Islamic Voice
Rabi-ul-Awwal 1422H
June 2001
Volume 15-06 No:174

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WOMEN'S ISSUES


Endangered Half

Endangered Half

Census 2001 figures show already adverse sex ratio tilting further against women 

06women

Ahtesham Qureshy in New Delhi

How cruel are we be coming as a society, so far as the fate of the girl child is concerned? In olden days, the poor and illiterate used to kill the moment a female baby was born. The barbaric axe would be used soon after the birth took place. But today, we eliminate the girl child even before the birth. We kill her in the mother’s womb. And this is done, mostly, with the willingness of the mother and the father of the would-be child. The family accepts it. The society does not disapprove of it. The law is there to “prohibit” such an act. But it is being misused and its provisions are being manipulated. What is worse, the physician, whose moral and professional obligation is to ensure the safe birth and delivery of the new life taking shape in the womb, is becoming a tool to silence that tiny life.

06Women2.jpgThis is the only message which clearly comes out of the Census 2001 population figures, the provisional figures of which were released recently. The overall male-female sex ratio in the country was reported as 1,000 : 933. But in the 0-6 age group, the ratio has gone alarmingly low to the figure of 1,000 : 793. In the neighbouring Harayana too, the position is discomforting: 820 girls per 1,000 male babies born. In the hilly state of Himachal Pardesh, the fate of the girl child was no better: 897 per 1,000 male children. In Chandigarh, where the majority of the people are from Punjab and Haryana, the ratio in this tiny age group is equally disturbing—1,000 : 845. In Delhi, it was 865 female babies to 1,000 male babies.

Let us remember that these figures are about the northern region of the country where the rich farmers live, and where literacy is more than 70 per cent. This is also the cream of the modern, forward-looking stock of people. They live in luxury, move in cars, often fly to Europe and USA, and have all the worldly means and resources to enjoy a happy life, with dance and music, where the average farmer prefers chilled beer or coke to traditional lassi or simple water.

It is in the affluent states of Haryana and Punjab that the female population is decreasing, not among backward Muslims who are accused of gender bias.

Another significant aspect of population growth is that as compared to the 0-6 age group, the sex ratio among those above seven, is not bad i.e., 935 females per 1,000 males. The only safe interpretation of the figures is that either a female child is not allowed to see life outside the womb, or the rate of infant mortality up to the age of six is very high. This cannot be attributed to nature. It is man made.

Let us take into account another demographic fact. This is the area in the country where the population of Muslims is negligible, except Delhi where it is only about ten per cent. What a tragedy. The Muslims in general are regarded as backward, having a bias against women in society. And yet, the facts speak out the other truth, that it is the socially and economically forward section of non-Muslims (Hindus and Sikhs) who are really guilty of being most unkind to the girl child. For the Muslims, the Quran ordains: “Do not kill your progeny (babies) for fear of paucity of resources to bring them up. We are the provider of bread to all”. Among non-Muslims, the accepted position is that a girl is by tradition regarded as a burden and a liability on the family. The menace of dowry for marriage casts a shadow of gloom. The demand for dowry goes high in proportion to the richness of the family. The greed for more is so common that many families do not feel satisfied with what they get at the time of marriage, but raise new and higher demands after the marriage too. This often leads to bride burning, where the demands of the in laws are not met. While the Muslim society is by and large yet free from the illegal and immoral act of killing the girl child, the evil of dowry is, in many areas, becoming unbearable.

Killing of female foetuses is not simply a case of bias against women, it is a case of elimination of girls, an act of murder.

This is not the case of simple bias against the girl child. It is a deep-rooted and deliberate act of eliminating the girl. The common practice is that the young couple approaches a physician for a sex determination test on the foetus. If the test shows that it would be a girl, the mother goes for, abortion. There are loopholes in the law, and those defects are manipulated to avoid the penalty. In pure social terms, the parents are the murderers, and the physician the abettor. But they both get away with it. The Supreme Court has directed the governments to be more strict in checking the misuse of the law. All this is going on while there is a wide cry for empowerment of women. We talk of equality, of reservation for women living, but we do not grant the right to be born if we find that it was going to be a girl. Hypocrisy has no limits.

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