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Archive for the ‘women's issues’ Category

The ‘genocide’ of India’s daughters

We ask if the patriarchal mindset that runs across castes and class can be changed to prevent foeticide and infanticide.

Supreme Court judges in India have summoned the health secretaries in seven states over a worrying fall in the number of young girls in India.

They are demanding details about clinics flouting the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act – to determine the sex of unborn babies – with potentially fatal consequences.

The judges are blaming what they call rampant foeticide and infanticide, and they say the mindset of parents and society need to change.

The UN children’s charity UNICEF says the culture of favouring males in India is costing the lives of millions of young girls.

The agency says more than 2,000 illegal abortions are being carried out every single day, and it is dramatically altering the balance of the population.

It warns: “Decades of sex determination tests and female foeticide that has acquired proportions are finally catching up with states in India. This is only the tip if the demographic and social problems confronting India in the coming years.”

Speaking in April 2011, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, called for a crusade against the widespread practice of foeticide and infanticide.

“The people [district medical officers] who are supposed to be enforcing the [Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act] they themselves have the same patriarchal mindset and they don’t feel that it’s wrong to kill a girl child in the desire for a boy, naturally they won’t go and prosecute anybody. Add to it corruption [within the medical profession].”

– Mitu Khurana, a pediatrician and a women’s rights activist

“The falling child sex ratio is an indictment of our social values. Our girls and women have done us proud in classrooms, in boardrooms and on the sports field. It is a national shame for us that despite this, female foeticide and infanticide continues.”

The 1991 Indian census showed there were 945 girls for every 1,000 boys, aged up to six. Ten years later, it dipped even further to just 914 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But that is just the average. The figures are far worse in some states.

The 2011 census found there were 830 girls for every 1,000 boys in the northern state of Haryana. It was 846 in neighbouring Punjab state. And in the national capital territory of Delhi the figure was 866.

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Why We Won’t Stop Buying Brides

The practice of bride buying is closely tied to many patriarchal conditions of sex selective abortions, dowry and gender discrimination. Are we ready to break all the moulds to really want to put an end to this?

A simple Google search on ‘bride buying India’ gives you a mix of results that indicate the human rights violating practice of bride buying in Northwestern states of India, matrimonial sites as well as links to designer bridal sarees and jewelry. This dichotomy itself explains a lot about how tradition and patriarchy are intertwined with the booming economy in our so-called modern Indian society.

The practice of bride buying is not very recluse from the society today. We know that it’s a vicious cycle and relationship between the gender bias within patriarchy and poverty in our country, although patriarchy does not have a stronger root or causality in poverty. Most of us know the stories and modus operandi to how it happens. The archaic system of patriarchy that propagate heavy dowries to be incurred for daughters’ marriages and desire for a long lineage, even to maintain the caste purity in the line, leads to a strong preference for the male child. Female babies are either killed in the foetus or killed or thrown in the garbage shortly after their birth. This issue was vehemently taken up and investigated from all angles in the launch episode of the social issues show, Satyameva Jayate, hosted by popular actor, Aamir Khan.

Decades of families and communities killing the girl child has resulted in an entire demographic of young girls and women missing in many villages in the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are some of the most key places. Hence, in sexual frustration and desperation and of course, the fear of their family being wiped out of the face of existence (which is what they attempted to save in the first place), they look for brides from poorer states on the Eastern parts of India. This time: caste, religion, ethnicity, color and even age, no bar.

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It is a country with a female president and where men revere female goddesses. And yet, India is far from a haven for women.

According to current estimates, Indian men outnumber women by nearly 40 million. That startling gender gap, activists say, is the result of gendercide.

Nearly 50,000 female fetuses are aborted every month and untold numbers of baby girls are abandoned or murdered.

“It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India,” said women’s rights activist Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.

Why is there such deadly discrimination against girls? Part of the answer is money. Girls are a financial burden to their parents, who must pay expensive dowries to marry them off. The dowry is a cultural tradition and the single biggest reason Indians prefer boys.

