Silenced Lives : The Persistence of Female Feticide in India

    • By,
      Pinaki Gakhar – Student, Kautilya

A pregnant woman is sedated for a sex-determination examination, and another is made to abort without her consent. Is that how our country should treat its women? For ages, females have been at the receiving end of society. Many are either killed in the womb or right after birth. Many face persecution for their gender. They have neither a right to their bodies nor the freedom of giving birth and raising children.

Indians have been worshiping goddesses for ages, but women’s issues, ranging from female foeticide, early marriage, purdah system to sexual harassment, rape, and many more, continue to plague society. Every 16 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Every day 19 cases of dowry deaths are reported. Why is it so, despite the constitution of our country clearly outlining securing justice, equality, and liberty of all citizens be it men or women? Article 15 provides for fundamental rights, specifically the right against discrimination based on caste, color, creed, and sex. Article 21 provides the right to life and personal liberty. Its expanded interpretation given by the honorable Supreme Court in the Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) case has spelled out the right of every child to develop fully, the right to education, and the right to health, yet female foetuses are killed and never given the right to develop, girls are not provided education, mothers being made to suffer from undernutrition, adversely impacting on them and their offspring.

It is not that the country has insufficient policies to eradicate these social ills. For example, as per the National Family Health Survey of 2019-21, 18.7% of total women suffer from malnutrition despite many policies at national and state levels aiming to overcome it. Similarly, the National Programme for Education of Girls at the Elementary Level, yet the National Sample Survey conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation shows the gender gap in literacy to be 16.5% in rural areas. The government runs policies like Sukanya Samridhhi Yojana, which deposits money in the parents’ account upon the birth of a girl child to meet the expenses of education and marriage, and the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojna, which aims at preventing sex-selective abortions and girl child education. Yet, we see little change in the society. A study found that the total number of missing females after birth from 1987 to 2016 in India was 13·5 million. In Rajasthan, the war against sex-selective abortions has lost its steam, and the sex ratio at birth has only worsened. Haryana is in no better shape. Along with these states, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, and Telangana have child-sex ratios that are skewed in favor of the male child.

The origins of this social evil lie in the age-old system of patriarchy that gives preference to a male child, with 94% of Indians even to this day desirous of having a son. The notion that sons are carriers of the family lineage, breadwinners, and sources of dowry strengthens this inclination. However, all these lower the status of the females and become a bane for them, especially in rural areas, where, fearing their inability to pay the dowry for their daughters, parents kill them with their own hands. This only raises questions like what the government is doing wrong. Why are these practices prevailing? How do we get rid of these issues in our country?

Historically speaking, there have been many struggles against these. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s movement against Sati (burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre), Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s movement for widow remarriage, Pandita Ramabai’s efforts for women’s emancipation during the British Era, these social reformers have fought for women’s rights and their well-being. Mass sensitization campaigns and strict policy implementation helped abolish malpractices against women in that era to an extent. This is exactly what is needed even now. The government and the judiciary need to use a firm hand against these social ills and the ill-doers. Crimes are not prevented by giving punishment but by the certainty of punishment. Recommendations by committees like the Justice Verma Committee (2013), which was set up after the Nirbhaya gang rape case of 2012, must be implemented, and accountability enforced. Alongside this, awareness campaigns need to be given a boost.

Empowered mothers are better equipped to protect and empower their daughters. Aware and open-minded fathers will not engage in evil practices against women. In addition to this, a collective effort by the government, intellectuals, and non-government organizations to bring about an attitudinal shift in society about women’s rights, gender inequality, female foeticide, and the dowry system can help eradicate these and other social ills.

We must strike at the root causes to live up to our founding fathers’ vision for India as a nation and democracy. As former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech ‘A Tryst with Destiny‘ said, “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labor and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams,”

India will truly become a democracy when women are free to be born, live safely and happily, progress, and prosper at par with their male counterparts.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.