girl is a curse on the family, a nation which treats the women as inhuman and yet, these are the ones who respect their mothers to the point of worshipping and their belief in divinity begins not with the male God but the Goddesses. This is a nation where a priest will begin his prayer by invoking the mother Goddess, will sermonize on how to respect the mother, the wife, the daughter and the sister, and will in the same breath advise an illiterate follower on the ills of the girl child.
It was not always like this - women had a position of great respect and admiration in ancient India. Much later with the distortion of the holy texts, this position of importance was eroded. And gradually this lack of respect gave way to utter detestation of women. Poverty is also a factor in this. The other social evils like dowry, which is like a mammoth problem that stares parents of a new born girl in the face is another cause for the murder of the girl child.
The Non-Governmental Organizations, in addition to reporting specific cases of female infanticide to the police in an attempt to discouraging the practice, also counsel expectant mother and her family starting from the time of detection of pregnancy, help parents to get the monetary incentives offered under the Girl Child Protection Scheme and keep introducing projects for improving women's access to education, health and economic independence. But the crux of the issue is not to bring about the much-required awareness not only among women but also among men in safeguarding the girl child.
The real problem is with the mental conditioning of a nation - which treats its women as second-class citizens. And this happens in all strata of society - from rich to poor, from educated to illiterate. One can make all-out educational efforts and national schemes to save the girl child, but how does one change the course of thinking of a people who have been gradually over thousands of years been trained to be disrespectful of women?