Female Foeticide

The first episode of Aamir Khan’s show Satyamev jayate raised the issue of female foeticide in Rajasthan. While the show asked for stringent laws, it missed a few major reasons behind the same.

  1. Male child as a support for old-age (lack of social security)
    Nandan Nilekani explained the issue in depth in its Book Imagining India and strongly recommended a contribution based pension plan for self-employed Indians to relieve old age insecurity.
  2. Prohibition on consanguineous marriage in most of India
    Indologist Koenraad Elst wrote “In patriarchal societies like Confucian China and Hindu India, a daughter leaves her family upon getting married. This affects the status of the girl child negatively, making her education into a burden on the family that will only profit another family. (…) Brahmanical tradition, like the Roman Catholic Church, frowned upon inbreeding and imposed forbidden degrees of consanguinity. This taboo does not exist in most West-Asian and North-African countries. More often than not, a young man will marry his first or second cousin; or a slightly older man, his niece.

    Thus, unfortunately, for most patriarchal Indians for whom consanguinity is a taboo, marrying his daughter to a man hitherto unknown to him (in Koenraad’s words) is like “tilling his (unknown) neighbor’s land”.

While we can always make laws to fight foeticide, the real solution can only come out by trying to sort out above two issues.
The issue of consanguinity is, of course, a cultural one but if government fixes the issue of old age insecurity, the desire for a male child and thus, the problem of female foeticide should disappear in long run.

10 Replies to “Female Foeticide”

  1. Ashish
    I fully appreciate your views and suggestions regarding the problem that was highlighted by Amir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate in yesterday’s show.Though you need to understand that most of the problems in our society are always interlinked with many other issues,though most effective actions can only be taken if the tasks forces tackling each problem is made separate and is independent of the results and performance of any other task force. Its always a chicken and egg story,so we need to deal with the chicken and egg separately,while planning to do it one by one.

  2. India doesn’t have money to implement your suggestion atleast in near future.

  3. Firstly, @Santosh
    There is actually a government program that is doing exactly what Nanadan Nilekani has suggested. Till now, only the organised labour(Government servants , plantation workers and some other categories) that really had a pension program under the EPFO scheme. Few years earlier, the govt set out , what in my opinion, is a very innovative individual contribution based (yes, EPFO is bot employee, employer and govt contribution based) pension scheme called the NPS for the unorganized workers with a corollary program for the poor working class called the Swavlamban scheme. It _can_ be more a a game changer than the other behemoth projects like MGNREGS but sadly its yet to take off. With recent legislation making it statutory, I am hopeful this program gets as much eminence as the other “welfare” schemes liek MGNREGS, Sarv sHiksha and Bharat Nirman. Old age pension for all is an idea whose time has come.

    That being said, @Ashishb, I am not very confident that old age pension is the overriding concern when a confident well earning urban household decides to go for an abortion of a girl child. Sure, it might have been so earlier, but the idea of old age security in form of a son and female foeticide has become so disentangled as to be completely removed from causality. I would like to bring to your attention the sociological phenomena of Sanskritization. I believe the preference for a son is nothing but an imitation of trends started by those who one percieves to be higher in a heirarchy, may it be caste or social status.

    If you also consider the fact that the causality between a son and old age security is built over generations and destroying that link in the social memory is going to take a few generations of good old age secuity schemes, you would realize that this is not the way for quick short term impact on the problem which is what we want desperately.

    In my opinion, one must strike at the node with the maximum multiplier effect – Ultrasound machines and nefarious clinics that allow this practice. In this case at least, the legislation is strong enough but the implementation, like so many other areas, is shoddy to say the least. Cases are disposed off without scrutiny, portable ultrasound machines are proliferating, doctors are finding newer ways to communicate to pregnant females(Ganesh and Parvati statues in the clinics), the MCI goes slow on revoking licenses. Its dismal to say the least. Yet, there is more than ample evidence that if there is enough focus and priority given to the Pre conception and pre natal diagnostic act implementation, one sees a rapid improvement(Case study of satara and adjoining districts in maharashtra). I also see a strong case for setting up district tribunals to oversee cases regarding PC PNDT because evidence is hard to get under the stringent requirements of the Evidence act and the like in cases of collusive behavior and a decent incentive structure for whistleblowing on such operations. But honestly I am not very confident about any of this working out.
    So much for legalese. Now the personal. I know my relatives’ families have all conducted ultrasound tests for their foetuses. One family got 2 girls and they concieved again and ensured that they had a son. I strongly suspect that there were abortions conducted, but no one talks about it openly.Its like a huge conspiracy in which everyone is involved. Mind you, they are extremely rich, earning truckloads, old age security not being an issue at all. Another one of my aunts, I know for a fact, lied about getting a son, to ensure that her womb was not taken from her. I felt filthy whenever I heard such abominable goings on going on in the background. The smiling urban family is the biggest facade hiding cruelty and barbarism.
    Writing this is something of a relief > Sorry for the long post

  4. Are you saying consanguineous marriages should be considered as a solution??? Think forward, not backward. Incest has never led to progress.

