No graves for millions of aborted baby girls

23 03 2011

Female foeticide awareness movement

If I lived in India, I wouldn’t know my name. If I lived in India, I wouldn’t know what my father looked like or hear the sound of my mother’s voice. If I lived in India, I wouldn’t see the color of the sky or feel the coolness of the rain – because, if I lived in India, I probably would have never been born.

Although the killing of women exists in many different manifestations in societies across the world, Indian society has created some unique and particularly cruel versions. One of the most extreme forms is female foeticide, where female fetuses are selectively aborted after pre-natal sex determination, in order to avoid the birth of girls. As a result of these abortions, between 35 and 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population, according to Indu Grewal and J. Kishore. In some parts of the country, the sex ratio of girls to boys has dropped significantly, with less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys (International Humanist and Ethical Union).

The practice of female foeticide is derived from the Indian dowry system, where women are viewed as financial burdens. When a woman marries, her family must pay the groom’s family a significant sum as a gift for the groom accepting the woman as his bride. Thus, a man is seen as a moneymaker for his family, while a woman is condemned as a costly investment with no reward. Additionally, the Hindu religion, practiced by a vast majority of Indians, greatly favors men over women. “The birth of a son is regarded as essential in Hinduism and many prayers and lavish offerings are made in temples in the hope of having a male child,” said Grewal and Kishore. “Modern medical technology is used in the service of this religion-driven devaluing of women and girls.”

The advent of new medical technologies has greatly aided in this barbaric ritual. In the 1970’s private fetus determination clinics began to pop up all over India as ultrasound equipment became more advanced. With this trend came the process of selective abortion, and it has only grown in popularity, especially with more affluent women.“Worryingly, the trend is far stronger in urban rather than rural areas, and among literate rather than illiterate women, exploding the myth that growing affluence and spread of basic education alone will result in the erosion of gender bias,” said Grewal and Kishore.

Medical professionals are not immune to this detrimental thinking. They encourage their patients to undergo selective abortions and will risk malpractice claims to perform the operation. A woman who chooses not to proceed is not only shunned by her doctor, but by all of society.

While Indian culture perpetuates this practice, the impact on society cannot be overlooked. Though this practice should be banned for many reasons related to violations of women’s rights, there are also practical implications. China, another country that has a prevalence of selective abortions has begun to calculate the risks of this practice. According to Chinese estimates, by 2020 there are likely to be 40 million unmarried young men in China, because of the adverse sex ratio.” A society with a preponderance of unmarried young men is prone to particular dangers,” said Grewal and Kishore. “More women are likely to be exploited as sex workers. Increases in molestations and rape are an obvious result. The sharp rise in sex crimes in Delhi have been attributed to the unequal sex ratio.”

India's current president, Pratibha Patil. Photo Courtesy of

Though there have been attempts at legislation against female feticide, there has been little success in eliminating this practice, as Indian society is deeply steeped in beliefs of female inferiority. However, hope lies in the current president of India, Pratibha Patil.

“Today, there are fewer women in India than men, and if this trend continues it would have negative impact on the society itself,” said Patil in a recent speech. “Women, particularly already those empowered, can be an effective voice for articulating women related causes, including in the fight against social evils like female foeticide, child marriage, dowry and addictions as well as against the discrimination and biases that exist in society against women,” said Patil.

Patil is aiming to make female empowerment through the destruction of practices like female feticide a priority in her service to the country. To do this, she must first convince women that they have a place in society and that they have a choice against selective abortions. Then comes the biggest challenge – changing views that have been present since the founding of the country. Hopefully she can prevail where others have been unsuccessful. Though many are fighting against her empowerment platform, I believe that this woman can do what a man couldn’t: inspire a nation of women to unshackle their own chains.


Caste away

21 03 2011

When I was begrudgingly forced to enter the chaotic and cruel world inflicted upon American teenagers known as high school, I immediately recognized a social hierarchy from my first moments in the crowded halls.

Football players and other athletes, also called “jocks” thanks to a slew of 1980s teen angst flicks, were firmly placed at the top rung of the social ladder, right next to their female counterparts – the promiscuous pretty girls. A few rungs down were the sports enthusiasts, endowed with an uncanny sense of school spirit, followed by the socially active overachievers who were constantly clawing for student government positions. Towards the bottom of the barrel lurked the social misfits, who would rather not have any label attached to them, as labels upset their desire for “anarchy.”

Stereotypical, yes, but this social order was as real as any other. Throughout my four years in high school I tried my best to avoid being assigned to any group, determined to carve my own social patterns without any labels destructing my path. I had a choice as to whether or not I would be a featured member in one of the cliques. People in India do not have choice.

