Whenever we are asked to think about Haryana, we imagine a picture of a state with a skewed sex ratio, an overly high preference for sons and the generally low status of women.
While it would be convenient to dismiss such an imagination as just another popular stereotype, in reality, such a gloomy picture is supported by surveys and data. However, even in such a gloomy world, there is light and hope. Bibipur, a village in Haryana which is more famously known as, “The world of women” has begged to differ. It has become a source of inspiration for thousands of villages, not just in Haryana but across India.
When Sunil Jaglan, an MSc degree holder was appointed as the Sarpanch of the village, there was a turn of events which brought change, for the better. Sunil decided that he would tackle the issue head on and with consultative participation. He began this change by organizing a Mahapanchayat. A Mahapanchayat, where thousands of women from various nearby districts gathered and discussed the sensitive issue of female foeticide, haunting not just their own lives and villages but the whole of Haryana.
The discussions brought out several insights to the fore and the Sarpanch decided that this initiative needs to be taken forward. Thus he followed this by asking for help from the women and organized numerous campaigns and events over the next several months. They even decided and began a women-centric library to get more information and inspiration for the change they wanted to bring.
As part of this initiative, forty women-oriented Gram Sabhas were formed, one for each neighboring village, to help women come out of their homes, discuss issues and devise solutions for them.
Bibipur has come a long way in terms of women empowerment in the last few years. A land where the birth of girls was considered nothing but a curse, to a land where people actively engage and participate to plan to empower women across the entire state of Haryana, Bibipur has shown tremendous change. The villagers and their neighbors not only faced multiple difficulties and challenges but also rose through them and inspired others.
However, while Bibipur and neighboring areas might have achieved a few successes, India still has a long way to go.
While it may not appear so, but discrimination against women was not always a part of India’s history. Indeed, there were times when men and women in India were treated as equals.
It is believed that during the Rig Vedic times women enjoyed an equal status with men in different walks of life. Women back then were educated, had freedoms and were respected. Historic records suggest that women were only married at a mature age and had the right to choose their husband through the process of “Swayamvara”.
But as times changed, so did the position of women. Their status over time began to decline. One after the other Early marriage, Sati system, and Purdah system became widespread and popular. Society began judging its masculinity by the limitations it placed on its women. The Rajputs, popularly imagined as one of India’s most masculine community, began adopting even more violent practices like Jauhar. In this practice, rulers facing imminent defeat “sacrificed” their wives’ and daughters’ lives to protect “their honor”.
In South India, another exploitative practice was adopted, widely known by the name of “Devadasi” system. Though highlighted as a religious practice, literally it means “being a servant to a deity”. In many places, this practice was manipulated and several women were prevented from marrying a mortal being. Consequently, several such women were then pushed into sex work.
Thankfully we have come a long way since those days. But even today, across India, millions of women still haven’t received their due rights. India has achieved a lot in various fields be it technology, infrastructure or economy and women surely have made a significant contribution in this. Yet not many get their due credit.
Even today, not just in India’s villages but in cities and metros too, people still remain apprehensive and feel insecure about the birth of a girl. Ever since a girl is born, she has to face discrimination at every step of her life. Our society still continues to have a preference for a boy child and denies its girls the basic fundamentals like education and healthy food. And this is just the beginning, as she grows up a girl only faces, even more, kinds of discrimination and violence.
We frequently hear slogans of gender equality like ‘Save the girl child’, ‘a girl brings Laxmi to a home’ and might want to believe that things are changing for the better but the data and surveys suggest otherwise. On comparison of Census 2001 to Census 2011 data, we find that the child sex ratio in India has further declined.
Analyzing the statistics for across the globe we find that a sex ratio above 950 per 1000 is appropriate. But unfortunately, India’s sex ratio falls too short of that. But it’s not like the performance of different Indian states is similar. While southern states like Kerala have successfully bridged the gap and achieved a sex ratio of 1084 females per 1000 males, states like Haryana, Rajasthan, and Delhi have fallen to sex ratios as low as 830 females per 1000 males.
CAUSES FOR FEMALE FOETICIDE:
Major Reasons for female foeticide in India:
- PREFERENCE FOR A MALE CHILD: It is a common perception in India that birth of a male child is beneficial for the family. The male members of a family are expected to go out and earn. On the other hand, females are expected to stay at home and look after children and other members of the family. Due to such stereotypes, people see boys as future bread earners while girls are seen as a drain on family resources.
