About 500,000 fetuses are aborted in India a year. The current running figure is estimated between 35 to 50 MILLION. The fetuses were aborted because they happen to be females as revealed by ultra-sound tests.
The practice of female infanticide has a long history in India. A few years ago millions of baby girls are killed immediately after birth because of the widespread cultural preference for sons.
A popular way of doing away with the unwanted children is to feed them milk laced with yerakkam paal (the poisonous juice of the oleander plant). Within minutes, the baby turned blue and died, a mother stated matter-of-factly, as she, weak after childbirth, helplessly watched her mother-in-law give the poison to her baby.
Yerakkam paal however is more “merciful” than the other method that uses paddy husk. The paddy husk slits the tender gullet with its sharp sides as it slides down the tiny throat.
Most “modern” families use pesticides, sleeping pills or just simply suffocate the infant with a pillow.
However, with the growing popularity of the ultrasound machine to determine the sex of a child, killing them can now be made earlier than birth. Female fetuses, now easily identified, can be aborted fast.
A growing, alarming rate on the practice of female feticide had been noted. Penn sisu kolai, as female infanticide is known in local parlance, is a widespread and socially accepted phenomenon in several parts/states of India like Harvana, Chandigarh, Daman, Diu, Punjab and Nadu.
The female infanticide belt has been identified to stretch through the districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, North Arcot, Periyar, Dindigul and Madurai. Hardcore regions like north Salem, south Dharmapuri, south Dindigul and west Madurai accounted for practically 70 per cent of all female infanticide in the state.
According to CBC News writer Jeremy Copeland, a proverb “Raising a girl is like watering the neighbour’s garden” generally sums up the way girls in India are seen – as an economic burden on their parents.
Parents about to marry off their daughters in India usually have to pay for the wedding and give a large dowry to the groom’s family. Though formally outlawed, the practice of dowry is still pervasive in Indian society. This can run ridiculously beyond ones means as an average civil servant earns about 100,000 rupees a year (US$3,500) while the combination of dowry and wedding expenses usually add up to more than a million rupees (US$35,000) – Porras, “Female Infanticide and Foeticide”.
Parents of daughters struggle to earn enough for a dowry, and to make payments once a marriage settlement is reached. Parents are often forced to take out huge loans to cover the costs. After the wedding the girl usually goes to live with her husband’s family.
In cases where they are unable to or unwilling to make the payments they have promised, the dowry problem seems easily resolved as can be seen in the 25,000 young brides who are burned to death every year, and the hundreds of thousands who are emotionally and physically abused by their in-laws, because their parents have not kept up with dowry demands.
One root cause for the trend toward female feticide is the Hindu belief that parents cannot obtain salvation unless they have a son to perform their last rites. The prayer found in a familiar hymn in Atherva Veda, a Hindu scripture, exemplifies the religious sanction for discrimination against women: The birth of a girl, grant elsewhere; here, grant a son.
Women in such areas are second class citizens. Even when daughters are allowed to go to school, they are burdened with household chores, leading to high dropout rates. Across all the religions, the birth of a son is celebrated while the birth of a daughter is mourned.
Girls generally dont survive their growing up years and even when they do they are not as healthy as the males. A recent research revealed that parents are prone to feed their male progeny more and healthier foods than females. It is usual for girls and women to eat less than men and boys and to have their meal after the men and boys had finished eating. Greater mobility outside the home provides boys with the opportunity to eat sweets and fruit from saved-up pocket money or from money given to buy articles for food consumption. In case of illness, it is usually boys who have preference in health care. … More is spent on clothing for boys than for girls[,] which also affects morbidity. – Karlekar, “The girl child in India.”
Whats being done is not enough
Since the Indian government seems to have gone all out in eradicating feticide and infanticide. Those practicing it are now more cautious, more secretive. If someone registers a case of suspected infanticide and the body is exhumed, the ‘old’ methods of killing can be detected and those who committed the crime can be persecuted.
For infanticide, the methods of killing has evolved. From a quick and relatively painless procedure, it had turned into a prolonged and torturous one for the child.
In some cases the newborn is deliberately weakened and dehydrated by her own parents. In one instance it was learned that they did this by wrapping the child in a wet towel or dipping it in cold water soon after delivery or as soon as the child arrives home from hospital. If the child is still alive after a few hours, its taken to a doctor who will promptly diagnose the child with pneumonia and prescribe medicines. The prescription is always carefully preserved, but the medicines are never bought. When the child finally dies, the parents bandy the medical certificate to prove pneumonia with the prescription to boot.
Sometimes, the infant is fed a drop of alcohol to create symptoms similar to diarrhea. Another certifiable ‘disease’.
Those practicing infanticide now prefer to cremate the little bodies but it does raise suspicions as burial is still the popular practice. Before the crackdown, these criminals would bury the dead infants in shallow graves in the fields, putting a stone over the spot to deter animals from digging the bodies. Now it is different.
Snippets to further break your heart
these broke mine further
*An international group which set up a small orphanage went a step further by setting up empty cradles in select communities where unwanted babies. This was the famous ‘cradle baby’ scheme to appeal to mothers to leave their babies in the cradles instead of killing them. The scheme, however, did not generate much response. In one year, only seven girl babies were left in the crib whereas over 700 ‘disappeared’ shortly after birth.
*Social workers who stood outside the house of a woman about to give birth so they can take away the child if shes unwanted was chased by a couple of men, bearing their trademark aruvaals (choppers.) The social workers got intimidated and moved away. By the time they returned, the girl child had been born, killed and buried.
*In 1993, of the 800 female births registered in a hospital (Usilampatti), 600 had ‘disappeared’. No one even spoke of the unregistered births. There was no proper documentation. No real figures.
*At Nalampalli village near Salem, a girl spoke of how her mother-in-law had just killed her sister-in-law’s third daughter. “My husband’s mother wrapped the newborn girl in a wet towel. She threw it on the ground and pushed it with her toe. ‘Who wants this?’ she said and went out of the room. All of us stood there, afraid to pick the baby up. My sister-in-law, who was weak after the delivery, just wept. A few hours later, the child died. They got a doctor’s certificate to say it had pneumonia.” The year was 1999. They had discovered new and ‘better’ methods of killing since then.
*In some hamlets of … Tamil Nadu, murdering girls is still sometimes believed to be a wiser course than raising them. “A daughter is always liabilities. How can I bring up a second?” Lakshmi, 28, answered firmly when asked by a visitor how she could have taken her own child’s life eight years ago. “Instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her.” (All quotes from Dahlburg, “Where killing baby girls ‘is no big sin’.”)