Caste systems are as fundamental to India’s culture as curry spices or Bollywood films, but far more destructive. Derived from Hinduism, this twisted hierarchy has been embedded in the culture for over 1500 years and thrives on the belief that mankind are not created equally. According to National Geographic, “The ranks…come from a legend in which the main groupings, or varnas, emerge from a primordial being. From the mouth come the Brahmans—the priests and teachers. From the arms come the Kshatriyas—the rulers and soldiers. From the thighs come the Vaisyas—merchants and traders. From the feet come the Sudras—laborers…A fifth group describes the people who are achuta, or untouchable. The primordial being does not claim them.”

To be born an untouchable is to be cast into a sea of hatred. Untouchables are outcasts in Indian culture and must live separately from all other castes and hope to be spared from the tortuous tormenting that accompanies being born into such unfortunate circumstance. According to National Geographic one out of six Indians must suffer from this fate, with no way to escape the physical and emotional tolls of being an untouchable. They are beaten, raped, forced into slavery, and discriminated against in every way possible.

Though the persecution of the untouchables is one of the worst aspects of the caste system, there are many other less dangerous, but equally severe consequences. One from a lower caste cannot ever be accepted by one of a higher caste – friendships and marriages must be of the same ranking. Furthermore, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for one born to a low caste to become successful in business or politics. Lower castes are resigned to a life of low work – manual labor or cleaning services.

Activists around the globe have been trying to fight this ancient system for years. The European Union has had hearings on the issue recently, and European Parliament has passed a resolution on this human rights situation, noting with concern “the lack of substantive EU engagement with the Indian Government on the vast problem of caste-based discrimination,“ according to Peter van Dalen.

However, very little has been done by the EU system to implement the recommendations made. Furthermore, India’s repeated attempts to silence international debate on this issue, deeming it an internal matter, have deterred other parties from stepping in on the matter. For now, the caste system stays, caging the Indian people with no chance of escaping.

Somehow, after discovering the horrors of the Indian caste system, the American social ladder wrought with jocks, preps, nerds, and misfits doesn’t seem so despicable.

Into the blogosphere

17 03 2011

Indian flag

Humans are hunters and gatherers – we have been from the time of the first man, drifting out into the wilderness in search of vital nutrients. Modern man still exhibits this intuitive hunting and gathering behavior in all aspects of life. When first creating this blog, I too felt compelled by ancestral thinking to hunt and gather other blogs and websites to inspire and inform my own writing.

As I waded through the blogosphere seeking my prey, I had difficulty finding content that was relatable to my own goals. India is one of the technology capitals of the world and this position is greatly reflected in the blogs produced by its countrymen. Though these blogs were flashy and filled with facts that would awe the geeksquad, I found little excitement within their macromedia presentations and continued my hunt elsewhere.

What I eventually gathered may not be visually stimulating or complicated in design, but the content relates to my area of interest and has provided me with relevant supplement information to my own musings.
Completely user friendly, offers India-centric news story in a quick, easy to read format. I try to visit the site on a daily basis (pun intended) in order to digest the latest happenings in India without getting bogged down with excessive content. The site may lack flashy structure, but its simplicity is what I find appealing.

The India Daily
Not to be confused with the aforementioned site, The India Daily is an excellent news source with much more visually appealing organization. The India Daily is also much more comprehensive, offering a range of news topics and stories. I credit this site with helping me get a grasp on the Indian political system and I enjoy perusing its archives for insight into recent happenings in the country.

The India Post
Though The India Post masks itself as a general news blog, its articles often center around the issues facing the nation, including human trafficking and child abuse. Because of its humanitarian heart, I have found The India Post to be a great asset in my quest to learn about the trials of India, as well as an excellent resource for news that is often left out of the more established Indian news sites.

Think Change India
A country with much social disrupt, India is home to generations of contempt and unrest. Fortunately, there are strong-minded individuals in the country who have banded together to work on the social challenges present in India. Think Change India tracks progress in social change and innovation in the country and compiles all relevant information in a blog format. Updated regularly, this blog provides hope for the ever-changing social dynamics in India.

Trafficking in India

A blog close to my own heart, Trafficking in India focuses not only on its namesake, but also on other issues related to the abuse of women in the country, including female infanticide. I enjoy the blog’s colloquialisms, which have inspired me to learn more about different regions and cultures present in the nation. Updated regularly with instances of trafficking, rescue reports, and ways to become an abolitionist against this modern day slavery cast by sex, I have found this blog to be the most frequented authority in my arsenal of resources.

Indian woman fights modern day slavery

2 03 2011

Ruchira Gupta works to empower girls to better their situation. Photo courtesy of Apne Aap

Today I was enraged when another car cut me off in traffic, and then proceeded to take the last parking space in the lot. I spent my morning driving around in circles in search of a precious space and then was late to my yoga class, disrupting the chi with my own frustration. I should have been relaxed, embracing the energy of the world with each breath. Instead, I was angry, fixated on that damn car that stole my parking space.