- WOMEN’S STATUS IN SOCIETY: In our patriarchal society, women are still considered as second-rate citizens. They are believed to be financial liabilities as it is believed that money invested in their education, health, and well-being shall never be repaid. Some people even hold the belief that their status depends on whether they have a son or a daughter.
- EVIL PRACTICES LIKE DOWRY: Parents of the girl have to pay huge sums of money and other valuables to the parents of the groom at the time of marriage. It is well beyond the capacity of many families to afford this.
Also, many times, the bride’s family is under pressure to sponsor the wedding and spend money extravagantly. This also contributes to people seeing the birth of a girl child as a huge economic burden for years to come.
Many small clinics that perform pre-natal sex determination use the slogan “500 now or 5,00,000 later”. The former points to the price of abortion and the latter points to the amount of the dowry.
- ADVANCEMENT IN SEX-DETERMINATION TECHNOLOGIES: Technologies like Amniocentesis and Sonography have made it possible to determine the sex of the unborn child as early as 12 weeks. Even though the law prohibits pre-natal sex determination, it is still practiced widely and openly in many regions across India.
- INCREASING CRIMINAL INCIDENTS: Another factor that leads to such a degrading status of girl child in today’s society is the fear in the minds of the parents about her safety. A significant increase in the number of cases of molestation, rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc, over the past several decades has led to a fear psychosis in the minds of parents. They don’t want to risk their girl child’s safety. Though parents of a male child never have to be worried about this.
- More opportunities for boys compared to girls in our society.
- The responsibility of parents to ensure the “clean and untouched” condition of a girl before marriage.
- The burden upon parents to prepare a girl so that she is able to fulfill all the needs and wants of her in-laws and be a “good” wife to her husband.
- The inability of a girl child to continue the family name after she gets married.
An understanding of all these causes points in just one direction. That is, to fight against this dangerous and undignified practice of female foeticide, change has to take place in the thinking and mentality of the people. This change has to occur NOW. It is high time that we as a society fight this menace and curb this evil to SAVE THE GIRL CHILD.
- Though the overall sex ratio of the country has gone up from 933 to 940 in 2011 as compared to 2001, the child sex ratio in the age group of 0-6 years has dropped from 927 to 914.
- Mizoram has the highest child sex ratio at 971, followed by Meghalaya at 970.
- The most alarming situation is seen in Haryana where the numbers have reached to just 830 girls per 1000 boys with Punjab being similarly alarming at 840.
- Among the union territories, Daman and Diu has a ratio of about 618 while Mahe district of Pondicherry boasts of about 1,176.
- The states of Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and Bihar have shown a decline in the ratio when compared to the data from Census 2001.
These not-so-encouraging numbers are a cause for serious distress. They demand a re-thinking of the current policies and making necessary amends as and when required.
A survey was conducted among 1451 members of the Babygogo community in the context of female foeticide, it’s perceived causes and measures which can be taken for preventing this.
Out of the 1451 participants, 81% were moms and the rest 19% were dads.
Following are the responses that we got to our various questions-
Their child is a Girl or a Boy
About 49% of the people surveyed have a boy, followed by 41.6% who have a girl. The rest have both a girl and a boy.The gender disparity in our society can be clearly seen through this data.
Main Cause of Female Foeticide
Almost half (49%) the participants believe that illiteracy is one of the causes of female foeticide. 18.8% believe that it is due to their financial reason while the rest believe that family pressure is the main cause.
This tells us about our own stereotypes because this fact is clearly contradicted by the findings of multiple surveys by reputed national and international organizations, which have time and again showed that the practice of female foeticide is even more prevalent among the richer and more literate sections of our society than its poorer counterparts.
Sex ratio in Cities and Villages
Most participants, about 72.7%, believe that sex ratio is better in urban areas than it is in villages but research data points otherwise. While there can be multiple reasons for this, but they don’t change the facts on the ground. One widely cited argument is that abortion clinics are abundant in cities while villages lack them.
Again, this shows that people are not well aware of this issue.
Providing Financial Support
Out of the 543 respondents, about 20% said that they don’t expect some form of financial assistance from their boy child in their old age whereas about 41% do not expect similar financial assistance from their girl child. Looking closely, we see that the number in case of girls is twice that of boys.
This supports the fact that our society thinks that investing in a boy will be beneficial for them in their later years. And spending on a girl would never be fruitful to them as she will get married one day and leave her parents’ house eventually.
Expenditure on Wedding
About 56% of the people believe that in the event of marriage the bride’s family has to spend more money than the groom’s side.
Evidently, the concept of “Big Fat Indian Wedding” is a combination of money, glamor and showing off, where the bride’s family is supposed to go all out with the wedding celebrations. Even if this wedding forces the family in debt, the parents of the bride are forced to spend extravagantly to satisfy the groom’s family.
