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Every year, close to 20,000 females are killed world-wide in honour killings, 1.5 million in the womb. We are in 2019, shouldn’t things be different by now?
The silent screams echoed in her mind as a life ebbed away, a criminal act was in progress and she was a part of it, however unwilling. Last week gender determination was undertaken and today, her unborn daughter lost her life.
The eight-year-old eyed the glass of milk, for one defiant moment she held the glass close to her lips. But the next, she quietly kept it back for her brother to drink it. As she walked to school with her brother, she was thankful that she was allowed to study.
Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears, for she was too scared to cry lest anybody felt she supported her sister. She sat thinking perhaps a similar fate awaited her. Six months back her sister had hugged her goodbye and left to marry a man of her choice and now her sister was dead. She was killed by the very hands that had raised her.
He stood leaning against the pillar in the hospital, his legs refusing to take his weight. His daughter lay in hospital bed fighting for her life, burnt beyond recognition, it seemed like only yesterday when decked up in bridal finery she had bid him farewell and now…
These snippets are figment of my imagination. Yet they are based on true stories. Even as I write, an unborn girl child may become a victim of foeticide, a newborn might lose her precious life to infanticide. A young woman might be sacrificed to restore family honour or a bride burned to death at the altar of dowry.
Asian Centre for Human Rights conducted the first ever study on female infanticide. According to the study, this is a worldwide phenomenon with 1.5 million girls losing their lives each year. This before they even enter the world.
It’s only since January 2014 that in India, National Crime Records Bureau has started rigorous data collection on honour killing. At the same time, the worldwide data is not as clearly available either. The most frequently referred to figure is 5000 killings per year worldwide as estimated by UN in 2000. However, women advocacy groups suspect that it is more than 20,000 per year globally.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics in 2015, 7634 women lost their lives to dowry. This basically translates to 21 women murdered per day. I choose to write the word murder and not dowry deaths as the word death somehow lessens the inhuman criminality of the act.
It is said that a leading cause of female infanticide is the desire to have a son. A son because he will carry on the family name and will be the financial support. By a reverse argument, a female child is a burden. A burden who is not only an economic liability but also has the potential of ‘tainting’ the family name. The name that the sons will ‘proudly’ carry forward.
Economic liability comes to fore when the daughter is ready to be married off. Add to this the societal pressure of spending on the wedding ceremonies coupled with the dowry demands is a burden that not many can stand. Parents’ ability to meet these standards is judged against a yardstick and whether it brings ‘honour’ or ‘disrepute’ to the family.
There also is the fact that if parents are unable to meet the standards, they bid farewell to their daughters not with joy but with trepidation in their hearts. This happens as they are scared about their daughters future and more often than not, their fears do come true!
At the same time, the sons are free to go do what they please. Because, boys, after all, will be boys!
The saddest part in this tragedy that unfolds in many households on a daily basis is that many a time the perpetrator is not a man. It is the grandmother who slips that extra dollop of cream to the grandson while depriving the granddaughter. Or the mother who chooses to support or remain silent as her daughter is being berated and demeaned for being a girl.
It is the mother-in-law who taunts the daughter-in-law for bearing a daughter. Or the wife who suffers silently the torture of an abusive husband. When she suffers in silence, she not only lets herself down but also sends a message to her son that this behaviour is acceptable. At the same time, her daughter learns that being subjugated is her destiny.
The girls born into families that welcome them with open arms are the lucky ones. They are the ones who are equipped with the tools they need to grow up to be confident young ladies. These tools being- education, equal opportunities and support. They still have to fight their daily battles- the ones in public transport, in the marketplace, on college campuses and in the office.
Whenever they step out, they do so with the unfortunate understanding that there is somebody out there who will walk behind them a wee bit too close. Or will deliberately brush against them while crossing or pass an inappropriate remark or take it a notch higher or more. The list goes on.
As per National Crime Records Bureau up to 3,27,394 cases of crime against women were reported in 2015. The data suggests that in 2017 itself, India registered over 50 lakh cases of cognizable offences. This, according to reports, is a 3.6 percent increase in the registration of cases as compared to 2016. And these are the ones that were registered, the actual numbers, considering how many go unreported would be much higher. Many crimes go unreported mainly due to the fact that the victim does not have the confidence in the familial and societal environment.
According to United Nations, India has approximately 49 million more men than women. This means women make up approximately 48 percent of the Indian population, but the World Bank data tells us that India has amongst the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. Less than a third of women – 15 years or older – are working or actively looking for a job. And sixty-five percent of women are literate as compared to 80 percent of men. Female child mortality is a very critical issue that our society faces with over 239,000 girls under the age of 5 dying each year.
If we ever hope to achieve the equilibrium that perhaps nature intended, we need to protect the girl child and also the woman she grows up to be. We cannot protect her by locking her behind doors, but by educating our sons. So that they grow up into men who respect women and consider them as equals. We need to empower our daughters so that they grow up into women who believe that equal opportunity is their right. Instead of a favour doled out to them.
To quote former President of the USA, Barack Obama, “The future must not belong to those who bully women – it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our son.”
Picture credits: Pexels
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