When an Indian woman gives birth to a baby boy, it is an occasion for jubilation, said women’s rights activist Gita Aravamudan, author of the book, “Disappearing Daughters.”.

Mother Says She Was Tortured to Abort Twin Girls

Those seeking to maintain the status quo, meanwhile, have been aggressive.

Mitu Khurana, 34, a pediatrician and a mother trying to fight the system, said she’s faced death threats for the lawsuit she has filed against her husband and her husband’s family.

Khurana said her parents-in-law tricked her into eating a cake made with eggs, knowing that she was allergic to eggs. She had to go to the emergency room and at the hospital, where, Khurana said, an ultrasound determined that she was pregnant with twin girls. (Watch an interview with Mitu Khurana here.)

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Her dream was to go to school, to have the freedom to study and learn. But to alleviate her mother’s financial burden of care taking both her and her brother, nineteen year old Neetu agreed to get married instead.

It was her mother’s friend who made the introduction to the 20-year old suitor. They had only met for about 20 minutes, and because she was not happy about the arrangement, Neetu stood with her back to him as they spoke. She didn’t see him again until the day of the wedding. Admitting she liked the way he looked, she did not feel they were a suitable match. Being married to him, she said, was a compromise.

The daughter of a single mother, Neetu never met her father. After a drunken rage in which he tried to kill her and her brother, her mom left the marriage.

When I met Neetu, she had been married for seven months. Matrimonial bangles graced the arms she kept demurely wrapped around herself. During our conversation, her sister-in-law sat by her side, impeding Neetu’s ability to freely speak. It was only when she was asked to go to the kitchen and make tea that Neetu was able to reveal her concerns.

Though no dowry was given, gifts were presented to her husband’s family at the time of marriage. As is sometimes the case, after a few months, her new family started to indirectly speak of material goods they did not have, but wanted. Neetu felt is was only a matter of time before their demands started. Not wanting to worry her mom, she didn’t talk with her about it.

Her desire to continue her studies was out of the question with her new responsibility to take care of her husband’s family; an additional concern for her. There was a visible sadness and a longing in Neetu. She was stuck in her life circumstances.

Maybe that is why – from the bed she shared with her husband – she doused herself with kerosene and struck a match. The news of it came in an e-mail shortly after I had left India, several months after our meeting. Our mutual friend and interpreter wrote to tell me that Neetu was unhappy with her husband because he had a problem with alcohol. So she set herself on fire. In her critical condition and without the four lakh rupees needed for treatment, she and her five month old fetus died.

Because fire is a common form of assault against women in India, incidents that are deemed accidents or suicide are looked upon with suspicion. Women do sometimes take their own lives, however. Sometimes as a way to escape their fate, or to alleviate their families of the burden of a dowry demand. But other times the in-law family fabricates a story around their crime, calling it a kitchen accident, or self-immolation.

With the concerns that Neetu wanted to speak with me about, I also had my suspicions. Her death leaves a haunting hollowness in me.

My intention of collecting stories from women who have endured the systemic degradation, oppression and violence for being born female, is to celebrate those who have made a triumphant exodus from their circumstances. To highlight their liberation as a testament for other women, to show them that it is possible. Neetu’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes women only find liberation in death.

I am humbly grateful to Neetu, and all the daughters of India who have graciously welcomed me into their lives with the courage to share their stories with the world. Through the telling and retelling of their stories, and the demand for the safety, freedom, and equality for women everywhere, one day soon we will be free, to be female.

barbara raisbeck

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Undesired
by Walter Astrada

Click on image to go to video

India is a diverse country, separated by class and ethnicity. But all women confront the cultural pressure to bear a son. This preference cuts through every social divide, from geography to economy. No woman is exempt.

This preference originates from the belief that men make money while women, because of their expensive dowry costs, are a financial burden. As a result, there is a near constant disregard for the lives of women and girls. From birth until old age, women face a constant threat of violence and too frequently, death.

