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    State Vice-Captain yaju's Avatar
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    Monica Verma

    Mrs. Humpal

    Writing for College

    16 December 2001

    Abuse of Females in Today's Indian Society

    India--known as the land of people, of the Taj Mahal, of beauty. India--also the land of female foeticide, infanticide, and bride burning.

    "Even today, in some villages, on the birth of a girl her throat is strangled and she is killed…After marriage, some [women] are burned." (Lajja). Most people do not know about this cruel, hideous side of Indian society. Yet the numbers are too great to ignore. In India, four million female babies are aborted per year (Statistical Data). The national female to male sex ratio for ages zero to five years is 927 to one thousand (Aravamudan). Five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine incidents of bride burning were reported in 1994 alone (Thakur).

    These events take place all over India--from Jammu-Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south. They are happening every single day, at any given moment. Be it in a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, or any other family. It is seen in a poor village home, wealthy mansion in a major city, or any place of economic status between these extremes. It is being done by both those with no formal education whatsoever and by those who have come out of the finest graduate schools with honors. There is no boundary to the abuse of the human female in Indian society.

    Though there are countless forms of abuse against females, this paper will focus on the three most alarming. Female foeticide is the abortion of a fetus on the sole basis that it is female. Female infanticide is the killing of a newborn girl for the same reason. Bride burning is the act of killing a bride by dousing her with kerosene and setting her on fire for various reasons. This paper will attempt to explore the epidemic of these three atrocities: what is happening, why it is happening, what is being done to combat these repulsive acts, and what else could be done.

    The abuse of females begins even before a girl is born. Female foeticide is one of the newer forms of female abuse, as the technology to determine the sex of a fetus is a relatively modern one. It is used by the upper-class families, since scanning (as ultrasound is popularly called) and abortion are expensive procedures. The cost of scanning and abortion can run from fifty to five hundred U. S. dollars, which in rupees (Rs.) is around Rs. 2,395/-- to 2,39,500/--. To compare, a can of soft drink costs around Rs. 11/--, or twenty-three cents in U. S. currency. A woman may go along with the abortion because her husband or in-laws are pressuring her. Then, she will have to keep trying until she gives birth to a male (Verma, Sangeeta).

    Why do people want to kill unborn girls? The reasons are much the same as those for infanticide, which will be introduced later. First, in Hindu society, only a male can perform the funeral rights and light the funeral pyre for his parents' cremation (Kolanad, 51). More importantly, only the son can continue the family line. This is because a girl must go to the family of her husband after marriage. It is a popular saying in India that the ones who give birth to a girl only borrow her for a short time; after marriage, the young woman goes to her real home.

    But the most obvious reason for killing the unborn child is that if it is a girl, she will probably need a dowry in marriage (Kolanad, 51). Dowry is the payment or "gifts" that the bride's family gives the groom's family on the occasion of the couple's marriage. This is the linking factor in all three of the forms of female abuse discussed here, and will be further explained in the bride burning section of this paper. Many families have to work their whole lives to earn the dowry of a daughter, and are afraid she may not be accepted into her future in-law's family without a sufficient one.

    Despite these financial and societal pressures, there are many steps being taken to combat female foeticide. In 1994, the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was introduced to ban the use of sex determination tests (Menon). This includes registering all ultrasound clinics and prosecution of those who provide the illegal tests (Sex Determination). The Indian Medical Association has called scanning tests unethical and has appealed to its members to not administer them (Menon). Now, religious leaders are joining the fight as well. Muslim imams, Hindu swamis, and Parsi priests are calling foeticide a sin and a "crime against humanity and God" (Menon). In May of 2001, Sikh clergy issued a decree that female foeticide will be punished by excommunication--removal from the religious community (Indian Religious Leaders). Some girls are also becoming bold and refusing the tests, and some actually want to have daughters (Verma, Sangeeta).

    But the problem is still rampant. It can be seen everyday in newspapers and on the evening news and heard on the radio. The problem has touched many people. One person interviewed for this report knew a relative's friend whose wife had an abortion three or four times, each time because the fetus was female (Verma, Asha). Even in some areas of the south, where the prevalent worship of a Mother Goddess has given rise to a matrilineal society, female foeticide is beginning to show its power. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of India has recently summoned health secretaries of eleven states that have been accused of not complying with the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (Sex Determination). The issue of female foeticide is still very much alive, and will probably continue to grow if scanning and abortion costs go down.

    However, as long as most do not have the money for scanning, many poor will turn to female infanticide. Still, killing of newborn girls has no caste, economic, or community barriers (Aravamudan). The female infant mortality rate is forty percent higher for females than for males, and the risk of dying between ages zero and five is forty three percent higher for girls than boys (Should India Do More?).