  5. @Sapna:
    May be I was not explicit enough in the original post, but as I said the issue of consanguinity is a cultural one “and better be left untouched”, and trying to tackle “male child as old-age support” might help in long run.

  6. @Prasoon:
    Retributive justice of punishing doctors will works in short term and I am not against it.
    I would have preferred a more concrete solution in his show.

  7. “That being said, @Ashishb, I am not very confident that old age pension is the overriding concern when a confident well earning urban household decides to go for an abortion of a girl child.”
    No, its not but preference for male child still is.
    Old age pension reduces [not eliminates] that preference.

    “Sure, it might have been so earlier, but the idea of old age security in form of a son and female foeticide has become so disentangled as to be completely removed from causality. I would like to bring to your attention the sociological phenomena of Sanskritization. I believe the preference for a son is nothing but an imitation of trends started by those who one percieves to be higher in a heirarchy, may it be caste or social status.”
    And please explain, why does that happen only in India?

    “If you also consider the fact that the causality between a son and old age security is built over generations …”
    Of course, I agree and that’s why I said its a long term solution.

    “In my opinion, one must strike at the node with the maximum multiplier effect – Ultrasound machines and nefarious clinics that allow this practice.”
    It will have impact but I don’t believe it will have a multiplier effect.
    The multiplier effect is at the top of the pyramid (attitude towards female child) and not at the bottom (on how to eliminate it).
    Even if the law eliminated foeticide, how will that deal with infanticide [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/oct/24spec.htm] ?

    In this case at least, the legislation is strong enough but the implementation, like so many other areas, is shoddy to say the least. Cases are disposed off without scrutiny, portable ultrasound machines are proliferating, doctors are finding newer ways to communicate to pregnant females(Ganesh and Parvati statues in the clinics), the MCI goes slow on revoking licenses. Its dismal to say the least. Yet, there is more than ample evidence that if there is enough focus and priority given to the Pre conception and pre natal diagnostic act implementation, one sees a rapid improvement(Case study of satara and adjoining districts in maharashtra). I also see a strong case for setting up district tribunals to oversee cases regarding PC PNDT because evidence is hard to get under the stringent requirements of the Evidence act and the like in cases of collusive behavior and a decent incentive structure for whistleblowing on such operations. But honestly I am not very confident about any of this working out.
    So much for legalese. Now the personal. I know my relatives’ families have all conducted ultrasound tests for their foetuses. One family got 2 girls and they concieved again and ensured that they had a son. I strongly suspect that there were abortions conducted, but no one talks about it openly.Its like a huge conspiracy in which everyone is involved. Mind you, they are extremely rich, earning truckloads, old age security not being an issue at all. Another one of my aunts, I know for a fact, lied about getting a son, to ensure that her womb was not taken from her. I felt filthy whenever I heard such abominable goings on going on in the background. The smiling urban family is the biggest facade hiding cruelty and barbarism.”

  8. I think our society is wired to implicitly/passively discriminate against a female: the way our governments are structured, the way free market places differing value on equally skilled jobs, the way the society forces a woman to play by man’s rules that are sometimes fundamentally at odds with her areas of strength etc. And I’m not even touching on active social discrimination here.

    Saving the girl child is just the half way mark. To achieve a fully fair, equal opportunity society, we need to get women to make rules too. Imagine a nation ruled by only women (who are proud to showcase their feminine qualities, not the ones who play along man’s games with their tough exterior). Would you not want to live in it, given it has less chance of provoking other nations, less pile up of weaponry, never going on war, less economic inequality etc? Today, it’s a man’s world, and women are living in it. This reality saddens me. Unfortunately, no one including Aamir Khan talks about this aspect.

  9. To achieve a fully fair, equal opportunity society, we need to get women to make rules too

    Fully agree.

    Imagine a nation ruled by only women (who are proud to showcase their feminine qualities, not the ones who play along man’s games with their tough exterior). Would you not want to live in it, given it has less chance of provoking other nations, less pile up of weaponry, never going on war, less economic inequality etc?

    This however sounds like hyperoptimistic romanticism to me. I don’t think (and I think this is well borne out in scientific studies) that there is so much of a difference between the psychological make-up of men and women that there would be any other fundamental change in the world (apart from greater gender equality) with more women in power. Would you say that leaders like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher were just “acting tough” to make it a men’s world? Somehow I find that rather hard to believe.

  10. Typo in my last line: the last line should be “… make it *in* a men’s world…”

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