“The taunts from society and from my in-laws that I would have faced for not having a son forced me to abort”— Woman from Rohtak (Haryana), who is from an educated and affluent family. Her baby is one of the 500,000 unborn baby girls aborted every year because of the repulsive culture of male preference in India. And her statement is a testament that educated and affluent people are not immune to the male preference ideology.
India is not a friendly country for the girl child. The patriarchy and misogyny is so incorporated into the culture that the girl child is not only marginalised, she is also hated, even before birth.
In India, male preference and sexism is no secret, so pungent, that rapists and people that commit various crimes against women are patted on the back by linguistics. An example is the language with which rape is described–”izzat lootna”, this means ‘losing honour’. Not only does this foster the narrative of shame when it comes to rape or victim blame, it also upholds the rapist as one who takes honour, rather than one who actually loses honour by perpetrating the crime. The misogyny in India runs even deeper than hoisting rapists or men in general. The misogyny is responsible for the silent genocide of baby girls, who are aborted in their numbers. The ones that are not aborted are abandoned on the street. But for them, there is hope now as cradles have begun to appear on the streets of Rajasthan, India. So, instead of dumping babies in sewages, and dustbins, parents who do not need their baby girls, or their baby boys, can now place them in cradles for hospitals to rescue them.
“The main aim of the scheme is to save the newborn babies who are dumped in dustbins and bushes right after birth, most of whom happen to be girls,” Devendra Agrawal, health department adviser of the scheme told Aljazeera. To fight the trend of dumping unwanted babies, Rajasthan’s state government introduced the Ashray Palna Yojana project in the 2015-2016 budget. This has enabled the set up of 67 cradles throughout the state. The cradles are set up at all district hospitals, medical colleges, and satellite hospitals for parents to anonymously leave their unwanted babies.
When the child is placed in the cradle, a bell rings three minutes later to alert the hospital staff that a child has been dropped off. The child is then transported to a neonatal intensive care unit for medical check-up. When cleared of any infirmity, the baby is then relocated to one of 37 adoption agencies around the state. Since the inception of this initiative, 20 babies have been dropped off.
“The newborn baby gets a chance to live, and a childless couple gets a reason to live … It keeps the baby girls from falling into the wrong hands … We tell society if you don’t want a girl, don’t kill her – we will take care of her,” as told to Al Jazeera. Abandoned babies are prone to child trafficking and sex trade, if they are lucky enough to survive.
But Rajasthan isn’t the only state filled with cradles. In states like Tamil Nadu, where baby cradles have been the norm since 1992, nearly 390 boys and 2400 girls have been safely left.
But what exactly fosters the genocide of girls and their abandonment in india?
In India in 1961, for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven, there were 976 girls and nothing has changed, instead it’s getting worse. Today, the ratio of girls to boys has dropped significantly to 914 girls to 1000 boys.
People in India prefer boys to girls because girls will not continue the family name, they will not help with work, they will be required to be pay an expensive dowry to groom’s family, and they will not take care of their parents in old age. But Narendra Mordi, India’s prime-minister, and the rest of the world who see everything wrong with this idea, has strong opposing opinions about it. He said: “I have seen families where five sons live in plush homes and have big cars and all comforts, but parents are sent to live in old age homes. But I have also seen families where a girl – an only child – devotes her life to serve her parents, staying away from marriage.”
Although dowry payment, which puts strain on the poor and even the rich in India, has been banned, it still continues to be practiced. Adding to that, the birth of the girl child has moved from being unwanted because of these factors stated above to a stigma, in sense that women are shamed and considered as failures for giving birth to girls. This makes you wonder why and if the male child comes with a clause of loyalty, to uphold every societal structure that hoists him up and entitles him. Who gave these parents a guarantee that their precious male child will take care of them when they are younger or, dare I say, continue the family name. But the culture in India, has obviously banished objective thinking.
However, it is important to note that not all girls are given up because they are girls. Some babies are abandoned due to the circumstance under which they were conceived–this circumstance is called rape. In 2015 alone, there were 34,651 thousand cases of rape in India. And 95.5 percent of the time, these victims of rape knew their alleged rapists. Not all rape vicitms abandon their babies, or abort them, but in a coutry that gives rape victims the award of “stealer of one’s honour”, you can imagine the shame that one will face for being raped, talkless of being pregnant and keeping the child. This shame would not be endured by the mother alone, but by the child also.
“Sometimes, the parents are in a situation where keeping the child with them will badly affect their personal and social life, as in the case of a child born through sexual assault,” stated Kavita Swami, president of an adoption agency in the city of Bikaner that is associated with the project.
The cradles are wonderful, in fact they are an outstanding idea. I suggest for the streets of India, to be adorned with cradles. These cradles shouldn’t just be placed in front of hospitals. They should be placed in their numbers in fronts of school, on sidewalks, in parking lots, around villages, to make a statement, about the sad reasons behind the abandonment of children, and the abortion of many. This is not for the purpose of mocking a culture or belief of male superiority, no matter how poisonous this culture is, but to cause a revolution in the minds of people who have held on to this belief to have a rethink in order to save the girl child.
In Rajasthan, where the ratio of girls to boys as at 2011 was 883 to 1000, there will now be a safe haven for beautiful babies, who will have a chance to live, and who will give other people a chance to live too. This is a solution to curb the dumping of unwanted kids in unsafe places, and save their lives while doing so, but it will not address the half a million female foetus that do not make it into this world. The cradles, as beautiful and well thought out as they are, which will save millions of babies lives, is a temporary idea. But will there ever be enough cradles for babies abandoned on daily basis? This is a fantastic solution, but to save more lives, India needs more than just cradles, they need a drastic overhaul of a system, and they need it fast.
“We accept the first girl, the second should be killed, then the third will be a son”–Rassamal, an indian traditional healer.