Fri Jul 20, 2007
NEW DELHI — India's traditional preference for baby boys has resulted in the extermination of generations of females with thousands of fetuses or new born babies being killed daily for no apparent reason rather than being girls.
"One of the most disturbing revelations came from a midwife who said she had killed hundreds of newborns," journalist Gita Aravamudan told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an interview wired Friday, July 20. "She had lost count."
Aravamudan has written a book, "Disappearing Daughters", about the gruesome practice in the Hindu-majority country, including stories of women forced to endure successive pregnancies to produce male children and of others forced to have up to four abortions in five years.
"Female infanticide is akin to serial killing. But female feticide was more like a Holocaust," Aravamudan writes.
"A whole gender is getting exterminated. It is a silent and smoothly executed crime which leaves no waves in its wake."
In the past, India's unwanted baby girls have been drowned in milk, burned alive in sealed mud pots or fed milk laced with poisonous seeds.
But nowadays, they are killed in their mothers' wombs as technology enables doctors now to know the gender of the fetus in early pregnancy stages.
India has only 927 females for every 1,000 males -- far lower than the worldwide average of 1,050 females.
Almost 7,000 girls are killed through abortions every day, according to a UNICEF report.
The British medical journal The Lancet has put the loss of females at 10 million over the past two decades.
"With technology making it easier to find out the gender of a fetus in earlier stages of pregnancy, these numbers will only increase," said Aravamudan.
In India, sons are typically seen as breadwinners.
According to Hindu traditions, a son is also supposed to light his parents' funeral pyre.
On the contrary, girls are often viewed as a burden because of the matrimonial dowry demanded by a groom's family.
Fearing abuses of their daughters, many Indian women are determined to abort themselves if they find their fetus is a girl to spare her a nightmarish life.
"Better to send her straight to heaven rather than make her endure this beating and kicking around," one woman is saying in Aravamudan's book.
Others said are overpowered by their husbands.
"What do you want from me? What power do you think I have over my womb? None," said another woman. "Do I have the right to decide if I can keep the child if it is a girl? No."
The killing of girls has led to grave consequences in some Indian areas.
In some regions, an acute shortage of women has resulted in men buying brides and sharing them with their brothers.
Aravamudan's book tells of Tripala Kumari, 18, whose husband killed her because she refused to have sex with his brothers.
To stop the gruesome practice, India has introduced tough laws against tests to determine fetal gender for non-medical reasons.
Early July, the Indian government announced plans to register all pregnancies.
The data would permit authorities to focus efforts on areas with a large gap between the number of pregnancies recorded and births.
However, the rules are widely flouted by doctors in what activists say is a multi-million-dollar business. The tests are done secretly and are often hard to prove.
"Our laws against dowry and feticide are excellent, but only on paper," said Aravamudan.
"And when the girl who was buried alive is asked, for what sin was she killed." (Surah 81: Verse 8 and 9).