Around 41% participants in our survey said that they began saving money for dowry as soon as a girl child was born into their homes, whereas 44% people said that they do not believe in this.
Although most people don’t admit that they save for dowry, the reality is that taking and receiving dowry is quite common in India.
CONSEQUENCES OF FEMALE FOETICIDE:
As Newton claimed, “For every action, there is equal and opposite reaction”, the consequences of actions like female foeticide also have their harmful and opposite reactions. When we as a society indulge in inhuman activities like aborting our female child, we do not act with the full understanding of the after-effects that such actions have.
- SKEWED SEX RATIO: We have seen how the child sex ratio has changed over the years. It has decreased consistently over the past decades. From about 962 and 945 girls per thousand boys in the years 1981 and 1991, the sex ratio of children in the age range of 0-6 years plummeted down to a 914 number in 2011.
- INCREASE IN MOLESTATION AND RAPE INCIDENTS: As the number of females continue to reduce, rapes and molestation cases have increased. There are a fewer number of women left to face a society of men with surging sexual tendencies, leading to such incidents. Especially in our urban areas which have even lower sex ratio and a culture of hyper-sexualism is promoted, the number of such unacceptable incidents is even higher.
Also, it is very likely that most of the times, such cases don’t even come to the knowledge of the police. The victims and their families don’t report them because of the fear of losing their “honor” in the society.
- SHORTAGE OF GIRLS FOR MARRIAGE: This is a direct consequence of the low number of females in India. In states like Haryana and Rajasthan where the female ratio is abysmally low, brides are “purchased” from other states like Kerala or Assam. This consequently has created a huge market for trafficking and selling “brides”.
According to a recent report by the Red Cross Society, many bachelors have crossed Marriageable age. Many such cases are because of the shortage of girls in their states. Hence, they are willing to pay large sums of money to marry a girl from other states. Because of this, a large industry has come up in some of these states. Thus as anyone can guess there is also a consequent significant increase in incidents of trafficking.
- CHILD MARRIAGE: The social evil of child marriage stems from this shortage of girls. A lot of families get their girls married off at a very young age so they don’t have to spend on their education and basic amenities.
They force girls in their teenage to marry men twice their age. Girls at this age are not ready physically or mentally prepared for a serious relationship like marriage and hence this becomes all the more torturous for them.
Moreover, this increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in females apart from a significant rise in domestic violence and physical abuse.
- TRAFFICKING AND PROSTITUTION: A drop in female population has led to a swift increase in trafficking and prostitution. Village girls are fooled in the name of jobs and brought to the metropolitan city only to be sold off to a rich man or pushed into the prostitution business. Only a society which lacks empathy can let such a trend continue
- DECREASE IN POPULATION: With no one to bear a child, population decline is but obvious. This is one of the goals of highly populated countries like India, but a total decimation of one gender is surely not the solution to this problem. We can look at the example of China here. In pursuit of a similar aim the government approved One Child Policy but today they too have realized the mistake and decided to make amends after looking at their sex-ratio. Clearly, not all options of decreasing population are beneficial for a country in the long run.
- ESCALATION IN MATERNAL DEATHS: Aborting a baby has its own set of complications. While common ill-effects include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, etc; the more serious effects are persistent bleeding, damage to the cervix, unbearable pain in the uterus, perforation of the uterus. Such effects are detrimental to the health of the mother and can lead to life-threatening diseases or even death.
In several cases, the mother is forced to go through multiple abortions till she conceives a male child. This leads to additional complications which in turn results in an escalation in the number of maternal deaths. Naturally, it does not come as a surprise then that India is one of the worst performers in decreasing its maternal mortality rates.
Looking closely, we see that on one side where we consider girls to be incarnations of goddesses and touch their feet as a mark of respect during festivals, there exists another darker side where the same society discriminates its girls and at times even kill them without a second thought.
Owing to this deep-rooted hypocrisy of our society, we need to empower our girls more than ever before.
Not only is it of utmost importance that we equip our girl child, it is also important to educate the society about the importance of an equal sex ratio.
SCHEMES AND LAWS FOR BETTERMENT OF GIRLS IN INDIA
The laws formulated for the welfare of girls and women in our society are of different forms. They can be divided into:
Securing the future of girl child:
- Balika Samriddhi Yojana:
This scheme was launched by Govt. of India with effect from August 15, 1997, with the following objectives-
- To change negative attitude and behavior of the family and the community towards the girl child and her mother.
