INDIA: When the life of a girl baby isn’t even worth one day

Cameron Conaway – WNN SOAPBOX

Pregnant woman in rural India
Because the sonogram technology has improved, even a pregnant woman living in rural India may now be able to know the gender of her baby before it is born, but if a ‘mother-to-be’ does know the gender of her child – would the life of her female baby be in more danger of infanticide? Numerous advocates say yes. Image: UNC-TWI

(WNN) Delhi, INDIA, SOUTH ASIA: Smothering or feeding them milk laced with crushed oleander are two traditional ways of murdering newborn baby girls. Now that some doctors are willing to report the crime, those still engaging in these acts are finding that their old methods leave too much of a trail. They are too detectable. So what’s their counter? Technology.

Innovations in technology and the reduced cost of sonograms mean that even poor villagers can afford basic sex determination tests – especially when they consider the pricey alternative: having to raise a daughter and likely go in debt in order to pay the massive dowry to the daughter’s future husband. The oppressive patriarchal culture of India means that many mothers in more traditional communities are forced to find a doctor willing to help them abort as soon as they learn the baby is female. This is generally the easiest method because it takes away the visuals that must sear themselves into memory: a baby girl’s limbs writhing from under a pillow. Those mothers who put up a fight or make too much of a fuss about getting rid of their daughter may be raped or beaten within an inch of their life. Those who cannot afford an abortion give birth but then immediately take to using methods of murder that are easier to cover up.

Like feeding the newborn a few drops of alcohol to induce diarrhea. The autopsy will report “death by diarrhea” and this is considered a certifiable disease and therefore cannot be considered a crime. Other brave women donate their baby daughters to community orphanages where they are just as likely to be trafficked as they are to be taken care of and given a chance in the world. According to some sources, many mothers seem entirely numb to the process of killing their newborn. They believe they are saving their daughter from being forced to live the hellish life that they themselves endure each day.

This issue first garnered international attention in 1984 when UNICEF reported that of the 8,000 abortions after pre-natal sex determination in Mumbai, 7,999 were female. In the ensuing years, many magazines and newspapers followed up with similar stories, however, in many cases, they were routinely bought up and then burned.

While most reports indicate a decline in the act of killing off female babies, many in India still desperately cling to their traditions even as the rest of the country desperately tries to keep pace with modernization.

“A whole gender is getting exterminated.

It is a silent and smoothly executed crime

which leaves no waves in its wake.”

– Gita Aravamudan, Disappearing Daughters

In 2011, according the Seattle Times, the Indian National Crime Bureau said that there were 24,206 reported cases of rape. For many, this news highlighted a startling contrast. Here is India – a country that prides itself on being considered the world’s largest democracy, a country often praised for its economic growth and tech innovations – now becoming a country known for brutally raping its own women and even tourists.

India is perhaps the finest proof that the rose-colored love affair we have with democracy – that it is always linked to equality – should be reevaluated and viewed with another pair of lenses. The same can be said for our universally accepted assumption that economic growth is always great.

Democracy and economic growth mean little in a country where gender inequality runs rampant. In these cases, it could be argued that they actually intensify a host of other inequalities.

Anybody who has spent time in various parts of the country can feel the number disparity. While the guides that can rattle off every paragraph from Lonely Planet’s India travel guide may tell you that “the women stay at home all day” or that “rapes aren’t increasing, they are just being reported more often” it’s clear that there is something terribly wrong here. In certain communities it seems there are at least two men to every women, and in the streets it can often feel like 300-to-1. A numbers game alone would be bad, but it goes beyond that.

My fiancée and I have lived, worked and traveled all throughout Asia for the past three years. We’re used to being the minority, to being stared at for our differences. But in India lust and anger pours from the eyes of many men. They stare with such ferocity that I’ve watched a few of them walk into walls and nearly wreck their motorcycle. There’s a major problem here with roots that are deeply cultural and with costs that simply cannot be measured.

The “Incredible India” tourism slogan is certainly true. There is so much to love about this country, so much a traveler will hold dearly in memory for the rest of their lives. But tourism or tech achievements or a stronger economy can only do so much. For true positive change India needs a gender and cultural revolution.


In addition to writing for WNN, Cameron Conaway is the Social Justice Editor of The Good Men Project. An award-winning author, he was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona’s MFA Creative Writing Program. In 2007 he graduated from Penn State with a dual Criminal Justice/English major. His work has appeared or been reviewed in ESPN, The Huffington Post, Rattle, Sherdog, Cosmo, Teach Magazine, The Australian, Ottawa Arts Review and elsewhere. Follow him on Google and on Twitter: @CameronConaway


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