Female Foeticide in India

If my family had been uneducated, entrenched in the patriarchal ways of thinking and steeped in the mire of traditionalist thoughts, the possibility of me not seeing the light of day would have been very high. Why? Because I am female.

The sex ratio in India stands at 933:1000 (i.e. for every 1000 male births, there are 933 female births), with the Union Territory of Daman and Diu dropping to a pathetic 710:1000. This has more to do with misplaced human pride and intervention as opposed to a hapless X-chromosome bonding with another X-chromosome. According to Dr. Indu Grewal and Dr. J Kishore, female foeticide is the reason that “between 35 and 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population.”

In his book, The Spectatorship of Suffering (2006), Chouliaraki says: “The overexposure to human suffering has unaestheticizing, numbing effects. Rather than cultivating a sensibility, the spectacle of suffering becomes domesticated by the experience of watching it on television.” (pg 18) Whether shown on television or reported in newspapers or featured in magazines, the topic of female foeticide and infanticide has probably succumbed to being a victim of compassion fatigue.

States like Gujarat and Haryana are perpetual offenders, with this latest story which reports that 14 foetuses were found in a garbage bin in Ahmedabad. Yet the headline news de jour is the IPL (Indian Premier League) scandal involving Shashi Tharoor, former UN Under-Secretary General, and Lalit Modi, Chairman of the IPL. A similar example of important issues being ignored can be seen in this video where journalist P. Sainath talks about how 512 journalists were covering the fashion week but the pressing issue of farmers’ suicides was ignored.

The modernization paradigm of development journalism (dominant from 1958-1980s) sought to move societies from their traditional state to a modern one – where ‘modern’ implies a westernized outlook. In this approach, information is distributed via a one-way top-down method, which leaves the people with no chance to interact with or respond to those giving out information. Thomas McPhail said that there needed to be a paradigm shift wherein the culture of the country in question was not diminished. In addition, he stressed the need for a bottom-up approach. It’s obvious the modernization paradigm will not work here; society is bogged down by this backward way of thinking. Simply telling people that female foeticide is wrong will not make them stop.

After the modernization paradigm, the participant and empowerment frameworks were developed so as to include the local population in development efforts. But this means engaging with people who believe that female foeticide is justified.

So why does it happen? High priority is given to the male child with the belief that he will be the one to care for his parents in their old age whereas a daughter would not. It is also believed that the male will be the breadwinner of the family. Another reason is the notion that without a male child, there would be no future generations bearing the family name. The dowry system in India also is a contributing factor to female foeticide and infanticide; the thought of having to scrounge up an exorbitant amount for the daughter’s wedding in the future is a deterrent, especially to poor families. How then can the media change the mind of these people?

Using forms of media like radio, television shows, theatre plays – accessible even to those who cannot read – is a more participatory way of imparting values. Talking to the people who indulge, or wish to indulge, in such practices is a better way of dealing with them as opposed to talking at them. There is no way to know if this method would work unless it’s forcefully put into practice.

Inspite of various efforts, the problem continues to exist and nothing concrete has happened towards alleviating the situation. Till then, we can keep reading about the latest in the IPL action.

  • View an audio slideshow on the subject on The Guardian’s website.
  • Read about the city of Pune unsuccessfully trying to combat the trend of female foeticide.
  • Read an article on the UNICEF website on the issue of declining sex ratios in India.

“Modernization of the economy and industry must go hand in hand with modernization of outlook and attitude, which, in a civilized society, give equal importance to children irrespective of their gender.” – Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

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