By Izharul Islam Hashmi, NewAgeIslam.com
It is known to all that female feticide was common place in the pre-Islamic Arab society. Tolerating the existence of daughters was a matter of shame and against the dignity of the father and burying them alive was a matter of great honour. But this inhuman custom was not the gift of the Arab world as daughters were a burden to parents in many other countries of the world in ancient times too. In Greece, the killing of girls, especially disabled girls were permitted by the government. In the ancient city of Delphi in Greece, only one percent of the families had a daughter. On the whole, there were only 28 girls per 118 boys.
In modern times as well which is a developed and civilised age and apparently women’s rights are advocated and practically women are marching shoulder to shoulder with men in every sphere of life with feminism playing an influential role in affairs relating to women, the condition of the hapless female child is pitiable and the treatment of the society towards them is inhuman. Female feticide has assumed serious proportions not only in India but in China and the US as well, the so-called flag bearer of human rights. Even those surviving are constantly reminded by their family and the society at large that they are a burden. They are subject to discrimination in every matter against the male children.
When the demographic studies were conducted in India for the first time in the nineteenth century, it came to light that many villages had no girls at all. In other 30 villages, there were only 54 girls against 343 boys. In 1834, the number of girls in Mumbai was only 603.
Female feticide is also commonplace in China and the US. Boys are considered the best pension a father can have in old age while the girls are considered rice maggots. Female infanticide is considered easier that female feticide in China as it is easier to dispose the dead body without affecting the mother’s health. In the US as well, there are many incidents of female infanticide every year and hardly any accused woman has spent more than one night behind the bars.
In India’s context, daughters are considered a burden and so despite female feticide being a punishable crime, many incidents of female feticide come to light every year. Census statistics show that the rampant female feticide has caused skewed male female ratio in the country giving birth to new social problems. According to the Census 2001, the number of female children (under 0-6 age group) was 927 per male child. However, this ratio is varied in different states. For example, in Punjab the ratio is 1000:793. Haryana has 820 girls per 1000 boys, Himachal has 897, Gujarat has 878, Chandigarh has 845 and the capital city of Delhi has 865.
The inhuman custom of dowry has promoted the practice of female feticide and infanticide. Although this custom is in vogue in the entire country, its impact is greater in Punjab and Haryana where the percentage of women is the lowest.
The gravity of the problem can be gauged from the fact that the British magazine Lancet had published a report that said that during the last twenty years, almost 10 million (One crore) female fetuses were aborted. According to the report, with the advent of the ultrasound technique, there was a sharp decline in the birth of female children in the last two decades.
Female child rights activist and a doctor of Mumbai, Dr Sabu Mathew George who has been studying this trend for the last twenty years says that he is not surprised at the report and opines that given the rate of feticide, it could go up to one million annually in the next five years. According to Prof Shirish Seth of Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital, one reason behind the growing trend of feticide was the view of the parents that the girls were a liability who would ultimately be a part of her would be husband’s family. So the expenses on her education, health and marriage were a waste of money as it would benefit others. The Professor of Public Health in Toronto University, Dr Prabhat Jha also is of the opinion that the disappearance of ten million girls due to the availability of the ultrasound technique during the last 20 years might not be exaggeration.
Four years ago, the police had raided the clinic of a doctor in Patiala and had recovered more than 50 dead fetuses from a 10 metre well behind the clinic. Many doctors in Punjab have boards with the slogan ‘Pay Rs 500 today, save Rs 5 lakh later’ outside their clinics.
This is the scenario more or less in the other parts of the country as well. In 2007, a UNICEF report said that barring three states and the Centre-ruled territories Kerala, Pondicherry and Lakshwadip, the rate of female feticide has gone up in all the other states. Interestingly, the male female ratio in India is 1000:927 which is lower than that in an undeveloped country like Nigeria (965) and Pakistan (958). India is better only in comparison to China where the ratio is 1000:832.
Some scientific and clinical techniques facilitating prenatal sex selection became very popular in the 80s making it easier for the parents to know the gender of the fetus and terminate the pregnancy. Initially ultrasound technique was used for this purpose. Later high-definition ultrasound was used. Now more sophisticated techniques like Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and Sperm Separation are in use that are almost impossible to police.
These techniques were used rampantly during the 80s because of the mental torture of the daughters-in-law by the in-laws on the birth of female child and the social preferences for the male child. In the absence of any regulation against such termination of fetuses, millions of girls were killed in the wombs during the two decades. It was only when the skewed sex ratio came into light and the feminists and social organisations woke up to the gravity of the issue calling for the ban on the sex selection tests and feticide. In view of the skewed gender ratio, the government also formulated laws to declare prenatal sex selection and feticide illegal. It formed a law called The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulations and Prevention) Act 1994. The Act was modified in 2003.