- To improve the enrollment and retention of girls in schools.
- To raise the minimum marriage age of girls
- To create work and income opportunities for women.
A series of incentives are further incorporated into the scheme to make it more fruitful like granting an amount of Rs. 500 on the birth of a girl child and annual scholarships for education according to the class in which the girl is studying.
- Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana: Literally translated as “Save the girl child, educate the girl child”, this campaign was established by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development. The objectives of this initiative are-
- Prevention of gender-biased sex selective elimination.
- Ensuring survival and protection of girl child.
- Ensuring education and participation of girl child.
Presently this scheme is being implemented in select 100 districts having the lowest Child Sex Ratio(CSR) across India, covering different states and union territories.
- Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana: Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana is a deposit scheme launched as a part of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana. It aims to provide for marriage and education expenditure of the girl child. It has been well received by the public as it has been used for the girl child as well as them.
In this scheme. a small savings account is opened. The Yojana provides a small deposit with a high rate of interest. The whole amount can be withdrawn only when the girl turns 18.
Some pointers to keep in mind are:
- The account can only be opened until 10 years of age.
- Money can be deposited online.
- Interest would be calculated on the 10th of each month.
- Partial withdrawn can be made when she has just crossed the 10th standard.
- The account will not earn any interest after it has matured.
- Duplicate passbook will be issued after a payment of Rs. 50.
- Kishori Shakti Yojana: Kishori Shakti Yojana was launched by Ministry of Women and Child Development to empower adolescent girls. It seeks to make them realize their full potential by means of interventions. Its objectives are-
- To improve the nutritional, health and development status of adolescent girls.
- To promote awareness of health, hygiene, nutrition and family care.
- To link them to opportunities for learning life skills, going back to school.
- To help them gain a better understanding of their social environment.
- To enable them to take initiatives to become productive members of the society.
This is a redesign of the already existing Adolescent Girls Scheme and it aims at bringing about a difference in the lives of adolescent girls.
Laws regarding dowry
- The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed to prohibit the giving and taking of dowry by law. This Act defines dowry as “any property or valuable security is given or agreed to be given directly or indirectly:
- By one party to a marriage to another party to a marriage
- By the parents of either party to a marriage or any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties but does not include dower or mahr in case of the persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law(Shariat) applies.”
Act 4 of the act holds a person guilty if he/she demands dowry directly or indirectly from the parents or other relatives of bride or bridegroom. In such situation, the said person is entitled to imprisonment for at least 5 years and with a fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of the dowry, whichever is more.
Laws regarding Female Foeticide
1.The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 2002: This act covers sex selection which is defined as “any act of identifying the sex of the fetus and eliminating the fetus if it is of the unwanted sex”. It aims at stopping female foeticide once and for all.
The main purpose of this act is to ban the use sex selection techniques and misuse prenatal diagnostic technique to eliminate the fetus selectively.
Salient Features of the Act-
- It prohibits sex selection of any kind.
- No doctor or clinic can perform prenatal diagnostic technique except for the detection of-
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Genetic abnormalities
- Metabolic disorders
- Sex-linked genetic disorders
- Congenital disorders
- No clinic or center will perform the procedure of ultrasonography to detect the sex of the fetus.
- No person shall by whatever means, convey the sex of the child to the pregnant means or her relatives.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971: The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, introduced in the year 1971 is an act governing the abortion criteria which-
- Aims to improve the maternal health scenario
- Legalises abortions with very strict guidelines
- Promotes access to safe abortion services
It further states that abortion can only be carried out only up to twenty weeks. Pregnancy can be terminated by at least one registered medical practitioner if the length of pregnancy is less than 12 weeks and by at least two registered medical practitioners if the length is between 12 to 20 weeks.
These laws are always under surveillance and constant critical examination for any loopholes.
Laws regarding female infanticide
- The Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870: The Female Infanticide Prevention Act is an act passed during the rule of British India to prevent the killing of female infants. The law authorized the creation of a police force to maintain birth, marriage and death registers.
Discrimination towards the girl child has been going on since ages. Even today, there are some households that perceive girls as a liability. Even today, thousands of cases of female foeticide and infanticide are reported.
The Government of India has formulated numerous laws for the protection of women and girls. What is currently needed is STRICT ENFORCEMENT of those laws. Making sure that any rule violators are dealt with strictly and given the necessary punishment is the only way to promote gender equality among one and all.
In a country like India, people worship goddesses and at the same time try to look for ways and means to get rid of their girl children.
It is high time that we get rid of our double-standards and give girls their due!