Girls’ Lives Matter – India Bring Back Our Girls
It’s that time of year: between Christmas and New Year’s Eve – when we look back on the year that was. And what a year it was. 2014 was a year of maybe unsurpassed technological advance and progress: for the first time in the history of computing, a machine, based in Russia and pretending to be a 13 year old boy in Ukraine, passed the Turing Test. Technopathy became a real thing when Japanese researchers enabled people to turn their heating on or off, or change their television channels using just their thoughts. Robot waiter staffed restaurant chains opened in China. India sent a mission to Mars. Astronauts in orbit on space stations routinely tweet pictures of sunrise over Earth as seen from space.
But, 2014 gave us plenty of jarring, and painful reminders that humanity is not yet the advanced civilization we may appear to be becoming. It showed us without mercy that huge swathes of our human family are at risk of being buried by archaic ideologies struggling for legitimacy in the modern world. Amongst a sea of violence on an unsteady planet, gender continues to be the site of some of the most brutal primitivism practiced, and sadly it’s practiced by even the most educated and empowered in a society. In 2014 over 1m people were rightly motivated to speak out for 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. How would we have felt if we had known that in India, in 2014 alone, around one million girls were killed by their parents or families for no reason other than that they were girls.
One million girls being disappeared only because they are girls is a gendercide. And it’s an annual occurrence in the world’s largest democracy that will happen again in 2015, and perhaps grow in numbers by 2016 and future years without pressure for change. So here’s a hashtag to start a conversation: #Indiabringbackourgirls
The world is still largely writing science fiction scenarios about a society that selects its children on the basis of their genetics. But in India a terrible version of the future has arrived, and the defining preferred feature of a human baby has been narrowed down to Chromosome 23 specifically. In the last decade alone an XX there has been enough to illegally terminate up to 12m girl fetuses: monied, educated and tech savvy Indians want boy babies, and illegal sex selective terminations are how they make sure they get what they want.
Whilst sex selective terminations are illegal in India, medical staff in clinics break the law by taking the name of God to indicate to expectant parents their future child’s gender: Jai Sri Krishna, the name of the god who wrote Hinduism’s most sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, means a baby boy; the phrase ‘Jai Mata Ki’, which ironically enough refers in Hinduism’s cosmic lexicon to the Divine Creative Feminine principle that underlies all creation, is used as code for ‘it’s a girl’ – words that signal to expectant mothers that they’ll be visiting the operating theater for an illegal termination.
A 2011 study published in the Lancet found that increasing wealth and education are both contributing to an increase in illegal sex selective termination by India’s relatively privileged. Across India, the report said, in the last two decades, women from ‘higher income, better educated families were far more likely than poorer women to terminate a pregnancy if the child is a girl, especially during a second pregnancy if the firstborn child was a girl.’
But this is not just a story about the illegal extermination of girls before they’re born. It is also a story about violence against women in Indian society. There are strong indicators that vast numbers of these illegal terminations are forcibly performed on women who are reluctant and unwilling to have them. These are women being forced by their husbands and in-laws, often physically beaten, burned or threatened with their life for refusing to terminate their babies that are girls.
Dr. Mitu Khurana’s story reported that after failing to persuade her to abort her girl child pre birth, her in laws tried to kill her four month old daughter; Nirmala Devi said in 2008, ‘My husband beat me a lot and my mother-in-law tortured me’ – she died during a forced illegal termination.
Amisha Bhatt told the Times of India in 2009 ‘In the past nine years, they have coerced me into aborting five female fetuses.’ The Lancet study reported that there were 500,000 illegal sex selective terminations happening a year. Exact numbers of how many women are being coerced into these procedures is not known but they’re unlikely to be low: like Indian culture at large, even educated, qualified, economically secure Indians feel comfortable in violating female agency, in this case producing results that combine violence against women and the eradication of the girl child.