Do we still need to talk about Feminism?

Tamizh readers who pop over to Lakshmi’s blog, Malarvanam will find themselves moved by this piece titled Do we still need to talk about Feminism? I was certainly much troubled by this piece which focuses on the dark side, and indeed shame, of the state of Tamil Nadu – female infanticide. Since the majority of readers, I assume, cannot read Tamizh, I will mention here in translation, some of the issues she has spoken about so eloquently.

Female infanticide has for been long prevalent in Tamil Nadu (TN), especially in some districts, for various cultural reasons. The most significant one ofcourse being that girls are required to carry a hefty dowry with them when they get married, a dowry so heavy indeed, that it can break the backs of most working class and middle class parents. In this situation, families try to put away the cause of trouble as soon as she is born. Coupled with the traditional belief that a boy is needed to light the funeral pyre to send one’s soul on its way, and the feeling that boys will take care of one in old age, girls have very little chance indeed.

Lakshmi’s piece starts with the case of one Ravi, from Dharmapuri district, who already has a male child, yet, when his third child turns out to be a girl, kills her and justifies it in this manner, “I already need to repay a lot of loans. In this situation, I thought how would I bring up this girl too, so I killed her.” Further, the magazine Junior Vigatan that she picks up this story from also has an interview with an organisation called Podhigai, working on the ground to combat this heinious practice. Lata, one of the leaders at Podhigai confirms that the practice is really far from over, and that there are many cases that do not come into the public eye.

Lakshmi also quotes the Social Welfare Officer of the Dharmapuri district, Sailakshmi, who mentions that “…The situation has improved. This is the first such incident since I have taken charge. Otherwise, in most cases, if there is a girl child born, they will drop it off in the Cradle Babies Scheme…”

The Cradle Baby scheme was a well meaning scheme started up by the TN government many years ago, when the issue of female infanticide was brought to light. While the scheme has had its successes, and atleast it prevents some girls from being killed who otherwise would have been, it is not a solution for infanticide itself. As Lakshmi says, “They avoid the sin of killing their infants, and instead, leave them with the cradle baby scheme – as orphans.”

Lakshmi left me much disturbed. While I have heard often before of the female infanticide happening in parts of TN, I was somehow under the impression that the practice is dying down. On the other hand, it seems like a very slow road indeed. Nowhere are we close to a situation where girls are genuinely viewed as equals and as assets to the family. Instead, people move into more and more devious ways of maintaining their prejudices. Can’t kill them? The police have become too watchful? Ok, never mind, lets abandon them. Even easier, kill them while they are in the womb itself. While Indian laws allow the freedom of abortion without any other conditions – they do have one condition keeping in mind the gender prejudices of Indian society. Sex determination is infact outlawed for this reason – that gender does not become a criterion for abortion. In practice, many unscrupulous doctors have no hesitation in performing this test and telling parents what sex the child is – so that they can decide, whether it can be ‘allowed’ to live.

Makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it? But what can we do about it? I felt close to tears when I read Lakshmi’s powerfully written piece, hard to reproduce here. While many organisations are working to combat these, this is not about girls alone. Unless we have enough Indian men who will stand up and say that they will not take any sort of dowry, girls are likely to continue being seen as a burden. (And no, dowry is not restricted to the uneducated poor, in case anyone has such notions). In a patriarchal society, unless both halves change, there is no hope of our girls seeing the light of day.

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14 Comments

  1. It is a deep rooted problem.
    Empowering women to stand up for the cause would be better than expecting Men to do such an action. As a matter of fact, there is no meaning in discussing this issue based on gender. The whole society has to change and move forward. It needs a collective and collaborative effort. It is a tough challenge….

  2. Does feminism involve, looking at the society as a whole or is it only related to females. I am not sure about what feminism is. Could you explain?

  3. I read this one, apu and it churned my stomach. Which is why I didn’t pass it on to anyone. I did wonder abt pointing u in that direction for your Feminist Carnival thingy.

    Humans capacity for heartlessness always astounds me.

    Is this a good time to say you are tagged? this time, it is a nice one! ask amrita!
    http://desigirl.net.in/blog/2007/12/12/the-therapeutic-tag/

  4. Tipu, yes – its a deep rooted problem with no “instant” solutions. It is gender based, and it needs action from both men and women, esp. since men are still the earners and therefore decision makers in many families. If you’re interested in understanding feminism, a good starting point is http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com. In my understanding, it is about society as a whole but from a certain perspective – that of women, the goal being a fairer society. Not all feminists are women.