However, the rate of female feticide could not be arrested despite the laws. Though arrests of some doctors were made but it could not act as a deterrent. The doctors who were arrested had been carrying out their illegal practices in a brazen way ignoring the laws. The doctor in Punjab had a well dug up behind his clinic to dispose of dead fetuses. The two lady doctors of Mumbai Dr Chaya Tated and Dr Shubhangi Adkar were arrested because they would give advertisements in a weekly magazine offering ‘special treatment’ to parents wishing a male child. Otherwise generally the practice was going on so covertly with the help of the modern technology that it was almost impossible for the police to monitor it. The internet has emerged as another hindrance in the fight against female feticide. There are many websites on the net that offer services for self selection and feticide.
Therefore, Dr Sabu Mathew George filed a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2009 seeking the direction of the court to put a ban on the websites carrying ads offering such illegal services. On December 2, 2009, the CPI (M) Politbureau member and MP Brinda Karat demanded arrest of the India chief of Google on the basis of the violation of the PNDT Act but the government finds itself helpless on the issue.
The surveys that have been carried out recently show that the rate of female feticide has gone up drastically, Punjab and Haryana, two states of the northern India taking the lead. According to the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA), 62,000 incidents of female feticide occurred in Haryana in 1996-98 whereas the number was 51,000 in Punjab. It does not mean that other states are any better in this regard. The southern states have not proved themselves less ruthless towards the girl child. In the poor families of Tamil Nadu’s remote villages where modern techniques for abortion or infanticide are not available, new born girls are killed mercilessly. They are fed with milk laced with poison or rice dust is stuffed down their throats. Some families use less painful techniques to kill their daughters. They use pesticides or sleeping pills. Some mothers simply suffocate the girls with a wet towel or a pillow.
Female feticide which is called ‘pen sisu kolai’ in the local jargon has got social sanction in the region and it is no big sin killing the daughter in their society.
In northern India too, the daughters have been considered a burden and a liability in the society. Killing the brides for want of dowry is a common incident. So the birth of a girl child is an ill omen for the family. A folk song of Uttar Pradesh reflects this pain of a woman:
Prabhuji main teri binti karun
Paiyan padoon bar bar
Agle janam mohe bitiya na dijo
Narak dijo chahe dar
(Oh, God, I beg of you,
I touch your feet time and again,
Next birth don't give me a daughter,
Give me Hell instead)
Dowry, poverty, a sense of insecurity and the concern of their future drive women to commit feticide. The women of the southern India say that it is better for the girls to det rid of the painful life ahead and a horrible future soon after the birth undergoing little pain than to live to tolerate injustice, torture, hunger and the stigma of being a girl for the whole life.
Although the government has launched a number of financial schemes for the parents and the new born babies, these have proved insufficient in containing the curse of female feticide.
In this sense, the modern and civilized world is no different from the ancient pre-Islam uneducated and uncivilized tribal Arab society in terms of its attitude to the girls. Daughters were considered a burden and a symbol of dishonor in those days and they are considered so even today. No law or lure of monetary reward can stop female feticide until people realize the value of and have love and sympathy for the human life. Right from its advent, Islam guaranteed a place in heaven to those who protect and treat their daughters well and so people who earlier hated their daughters the most became their protectors. The Quran came down heavily on those who expressed their disapproval and shame on the birth of daughters saying:
“And when the news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonour or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision.”(Surah Al Nahl 58-59)
The Quran further warns that those burying and killing their daughters will be taken to task:
“And when the souls shall be joined with their bodies; And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned. For what sin she was killed?”(Surah Al Takweer 7-9)
God also forbids people to kill their children for the fear of poverty:
“Kill not your children because of poverty - We provide sustenance for you and for them; (Surah Al An’am 151)
In other Surah, God again asks men to refrain from this inhuman practice. He says:
“And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.” (Surah Al Isra 31)
There are numerous traditions of the holy Prophet (PBUH) emphasizing the rewards for protecting, educating and fair treatment to the daughters. A hadith says:
“If anyone cares for three daughters, disciplines them, marries them off, and does good to them, he will go to Paradise. (Sunan Abudawood: Book 41, Hadith 5128)
Another hadith says thus:
“‘Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise.’
Similarly a third hadith says:
“He who is involved (in the responsibility) of (bringing up) daughters, and he accords benevolent treatment towards them, there would be protection for him against Hell-Fire.” (Muslim: Book 32, Hadith 6362)
The Prophet (PBUH)’s actions and his way of life are a model code of conduct for the Muslims. Therefore, he (PBUH) himself set an example before the Muslims by treating his own daughters with love and affection. Because of the training and discipline he (PBUH) provided to her daughter Fatim (R.A.), she was elevated as the head of the women of the paradise (Khatoon-e-Jannat). He not only treated his daughters with love and affection but the daughters of others as well and taught the Muslims to treat women with compassion and sympathy. The protection and security of women in the society can be ensured only when we have the same degree of sympathy for the life of others as our own kin. The dowry murders are committed because people do not value the life of the daughters of others more than material things. Islam established a system that gave importance to moral values more than anything else and the killing of an innocent human being was declared the killing of the entire humanity. The practice of burying alive or killing of daughters was banned. The girls were accorded equal rights.
Therefore, a society based on the Quranic teachings and principles and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) can only rid the world of the inhuman practice of female feticide and guarantee the girls a life based on love, fair treatment, better education and equality.