In an initiative to denounce female feticide and encourage single girl child within families, Delhi Technological University (DTU), formerly Delhi College of Engineering, has decided to earmark one seat over and above the sanctioned intake in all its undergraduate engineering programmes, for single girl child in a family.
The Academic Council of the university took this decision, which will be applicable on all the 14 BTech courses of the university from the academic session starting 2011 and thus, 14 seats will be made available for single girl child. However, the eligibility criteria for admission for female students falling under this category will be the same as for other students and admissions will be granted on the basis of merit. (Source … )
A year ago I read a report that got me excited. It was about an increase in the female-to-male sex ratio of the births reported in Delhi for the year 2008. The ratio of 1004 girls per 1000 boys was received with lots of cheer and enthusiasm by the media but also with some skepticism. I discussed it on this blog. Skepticism reared its head in the crowd of cheer, questioning whether the explanation – Ladli scheme – for this reported increase in the ratio was as simple as some claims made it to be.
A year later, the numbers tell a disappointing story. The female-to-male sex ratio for the births registered in Delhi during the next year – 2009 – fell to 915 girls per 1000 boys.
This fluctuation raises a question: Does the rise and fall in the ratio represent the actual ratio of total births in Delhi or does it merely reflect the ratio of registered births in Delhi? Were girls born outside the state but to a Delhi-resident parent registered in Delhi to take advantage of the monetary incentives that Ladli provided?
Skewed Death Ratio
589 female deaths were reported for every 1000 male deaths in Delhi. The concern is that these numbers might not represent the actual ratio but only the reported deaths. There are monetary reasons for people to report male deaths (related to property transfer after death); there aren’t such incentives to report female deaths. Incentives to report female births and incentives to report male deaths. What stories will these death numbers tell us when they are broken up by age groups? What if the female-to-male death ratio is heavily skewed in one age group more than in other age groups? Combined with the already skewed birth ratio, what implications would that compounded skewness have for the Delhi society?
Came across a Punjabi song, Madhaniya, on the issue of female feticide. It is a nicely rendered adaptation of the original Madhaniya by Surinder Kaur.
Written in the voice of the female fetus that is being aborted, the song is conceptually similar to Rakhri Di Tand (or Lori) by Gurbhajan Gill [and also to the short story Let me grow in your backyard, Mother by Tina Rathore].
Below the song are the lyrics translated in English [thanks to a user who posted it on youtube].
Lyrics translated in English:
Oh Lord, daughters are being killed before they are even born!
I am leaving, Oh Lord, what kind of life is this, I’m returning to you before seeing the world..
Father, what kind of a heart do you have? We died and you didn’t shed a tear!
Father turned a blind eye but, mother, even you didn’t show any mercy.
Sons will divide your home, but daughters will share your grief.
Mother, don’t kill your baby; [for if you do, then] who will sing on her brother’s wedding day?
While strongly condemning social inequalities such as caste and class prevalent in the Indian society of their times, the Sikh Gurus came out heavily against gender inequality too. Their compositions in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sikh scripture, illustrate their egalitarian world-view.
SGGS is the holy scripture of Sikhs and plays a central role in their lives. For the Gurus to have included compositions in SGGS addressing issues of gender equality, especially criticizing issues that demeaned the role of women in society, hailing the word in the text as truth, and according eternal Guruship to the text has ensured that Sikhs do not leave sight of the goal of gender equality. However, the low female-to-male sex ratio in Punjab (pointing to female feticide in the state) tells a different story, a story that weaves through the posts in this blog. Recently I came across an article that tells us of a story that was meant to be but still is not.
“The land (Punjab) where female fetuses are being aborted is also the land of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth, which resonates with powerful fetal imagery … Guru Granth is sheer poetry … its fetus imaginary leads us to the origins of life, to the world around us, and most significantly, to the mother’s body in which fetuses are lodged. This literary symbol has tremendous potential to activate our imagination and sensibility and to transform sexist attitudes and practices.” 
This is the central theme of the article “Female Feticide in the Punjab and Fetus Imagery in Sikhism” by Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh in which the author, reading the scripture through a feminist perspective, draws our attention to the fetal imagery in the Sikh scripture. This post is a summary of her article. (Unable to articulate her points in a simpler or better manner than she has done in the article, I have relied more on quoting her directly than on truly summarizing the article.)
Research (for example, this study in The Lancet) shows that chances for sex-selective abortion rise significantly in those families that already have one or two female children. Below is a short verse that can be considered as penned at an ultrasonography diagnostic center/clinic somewhere in India.
A B C D E F G
“Congratulations! The scan shows a baby-G!” 🙂
H I J K L M N O P
“Oh no! We were hoping this time a boy it would be 😦
Q R S
Such a mess!
T U V
We can’t have three.”
W X Y and Z
And thus countdown begins for something sleazy.
She buckles her shoe
Knocks on the door
Feeling the fetus’ kicks
She hopes ’tis not too late
They have done it again!
Came across a short story on the blog, Filling Interstices, by Tina Rathore. There are also some awesome poems on her blog, but relevant to the discussion on female feticide is her short story, Let me grow in your backyard, Mother, about a female fetus trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with her mother her entry into this world. I copy below an excerpt:
She started belching early in the morning, puking everything she had eaten at night leaning against that wash basin. But now everything she had eaten is out. She does not stop. She has finger in her mouth, while she belches- her stomach, her entrails contract to push out something- what is it? Her stomach has nothing else but me. She wants me out? No mother, please! I’m too big for your gullet, for the wash basin, for the tiny little holes that sieve your dinner, for the drain pipe, mother! I’m too big now. But she wouldn’t stop. She is eating again, So that it may come, so that it brings me along.
and then later
They must have told you, the nurse too conspired against us along with that the doctor you call your friend. They must have told you.”It was a still born.” You know mother? They have dug me to death. But i am growing. The concrete stomach has delivered a still born. The worms are feasting on me. The ants are taking my flesh away, holding me by their mouth, moving in a bee line. Do they know of beauty mother? Your moon baby is eaten away. What they know of art? Of creation? They know only instinct, desire, food, stomach. They do not even ask me who I am. Why I am here. They have no purpose. They only have holes from where they come and go.
I see there is someone digging in. Is that my brother? He is observing the ants, the food they have stored. He is digging the holes. “Is he looking for me?”
It is a short story that goes a long way. I strongly recommend a read. Check it out here.
The story reminds me of the poem Lori written in Punjabi by Gurbhajan Gill, which Jasbir Jassi has sung as a song, Rakhri di Tand. Follow the link for the song, for its lyrics in Punjabi and for the English translation of the lyrics.
A Punjabi song by Sarbjit Cheema pleading with an expectant mother of a girl-child to not abort the female fetus.