    DG – yes. but precisely bcos of that, I feel we need to discuss it more? I had noted your link at the time, but didn’t get around to reading it.
    Reg tags – heh heh. There is no good time to give me personal tags – I just don’t do them, sorry! πŸ™‚

  5. god,,,That place is a mess. I tried wiki… I think feminism is not clearly defined… I think, It is an abstract concept…

  6. If our own stinking attitudes weren’t good enough within the confines of India, we have now started a great new way of outsourcing for desis abroad. Much discussion ensued recently on my blog and on Nita’s when we discussed this matter:

    http://laviequotidienne.wordpress.com/2007/12/03/missing-indian-girl-children/

    The views of the male readers demonstrate in their ambivalence that few are ready to comprehend the complexity of the issue and even less ready to do something about it.

  7. Shefaly – goes to show that even if the place changes, ingrained attitudes die hard. I don’t know whether male readers have a tough time comprehending it, but infact I think many of us urbanites feel removed from these…though its not that urban society has no part in these…

  8. We have programme after programme on female foeticide and infanticide yet the seems no solution in sight.i’ll be attending one more such programme on the 19th Dec.Ours is an all girls college.i wonder if involving more men in these programmes will help.Where are we heading?I feel anguished and helpless.But do you think that it is only the dowry menace that is leading to this henious crime? i don’t think so.It is theprejudiced imposition of double standards that allow men to think that they are more important to society than their female counterparts and the brutal physical strength that they display their might depresse women into believing that they are better off without daughters to protect and worry about.People say that one woman is another woman’s enemy.She is not born so.it is the male dominated society that makes her so.

    A request.Please do let me know when such discussions dealing with human relations are initiated.i’d love to participate.

  9. padmaji – i completely agree. its the financial cost of dowry + these ingrained attitudes; Your programs on these – don’t they involve men at all? I really don’t think women alone can do anything about it, after all everyone in a family particularly men have to come around; And perhaps, though it is sad, do you feel more people would listen if men went out to towns and villages and spoke to people on this issue? I would defn keep you informed next time we are talking about issues of your interest….and ofcourse, check on me off and on so that you don’t miss out πŸ™‚

  10. Okay, I’m going to say something completely unpopular here – i think sex selective abortion is a better option. I don’t condone either of these practices (duh!) but if having a male child is so all fire important that you’re willing to kill your baby girl for it, then the kinder thing to do – to the child if nobody else – is to prevent its birth rather than murder it once it’s born.

    Is this a long term option? No. In the long term you need to tackle the root cause of such behavior, be it cultural, social or educational. And yes, it’s something that both men AND women need to understand.

  11. @ Apu:Sadly I know some well-educated urban families who hold these views too. What a shame!

    @ Amrita: I do not think that is an unpopular view. On the discussion in my blog post on this topic, I cite a letter that I wrote to the Financial Times and it was published too. I make a similar point but I go further to demonstrate why in a perverse way sex selective abortion is driven by many other problems endemic in the society.

    Surely of course killing the child-carrier is the best way to insure no males are born either. Science has made possible for a woman to have a child without a man but unless evolution suggests otherwise, men cannot produce such an output anytime soon…

    But then again I am tempted to cite HL Mencken: β€œThere is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”

  12. Amrita – as Shefaly says, I’ve heard that view expressed too, but – its not a real solution ofcourse…

    Shefaly – our patriarchal society ensures that men are unlikely to face such discrimination – even – in cases where the numbers of women fall, and men are left without a “vehicle” to further their precious family line, they simply import them from other places no ? Or as has been reported, even share women…(who again have no say in the matter); So even if men cannot produce an output, as long as power (money/resources) are held by men, they will find ways to get around it. and – thank you for enriching this discussion

  13. wow! great !! what a discussion and what a conclusion. I never knew that men had so many options. Thanks…

  14. […] The Missing Girls I don’t know which is the organisation behind this ad really, but someone sent it to me today, and I thought it was worth sharing. (As a sort of grim visual accompaniment to this earlier piece). […]


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