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The Times of India, Nov 06, 2000
Female infanticide continues unchecked, unheard

NEW DELHI: Shocking as it may sound, the age-old social evil of female infanticide, which spreads across several parts of rural India, seems to be showing no signs of a let-up.

In fact, it is an important factor contributing to the declining sex-ratios at least in some parts of the country, and is no longer confined to its 'original territory' of northern provinces, but has emerged de-novo in the south.

But what baffles the experts and social workers, engaged in the efforts to eliminating this criminal practice, is the reluctance of even some of the educated to talk on the issue.

A look at the sex ratios in India proves that compared to 1901, the census of 1991 shows only Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Rajasthan having registered an increase in the number of females per thousand males. Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have shown the maximum decline in this ratio.

"This is due to the mentality that looks down upon the female child as a burden. The fear of dowry on one hand, and losing property in inheritance, on the other, are the major irritants in acceptance of a girl child," say Dr Ami Sengupta of the Delhi Science Forum (DSF).

The popular perception draws the girl child as a losing proposition - only to be married to another family. That leads to a natural dislike for girls, concludes Sengupta.

A number of factors, including neglect of female infants and better healthcare to males might be one reason accounting for the decline in sex ratio, experts said.

There are other factors responsible, too, for the lopsided ratio. Experts feel that the most important of these are female infanticide and foeticide, which are, unlike other countries, very closely linked in our country.

To highlight the matter, a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court recently, by the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) and the Mahila Sarvangeen Utkash Mandal (MASUM).

The petition draws attention "to the gross misuse of reproductive technology in a society characterised by a strong bias against the female child. Even as female infanticide is yet to be eradicated, techniques have widened the gap in the already skewed sex ratio."

Dr Venkatesh Athreya, head of economics department of the Bharathidasan University in Tamil Nadu, the only state to have concrete figures on the issue, agrees.

"The practice of female foeticide must necessarily be of very recent origin, since the technology for identifying the sex of the foetus has come into use in our country only recently. The infanticide has a much longer history in India," Dr Athreya, who has done extensive research on female infanticide in Tamil Nadu notes.

"This shows that the path of development pursued by India since independence have served to exacerbate inequality along several dimensions. One such important one is gender inequality," he says.

Female infanticide and foeticide have been notoriously prevalent in north India, but there is also a noticeable trend of declining sex ratios in the south as well, with the exception of Kerala, observe experts.

Haryana has the lowest sex ratio in the country at 875 females per 1,000 males. Neighbouring Punjab stands closer at 882.

The heinous practice of sex discrimination is not a secret business now. And newspapers often carry advertisements by private clinics offering sperm separation and sex selection before conception.

A study released by the state resource centre of literacy mission, Haryana, has shown that the transfer of reproductive technology to India has had deleterious effects and its abuse resulted in the reinforcement of patriachal values.

Women belonging to upper castes and wealthy landed families interviewed for the study by Sabu George of CEHAT and Dr R.S. Dahiya of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), Rohtak, admitted that they practised female foeticide.

The fight against female infanticide and foeticide can be carried on only with total societal participation. It is an extreme and reprehensible form of violence against women and is clearly rooted in our patriachal socio-economic structure.

"Discrimination against the girl child has been seen more in the intermediate class/caste, especially in communities which have resources in the form of land and money, than in the poor and lower caste families", says Sengupta.

"In the ultimate analysis, the fight against female infanticide will have to be linked to the fight against the dominant culture of patriachy, sanctioned and supported by useless religious obscurantism", says Dr Athreya.

Any strategy to address and eliminate female infanticide, and its latest form - foeticide - must, therefore, address the larger issues of patriarchy and unequal development.

In the long run, only a broader and successful movement to transform the structure and policies of our society in a democratic direction can eliminate all forms of violence implicit and explicit.(PTI)

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