Reflections On Female Foeticide
The problem of female foeticide is a challenge to humanity. An act, leading to death of a female fetus. The blatant act of emphasizing preference for a boy. This phenomenon has existed for centuries now and the Asian region is culturally and socially more engulfed in it. However, our concern will be about the problem- ethical negligence observed by the spectators and the participants both. We need to examine how it is persisting in India. It is more than obvious that such acts of murder should be subject to an ethical scrutiny to place the problem in its perspective. When we discuss an issue to evaluate its ethical viability, it does not mean that any kind of misnomer; social or economic can justify it. Female foeticide is one such issue, which has always been wrapped up in some social, cultural or economic justification though a careful scrutiny will name the agents involved in it as ‘criminals’. Technology is value neutral. But a technology can be put to use through human agents only and it is them who have to take responsibility of conditions that change the face of humanity. A mention of technology is to take our attention to all those means that determine the sex of a foetus much before its birth leading to termination of girl foetus.
The impact of female foeticide has been felt for long. The adverse child sex ratio (number of girls per 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6years) in India is 927 girls per 1000boys according to 2001 census. All the other states in India too have an equally disappointing figure of child sex ratio. What is even more demoralizing is the fact that the preference for a male child is not amongst the poor section of society only; it is increasingly becoming a choice for the rich as well. Ten years later the census held in 2011 shows child sex ratio at 940 girls per 1000 boys. There is a slight improvement, yet one has to go a long way before any sizable victory can be achieved. The ethics at stake is more than just an approach or an attitude. It changes the entire world for some perhaps without any realization of far reaching consequences.
It is important to look at the brief history of how women have been treated down the ages. In the Vedic period (1500-1000 BC) the women were treated with dignity and reverence. The society in the early Vedic times was patriarchal yet women had an equal status and had a say in all household matters too. In Rig Vedic social system, women were given access to education and child marriage was not practiced. Education of a girl was considered to be important. The married couple used to perform religious rites together, as both were treated as equal halves of one substance and took part in fulfilling all religious, social and political duties together. Then came post-Vedic age which brought a downfall in status of women. It began with the advent of caste system. In the third century BC, in the age of Dharmashastras, the women were being subjected to patriarchal domination. The Smriti texts that lay down laws for Hindus began to discriminate against women. Manu, Kautaliya and Yagyavalkya discriminated against women by putting them in separate category. Kautaliya was very regressive towards women. He used to consider them as child rearing machines only. Hence the laws were strictly against the freedom, growth and creative development of women. It is observed that from 1st century BC child marriages (pre-pubescent) had started taking place and widow remarriages were out of question. Child widows were subject to humiliation. It was basically to continue with the caste system and preserve purity of Aryan race that more strictures were formed against the women. To do this one must have control over births and for that control over women was essential. Henceforth it has been a downhill for women socially and culturally. If Buddhism and Jainism tried to give dignity and equal status to women, Hinduism became strict in laying down rules towards its women to keep up their mark of religion. These events had a devastating effect on female psychology. Gradually women began to suffer from low self-esteem and surrendered to their secondary status of subservient beings. The psychology behind these oppressive acts was neither just nor fair and society seemed to be going with it. One must ask whether a tradition coming from centuries should be a reason for its existence even if it violates basic rights of an individual? What are the reasons for continuing with such acts and who should be held responsible for it? Where and how does one affect changes? If some laws are laid down for daughters how and why do they take inhuman forms in the name of conventional morality with a change in role vis-à-vis the same person as a wife? Manu laid down rules to treat daughters with affection but for wives he was strict and harsh.
Down the years stagnation of the status of women can be perceived from 3rd century AD to 12th century AD. Invasion of India by Muslims, Bhakti movement and even later, the acceptance of their subordinate existence became more widespread- this became their undoing too. There was no getting away from darkness that encompassed them. The political, ideological and economic factors responsible for continuance of this discrimination would balance each other invariably. Many social evils found place during the medieval period. Female foeticide also seemed to have begun more vigorously from this period. The dependence and undermining of women, giving dowry in their marriage in both Hindu and Muslim community, the women not having any right over the money given at the time of marriage, women having no right over property either in parents house or in the house of her husband and above all being forced to give a male heir to the husband- led to further degradation of her status and individuality. The issue of male inheritance was given a push by exaggerated belief that only a son could provide salvation to Hindu parents and even amongst the Muslims only a son could take charge of family needs. He was perceived as carrying forward the family name and the race. It is not that other religions were not playing the same fiddle. This led to further seclusion of women. At this juncture or even before it, there is a clear violation of “Ethics of belief”.
In this famous essay by William Clifford it is argued, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” The word ‘evidence’ is significant as it makes way for rational and an irrational approach. The belief so formed shall carry its ripple effect on the lives of so many people without our having realized our own hand in making matters better or worse. Each one of us in the name of humanity must understand what it takes to nurture a belief on grounds of insufficient evidence. We must assign ourselves to critical thinking before letting ourselves guided by other factors that fail to stand to reason. The complexities in life are created because of lack of clear understanding on basic ethical acts. Through a careful scrutiny of evidence our belief can sort out many such issues related to discrimination of an irrational kind. The discrimination against women started showing its effect.
