Friday, July 13, 2007

Of women born and unborn

Two stories caught my eye as I read the BBC with my morning coffee. In Bangladesh, classmates of 13 year old Habiba Sultana was able to save her from a forced child marriage. Habiba comes from a poverty-stricken family and her father had decided to marry her off to her 23 year old neighbour. A not-so-unfamiliar story of the gender dimensions of poverty.

In India, the government has proposed that all pregnant women register with the government so that it can regulate abortions. This is, on the face of it, a ridiculous proposition both in terms of the norms it embodies and the institutional impossibility it entails. What we will effectively have is a black economy which will make back-alley abortions even more rampant and all sorts of new and creative arrangements for the harassment of women will become institutionalized. I am not sure if this proposal is any better than the cradle scheme or the 'palna' project. "Under the scheme, baby girls can be dropped off at government cradle centres - akin to orphanages - that would be set up in each district in the next couple of months. Cradles will be placed at various government agencies including primary healthcare centres, hospitals, nursing homes and short-stay homes. Later, these babies would be transferred to specialised adoption agencies for rehabilitation.." (link)

Of course, I do not wish to suggest that the alternative is just to allow the continuation of foeticide. But I do wish to suggest that this is not a problem where governmental efficiency can be put on display as a solution. The problem in India has many dimensions which cuts across social class and education female infanticide is not limited to "the poor' - in fact the "new" Indian middle travels to the US to take advantage of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis technique). One of the reasons often cited for this "cross-class" gender bias are institutions such as dowry - and hence the efftors to link the question of foeticide to the economic value of women.

This value analysis of human beings, is in my opinion, ethically and politically unacceptable - and as long as we make economics the main argument against killing foetuses we will get nowehere. Neither will we get anywhere by taking away women's freedom of choice and her basic reproductive rights. The solution lies in two things: the strict implementation of the laws preventing sex selection, and political, legal and institutional support to (men and) women who try and resist this terrible practice. Just as Nisha Sharma made news by resisting dowry, there must be women in India who are refusing to kill their unborn daughters. We must find them and bring their stories into the realm of public knowledge.


6 comments:

drift wood said...

Hi,
Whether we like it or not, the question of the economic value of a girl vs. that of a boy does play an imp. role in gender preferences.More than 'carrying the family line forward', the obscene amounts of dowry (some cushion it as 'tilak' or gifts)that families in punjab, u.p, haryana & most hindi speaking belts have to dole out, automatically makes a daughter an unwelcome presence. being a bong frm kolkata, i'd limited exposure to this odious custom. close exposure to the culture of haryana & m.p. has now revealed that dowry poses an overwhelming burden on the families of even those girls who are prof. qualified & financially independent. perhaps one of the ways of handling the prob. of foeticide wud be to implement stricter laws & award serious punishments that act as a deterrent to all those who contribute to making dowry a reality even today.

Debjani said...

Ita amazing isn't it, that the only solution to infanticide seems to be to increase surveillance on women, pregnant women!! I absolutely agree with Ananya that this will further spawn illegal abortions and deterioration of women's reproductive health. I am also wondering where it leaves doctors in the whole issue. Does it restrict them from performing mtp even if required for the mother's health? Or is that a loophole that can be taken advantage of?
If female infanticide needs to be dealt with, such myopic measures will not be effective. Why not take a look at the indulgence of dowry in Indian social and legal measures? How many dowry convictions have we really had and if they have not acted as deterrants don't we need to take a look at the reasons for that?

Instead, the lawmakers make women register themselves which obviously implies that the person registering will be held solely responsible for any transgression. As if women decide upon and carry out female infanticide all by themselves!! As long as Indian laws fail to regard the extended family as a prime decision maker, the woman will be vicitimised many times over.

Women being looked upon as equally valuable citizens may be a long way off, but until then at least, our reproductive rights need to be defended. In any case, the answer does not lie in treating women as potential criminals.

Debjani said...

Debjani said...
Ita amazing isn't it, that the only solution to infanticide seems to be to increase surveillance on women, pregnant women!! I absolutely agree with Ananya that this will further spawn illegal abortions and deterioration of women's reproductive health. I am also wondering where it leaves doctors in the whole issue. Does it restrict them from performing mtp even if required for the mother's health? Or is that a loophole that can be taken advantage of?
If female infanticide needs to be dealt with, such myopic measures will not be effective. Why not take a look at the indulgence of dowry in Indian social and legal measures? How many dowry convictions have we really had and if they have not acted as deterrants don't we need to take a look at the reasons for that?

Instead, the lawmakers make women register themselves which obviously implies that the person registering will be held solely responsible for any transgression. As if women decide upon and carry out female infanticide all by themselves!! As long as Indian laws fail to regard the extended family as a prime decision maker, the woman will be vicitimised many times over.

Women being looked upon as equally valuable citizens may be a long way off, but until then at least, our reproductive rights need to be defended. In any case, the answer does not lie in treating women as potential criminals.

ishani said...

Among other social evils, dowry also stokes corruption among the middle class in North India. There's a huge army of middle ranking officials in government (including those in the police forces) jobs who resort to corrupt means of making money to fund their daughters' weddings.I've seen low & middle ranking govt officials in Delhi spend many lakhs of rupees in buying cars, jewellery, gifts and throwing lavish parties for their daughters' weddings' in Delhi. Ironically, often the marriages dont work and girls are back to the father's house within a few months sans the jewellery and cars of course! But North Indian culture is so aggressive - I dont think its possible for any outsider, including Bengali women to do anything about this. There has to be a mass and radical reform movement from within the ranks & file!

Anonymous said...

so what is your point, Ananya?

Sandeep said...

Dear Anonymous, could the point be clearer? Do read the post again and the comments by Ishani and Debjani.