The numbers are staggering. Since 1980, an estimated 40 million women are ‘missing,’ by way of abortion, neglect or murder. 7,000 female fetuses are aborted every day according to the U.N., aborted solely because they are girls. One dowry death is reported every 77 minutes. Countless others are never known.

The government has tried to intervene. Dowry and sex selective abortions are illegal. Yet both practices still thrive, in large part because of deep-rooted cultural prejudices.

Today, eighty percent of Indian states are now facing a shortage of women. To compensate for this differential, young, unknowing women are bought from surrounding countries like Bangladesh and sold to young bachelors. Not knowing a word of the language, these trafficked women now face the same kinds of violence as other Indian women.

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In India, Castes, Honor and Killings Intertwine

When Nirupama Pathak left this remote mining region for graduate school in New Delhi, she seemed to be leaving the old India for the new. Her parents paid her tuition and did not resist when she wanted to choose her own career. But choosing a husband was another matter.

Her family was Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, and when Ms. Pathak, 22, announced she was secretly engaged to a young man from a caste lower than hers, her family began pressing her to change her mind. They warned of social ostracism and accused her of defiling their religion.

Days after Ms. Pathak returned home in late April, she was found dead in her bedroom. The police have arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak, on suspicion of murder, while the family contends that the death was a suicide.

The postmortem report revealed another unexpected element to the case: Ms. Pathak was pregnant.

“One thing is absolutely clear,” said Prashant Bhushan, a social activist and lawyer now advising Ms. Pathak’s fiancé. “Her family was trying their level best to prevent her from marrying that boy. The pressure was such that either she was driven to suicide or she was killed.”

In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.

This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.

In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.

The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village — considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.

Even as the court system has sought to curb these councils, politicians have hesitated, since the councils often control significant vote blocs in local elections.

New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week. Last month, the police arrested three men for the honor killings of a couple in New Delhi who had married outside their castes, as well as the murder of a woman who eloped with a man from another caste.

Two of the suspects are accused of murdering their sisters, and an uncle of the slain couple spoke of their murders as justifiable.

“What is wrong in it?” the uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, told the Indian news media. “Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done.”

Intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, yet social attitudes remain largely resistant. In a 2006 survey cited in a United Nations report, 76 percent of respondents deemed the practice unacceptable. An overwhelming majority of Hindu couples continue to marry within their castes, and newspapers are filled with marital advertisements in which parents, seeking to arrange a marriage for a son or daughter, specify caste among lists of desired attributes like profession and educational achievement.

“This is part and parcel of our culture, that you marry into your own caste,” said Dharmendra Pathak, the father of Ms. Pathak, during an interview in his home. “Every society has its own culture. Every society has its own traditions.”
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See: Two taken into custody for justifying honour killings

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A friend recently sent me a web link to the work of artist-activist Fazal Sheikh, in particular his works on women in India. His books, available to view at his website, feature portraits and stories of females, from babies to the aged, who have been aborted, abandoned, abused, and in some instances, murdered.

Last week, while browsing through titles at a bookstore near my hotel, I saw a flier for a gallery exhibit of Fazal’s work – Ladli ‘Beloved Daughter’ that was being shown at Kriti Gallery here in Varanasi.

I knew of his work with widowed women living out their lives in Vrindavan, but was not aware of the extent of his work with all of India’s daughters, until seeing his Ladli exhibit at Kriti Gallery. The portraits and accompanying stories of the Beloved Daughter series tell of the systematic rejection and ritual abuse occurring in India, a reality that some prefer to ignore or deny that it exists.

In speaking with Navneet of Kriti Gallery, I learned that none of the galleries in Delhi are willing to host Ladli. Some, including an editor of one of India’s major news sources who came to the opening of the show at Kriti, outright reject and therefore denigrate the women and their stories, refusing to believe this India still exists. Some guests were angry that Navneet was hosting Fazal’s work, but others, like a group of high school age girls, were moved to tears by it. And this is what the portraits and stories do. Stir us to outrage, to sadness, and ideally, to action.

Krishna’s Story
from the online edition of Ladli:



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