Women became psychologically tuned towards playing a wife and a mother and always a subordinate to the man. In fact family as an institution was largely oppressive towards the woman and to break through it was the biggest challenge. This remains a challenge for feminists even today. What we find happening to the women down the centuries has been a factor in breeding an evil like female foeticide notwithstanding other acts of violence towards women.
Down the years stagnation of the status of women can be perceived from 3rd century AD to 12th century AD. Invasion of India by Muslims, Bhakti movement and even later, the acceptance of their subordinate existence became more widespread & this became their undoing too
Religion too has failed in bringing about a truly human face to its followers. In its real essence, religion be it Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Judaism, treat their women equal to men. It is only when prejudices of men have started finding a voice in interpreting religion that women have been discriminated and put in seclusion. Female foeticide is an expression of suppression of freedom and humanity. Our ethical awareness has been long in slumber thus making place for such criminal acts. We human beings are rational creatures and are endowed with wisdom in making changes. Rationality can never defend inhuman or insensitive acts. It should not be difficult to understand the ripple effect of female foeticide. It leads to acts of violence towards women. The skewed child sex ratio destabilizes social balance. Scarcity of one gender leads to violence at various levels. Prostitution and female trafficking are found to rise with time making women more unsafe and subject to inhuman conditions. All of us are somewhere responsible for perpetuation of crime against women directly or indirectly, actively or as mute spectators. Acts of comission or commission both are equally hazardous in creating an environment conducive for equality of women with men. The word “Equality” is not to be taken as being treated like a man. It is to be interpreted as being given equal number of opportunities as men are given to make them realize their worth. It is necessary that we assume our sphere of concern is all those men and women who are rational in their approach. Roles for men and women are different specially when women have to assume socially indispensable roles like that of a mother, along with it comes immense sense of responsibility on all other beings around her to give it as perfect a manifestation as possible. Such a goal can be realized by giving her education, freedom and avenues for realizing her self worth. It is not easy. The weakness found in our society is due to extreme neglect that the female gender has been subjected to. Confidence to stand against wrong behavior is found in a strong mind. The strength can be achieved through a gradual process of training right from the childhood. Every social and biological link has a role to play. Any missing act of responsible behavior will further take down the future prospect of a girl child. Education- intellectual and religious must address this issue. Wherever these two features fail in bringing the desired evolution of mind and individuals, they should be doubted and condemned. It is wrong to stifle any doubt. We must examine it and reach a reasonable opinion on it. Context keep changing so should our approach in deciding morality of social beings.
The word ‘equality’ is not to be taken as being treated like a man. It is to be interpreted as being given equal number of oppurtunities as men are being given to make them realize their worth
Moral relativism is not absolute but is quite significant. We should practice ideas as it is only through practicing that we witness change in human psyche too. We must practice ideas, which give confidence to our female gender. The awareness of being different but equal to men is slowly being driven into the minds of women but it has to go a long way still. Religion in the hands of few interpreters is particularly resistant to giving freedom to women. When the environment is energized with a sense of mutual co-operation it will show an impact in the changing outlook of men and women alike.
Whatever may have been the past it is important to understand why and how the society is unable to establish a balance? Let us look at one quote from the Mahabharata: Bhishma Pitamaha said: “The teacher who teaches true knowledge is more important than ten instructors. The father is more important than ten such teachers of true knowledge and the mother is more important than ten such fathers. There is no greater guru than mother.” “Guru” means guiding light and one can see there is no way we can have a teacher who is herself not given any education or avenues for growth and development. Logically too it is absolutely impossible to justify discrimination against women.
Mahatma Gandhi felt that the way a society treats its women shows how barbaric it is. The harmony between two genders and dignity with which we treat women and girls shall shape our society today and in future too. Men may be physically stronger but women too have very high level of energy and if not nurtured it can destroy the social fabric. We need to take some corrective measures for no irrational approach can be entertained without any concrete evidence. Religion has its own language the analysis of which makes one stumble at the very first movement in the direction of granting equal status to women. Not having recourse to any scientific evidence, not being able to place the context, not understanding how some approach is taken to be the last w ord on an issue, practically, we are left with a duty to reframe and restructure this social system with a humane factor in it. Many strands that illustrate our attitude towards a girl child are existent even today. This has to do with fading sense of ethics and failing to realize the significance of being human. Awareness and practice of doing a right act for its own sake is the urgent demand on us. The politics of making it a worthy model has some challenges but on an ethical plain they are not hard to take. To simply understand it, if a society comprises of two genders mainly, tilting the balance in favor of one is going to give a tilted picture for as long as we let it remain like that. Since social dynamics is not a mechanical picture the balancing act will take more time. To maintain this balance is the aim and purpose of human rationality.
Dr. Divya Tiwari