Thursday, June 29, 2006

India might be a country rushing headlong into 21st century but every year thousands of babies are aborted or killed at birth because they are girls

Navdip Dhariwal:

The heat is stifling here. Some days it's pushing 45 degrees. My body is overheating and we're only two thirds of the way there!

I'm not alone - 25 million other women are expected to give birth in India this year. With the very best medical care, our bundle of joy stands a good chance, but one out of 22 Indian babies will not survive beyond its first month.

According to UNICEF, poor nutrition and hygiene, and a high number of young mothers contribute to low birth weights and slim chances of survival.

If our baby is a girl - her arrival is likely to be greeted, by some, with condolences. A friend - delighted with his new daughter soon became infuriated at comments that his home had been cursed with a girl.

"Relatives arrived laden with gifts of sweet meats," he said. "They cuddled her and shook their heads at our misfortune."

These are attitudes engrained in many sections of Indian society. More than 10 million female fetuses have been aborted in India in the last two decades.

The prospect of paying a dowry and knowing a daughter could never generate the income of a son is enough for some families to commit murder.

In my parents' native Punjab, girls are often killed at birth. It has skewed the ratio of girls to boys so much that some villages have not seen the birth of a female in years. Thousands of men in rural areas now have trouble finding a wife.

I remember the stories my mother told me - of the neighbour who would take baby girls in the middle of the night and drown them in the village well. My mother also told me how guilty and how much of a failure she was made to feel when I arrived a year after my older sister.

It is not only in the countryside that daughters are unwanted. Middle class, educated women are often at the front of the queue to terminate.

What a contrast to the welcome a boy receives. Then the gates of the baby's home will be crowded with screeching Hijaras.

They are eunuchs - castrated men, long haired and unshaven, dressed in bright Salwaar Kameezes or saris. Fierce, aggressive and unrelenting, they wander from home to home searching out new born sons and demanding cash.

"Your good fortune must be shared," they say, "otherwise we will shower you with curses or steal your baby".

Theirs is a flourishing trade, profiting from deep rooted superstitions. The eunuchs' blessings and curses can be equally potent, so neighbours advise you to pay them off handsomely.

But we will not know the sex of our child until it is born. It is illegal for doctors to divulge the information because of the widespread termination of female fetuses.

We suggested to the charming middle-aged doctor that as foreigners surely that rule need not apply to us - he had already told other friends who are both white, the sex of their baby.

But the doctor smiled and shook his head. "Bad timing," he said, "I couldn't possibly - a colleague of mine has just been locked up and paraded in front of the local press for revealing the sex of a baby".

I am of Indian descent but my husband is a blonde, blue-eyed and fiercely proud Scotsman. He was gob-smacked. I felt deflated - did the doctor really think that I would terminate the pregnancy if I was told a girl was on the way?

We could not know our baby's sex but we reassured each other that at least the scan showed it was healthy.

If all goes well, we will greet our new arrival at the end of August.

‘23,000 female foetuses aborted in Delhi last year’

Aborting female fetuses is growing problem in India


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

View My Stats