A curious and tragic disconnect marks India’s attitude to its female population. One third of the seats in the Indian Parliament are now occupied by women, but the practice of female feticide and female infanticide remains widespread.
According to a documentary film published by Journeyman Pictures on YouTube this month, infanticide is very common in the impoverished southern state of Tamil Nadu, where a Catholic missionary order set up a Mercy Home in 1987 to rescue the babies.
The heart-rending — but hopeful — film includes interviews with two village women, one of whom, Parvati, had her first daughter taken from her by her husband and killed. He also took her second daughter at 40 days old and said he had given her away. Parvati has never seen her since.
Aborting unborn girls is also common since the use of ultrasound for detecting the sex of a baby in the womb, although most common in cities, seems to have penetrated even into the poorest rural areas.
“Gendercide” stems from traditional son preference and the inferior status of women, but has grown because of the legalisation of abortion (1971), the availability of pre-natal diagnosis (amniocentesis since 1975), population control policies, poverty and the spread of dowry practices from the upper caste through society. Laws banning infanticide and the use of ultrasound for the purpose of sex-selective abortions are having some effect, although dowry practices have a strong hold.
Another village woman interviewed in the film, Amrita, forced a marriage between her own brother and her 15-year-old daughter in order to save paying a hefty dowry. Families fear losing the little property they have. Inbreeding may be the cause of some of the disabilities among babies at the Mercy Home.
The home, run by western volunteers, tries to educate locals about the importance of not taking a baby’s life, but instead surrendering them to the home for adoption.
Watch the video. It is very moving.