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.