The image of India as caste-cow-curry seems to have receded a bit despite the exertions of Indian gatekeepers of the West to perpetuate it. Of the three, the first is definitely the most favourite stick to beat India. However, there exists a far more powerful stick used with increasing ferocity: female infanticide.
The brutes who continue this abhorrent practice must be skinned alive in public. It is not difficult to trace the origins of female infanticide.
A few ancient Hindu scriptures do mention that only sons are entitled to kindle the funeral pyre of parents. But how far do we go back to trace the origins of this undue emphasis on males as the be-all end-all of a family?
The earliest record of Hinduism’s philosophical, cultural, and social foundations is undoubtedly the Vedas. So, do we have any reference to the male-first commandment there? Nope. On the contrary, we have numerous instances to the contrary. The Rg Veda for example, holds women in very high regard. Today’s ultra-feminists need to have at least a cursory look at what it says. Most Vedic suktas (verses/aphorisms/hymns) were composed mostly by male sages, which would give the impression of a male-dominated society. Yet that does not automatically prove that women were relegated to the kitchen and bedroom. We have the lofty example of Anasuya, wife of Sage Atri, who was highly respected as one who had conquered/free of jealousy. Incidentally, that’s the meaning of the word, “Anasuya.” Women like Vishvavaraa, Vaak, Ambhruni, Ghoshaa, Shachi, Gaargi, Maitreyi were themselves suktakaraas (composers of hymns).
So, a Wikipedia article on infanticide reveals only part of the picture when it says:
…in India’s patrilineal and patriarchal system of families is that having at least one son is mandatory in order to continue the familial line, and many sons constitute additional status to families. The final factor of female deselection is the religious functions that only sons are allowed to provide, based on Hindu tradition. Hindu tradition says that sons are mandatory in order to kindle the funeral pyre of their late parents and to assist in the soul salvation.
That doesn’t really explain the cause for female infanticide. If you try and attribute the cause for female infanticide to our scriptures/sastras, you are guaranteed to fail miserably. Not a single Hindu scripture asks you to kill an unborn child–isn’t it strange that a philosophy that urges everybody to respect all forms of life–plant, insect, animal, human–would somehow enjoin its adherents to kill a foetus? On the contrary, a famous sukta in the Mahanarayana Upanishad says, bhroona hatyaam vaa ye te ghnanti–forgive me/save me from the sin of killing a foetus. The scriptures list out several “deadly” sins: killing a Brahmin, a foetus, parents, warriors, teachers, and so on.
What explains it is time and a host of political, economic, social, and changes. It is relevant to mention dowry as a contributing factor to female infanticide. Most families that practise female infanticide dread the fact that they’d have to cough up huge sums as dowry at the time of the girl’s marriage. That in today’s condition is the only plausible explanation for female infanticide. That, majority cases of female infanticide occur in the poor/low income families is also a crucial point to note. Tie this with the dowry element to derive the obvious conclusion. To attribute only religious injunctions as the cause of female infanticide–as the Wikipedia entry has done–is speaking from ignorance at best or being fraudulent at worst. Because several Hindu religious rituals compulsorily require the wife to be present.
Yet, this was always not the norm. We also have numerous instances of “reverse dowry” where the groom was (is still in some parts of India) expected to pay dowry to the bride.
Nor is female infanticide limited to India alone. The same Wikipedia entry also mentions Pakistan, China, and South Korea. From this report on China,
A body of Chinese poetry, The Book of Songs, believed to date from 1000-700 B.C., offers this advice to new parents:
When a son is born
Let him sleep on the bed,
Clothe him with fine clothes.
And give him jade to play with. …
When a daughter is born,
Let her sleep on the ground,
Wrap her in common wrappings,
And give her broken tiles for playthings.
Now, show me ONE sloka/verse/injunction in the Hindu tradition that resembles this by at least a fraction.
Yet, this is rarely reported in the NYT or other giant opinion-shapers. We’re back again to the question of bias. Like dowry and caste, reports of Indian female infanticide are blown out of proportion more often than not, deliberately. This is an area where Professional Milkers of Human Misery–the NGOs, can make serious money. Their favourite justification for said milking: a random Sanskrit verse or passage that has a male bias –which anyway the conscience-stricken donors won’t understand–and the dollars keep flowing in.
Female infanticide is truly brutal and should stop immediately. But that won’t happen by (falsely) blaming Hindu scriptures. Is it the fault of the scriptures that others misinterpreted them to mean that giving birth to a girl child was bad? Clauses that said females were forbidden from certain rituals were twisted to mean that the female sex itself abominable. A few individuals went the next logical step ahead: nip it in the bud. Yet these selfsame individuals worship the Devi. What explains that? I can raise hundreds of such seemingly-contradictory questions but that’s for another post.
Condemn our Shastras to your heart’s content but that’ll not stop these despicable murderers. Few questions to the Professional Milkmen/women:
Have you taken pains to read, understand, and explain the original doctrines to those who commit female infanticide?
Have you pointed the fact that the doctrines actually condemn the practice of bhru hatya (foetus-killing)?
What is your track record of actually changing mindsets, preventing further incidents, and genuinely making a difference?
I’m open for debate.
PS: Does that help, Tushar?
Cross-posted on Desicritics.