Today a ten-year-old girl in India was sold into slavery and forced to have sex with a paying customer. Her innocence was taken for a handful of rupees paid to her father, glad to be relieved of the burden of having a daughter. And she is not alone.

In India, there are an estimated 2.3 million in prostitution, a quarter of whom are minors and children, most of whom were forced into this profession through sex trafficking. These modern day slaves are forced to have sex with 10 to 25 customers a night and bred by their masters to produce future prostitutes and laborers. They are sold like animals from brothel to brothel, having no control of their own fate.

But Ruchira Gupta is fighting to emancipate these slaves. A former journalist, Gupta has spent the last 25 years working to end sex trafficking through her organization Apne Aap.

“It began as an assignment when I worked as a journalist,” said Gupta. “Walking through Nepal, many villages in the hills had no women between the ages of 15 and 45. It was strange and I started making inquiries. The answer was always the same: ‘They have gone to work in Mumbai.’”

Gupta soon learned all of the twisted elements involved in sex trafficking – parents selling daughters, women being grabbed off the streets. She contacted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to work on a documentary and began to hang around the brothels to try to build relationships with the slaves locked behind the doors.

“I didn’t want to involve any government personnel,” said Gupta. “I felt it more important to reach out to the women, gain their trust, and let them know I was on their side.”

The documentary Gupta had been working on with CBC, The Selling of Innocents earned her an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism in 1997, but resulted in a much larger reward for the women she had met when filming.

“I believed that in order to really change their situation, the women needed to help themselves, and I would help them,” said Gupta. “Apne Aap means self-help in Hindi, and it began as an informal group of these women and myself as I helped them help themselves.”

Over time, Apne Aap has grown substantially, mobilizing and mentoring trafficked girls and women to empower each other. It has reached 10,072 women and girls, and of these 812 girls are in regular schools, 1,200 women have formed small business cooperatives known as self-help groups, and 3,042 women have submitted a petition to Indian Parliament asking for a change in the anti-trafficking law, according to the Apne Aap web site.

Gupta has continued to lobby for these women and believes her most significant contribution to be highlighting the link between trafficking and prostitution and moving the blame from the victim to the perpetrator. For her efforts Gupta has been awarded the Clinton Global Citizen Award, among other honors.

Today I was angry, and then I remembered I am free. I have a chance to shape my own life and happiness, and, because of Gupta, Indian women now have a chance too.

Wikileaks documents enhance Indian government, suppress Indian tragedies

10 02 2011

Photo courtesy of Live India

In a country where demanding the right to information can be fatal, the Wikileaks scandal would seem to be a threat to the information suppression perpetuated by the Indian government. However, the release of the 41 cables pertaining to India seems to have caused little ruckus.

In fact, Wikileaks may have enhanced the reputation of the country. The documents concerning India are few and when the country is involved in a cable it is not controversial in nature. One document expresses India’s criticism of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, while another document reveals India’s encouragement of democracy in Burma.

Through most of the documents, India is portrayed as a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. Vehemently opposing terrorism, India frequently discusses counter-terrorism methods with the U.S. in multiple documents (including this one) with an emphasis in the volatile regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and South Asia. India is made to look like an anti-terrorist hero, a freedom fighter like the U.S.

The documents even aid the government in responding to the devastating Mumbai attacks of 2008 where “gunman carried out a series of coordinated attacks…killing 101 people and injuring 287 more,” according to BBC News. According to the document, “steps…to strengthen the country’s intelligence and terror fighting capacity” were carried out “in the 36 hours since the terrorists in Mumbai were taken out.” Additionally, the document reveals that government changes took place immediately after the attack with government officials resigning for stronger, more capable leaders to take their place.

Though Wikileaks did not cause any damage to the country’s reputation, the problems of India lie not within government secrets, but within the culture that is embedded in the nation. It is ironic that one of the Wikileaks documents reveals India’s concern over the human rights debacle in Sri Lanka when the country perpetuates its own human rights scandal. Perhaps India can escape cries of hypocrisy for the country does not use citizens as human shields, as was the case in Sri Lanka, but the terror that Indian women face every day cannot be suppressed.

Yes, I believe the cables should have been released, as no one should be denied information – even information that is confidential in nature. However, with these cables India is painted as anything but a horrifying harbor of human rights atrocities.

Let’s not forget that there are an estimated 2.3 million Indian women in prostitution, a quarter of whom are minors and children, most of whom are forced into this drudergy and will never know another life (according to Coalition Against Trafficking in Women).

Just because India has come away clean in the Wikileaks scandal, doesn’t mean problems don’t exist. India’s problems lurk in the red light districts where women are taken to a life of slavery.