    There are many methods known for killing the newborn. Gita Aravamudan described some of these: suffocating the baby with a pillow, or with a wet towel so "pneumonia" will be listed as the cause of death on the death certificate. In Gujarat, a newborn could be drowned in milk. The female child could also be fed drops of alcohol to bring about diarrhea and die by dehydration, while more "modern" families use pesticides or sleeping pills. The newborn's milk is also laced with the juice of a poisonous plant, or even with paddy husk, which slits the baby's throat from the inside. Another method used is putting rice grains in the infant's mouth so that she chokes and dies (Shaikh).

    There are countless reasons female infanticides are performed. Some families are so poor, they would rather kill the baby themselves than have her grow up in the same poverty (Aravamudan) or be raped or go into prostitution (Verma, Sangeeta). The same belief as in foeticide is also present, that the girl will have to go to another family anyway and others will get the benefit of the parents' efforts (Shaikh). Another issue is to prevent the shame the mother may go through if it is found out that she gave birth to a girl. She may be taunted if her first or second child is a female. The uneducated think there is something wrong with her, not her husband, because she cannot conceive a male (Verma, Sangeeta). According to Mahamudha Shaikh, from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, giving birth to a girl can be "considered a shame act."

    Of course, as is the case in foeticide, the major reason for the killing of female newborns is dowry. Aravamudan interviewed Kanchama, a village midwife from Aligurudam village in Tamil Nadu. She explained this reason in the simplest terms: "The value of a girl goes down every time the value of gold goes up." The dowry factor plays a very big part in infanticide for some poor, uneducated families (Shaikh). Once a girl is born, dowry is the biggest worry for the parents, according to Simi Sondhi from Punjab, in the northern part of India.

    Many girls do survive long enough to reach a marriageable age. This is the time when parents worry if she will be accepted into her in-law's family, and will be happy for the rest of her life. If the groom's family demands a hefty dowry, the parents have even more to worry about. The danger of bride burning is a real one, and has many factors contributing to it. But it is most related to the issue of dowry.

    The origin of dowry (also known as dahej or hunda) goes back to many thousands of years and into Hindu mythology. In the epic Ramayan, Sita's father gave the god Ram a dowry. The tradition of dowry also stems from the ancient rituals of Kanyadan, Varadakshina, and Stridhan. Kanyadan is when the bride's father gives the groom's father money or property. A variation of this is Varadakshina, in which the bride's father gives the groom gifts and money. Stridhan concerns the gifting of clothes and jewelry to the bride herself by her friends and relatives (Banerjee). At first, these traditions made sense. A new family member, who did not contribute to the income of the household, was being added. To lessen this burden on the groom's family, dowry was collected.

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    State Vice-Captain yaju's Avatar
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    But now, dowry is due to the greed of the family. As more dowry is given, the groom's family could get greedier (Verma, Asha). Nowadays, a typical Indian wedding plus dowry usually costs around Rs. 10,00,000, or $35,000 in U. S. currency. The average income of a civil worker is only Rs. 10,000--$3,500--per year (Chandra).

    This is where the problem of bride burning gets started. The bride's family sometimes is not able to afford the ever-rising costs of dowry. Ultimately it is the bride who suffers, most extremely through the cruel act of bride burning. The groom's family needs a way to let their son try for a new, wealthier bride who will bring a greater dowry, and the easiest way is to douse the current bride in kerosene and light her on fire. These are usually treated as accidents with the kerosene stove or as suicide. Suicide is easy to believe because bride burning usually comes after much physical and mental harassment of the woman and her family for more dowry. All of the groom's family members plot this together, pulling in the husband, so there are no direct witnesses to speak against them.

    The people committing these barbarities can be from any type of community. But most are upper class urban Brahmins, from the highest tier of the caste system (Banerjee). In Delhi, the capital of India, women are burned for refrigerators and VCRs (Kolanad, 89). In Rajasthan and some other states, sometimes if a man dies, the widow is made to become a sati--like a saint-- by throwing herself onto her husband's lit funeral pyre. Many times the case is that a member of the deceased's family pushed her onto the flames. And if the harassed woman "becomes pregnant and delivers a baby girl," says Sangeeta Verma of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), "God save the bride…" The family may kill the newborn and/or the mother.

    In many places this is even accepted. In some areas, if a girl marries a boy from another caste, the girl's own family will hang her or burn her. This is in order to save the "pride" of the family (Verma, Sangeeta). It even seems as if some sections of the government are on the side of bride burning. The powerful Bharatiya Janta Party and the Shiv Sena Party, allies in Congress, both openly support dowry marriages (Banerjee).

    But there is help for these unfortunate women of India. Harassment of a woman for dowry is considered a criminal offense. One law trying to combat this problem is the Dowry Prohibition Act. This sets up a fine for giving, taking, or even helping in the matter of a dowry. The punishment is up to five years in jail and Rs. 15,000/-- or the value of the dowry, whichever is more. The fine for just demanding a dowry is set at Rs. 10,000/-- (Banerjee).

    The most important law for dowry deaths, of which the majorities are cases of bride burning, is Section 489-A of the Indian Penal Code. This states that the husband or his relative who subjects a woman to cruelty will be punished with a prison term of up to three years and a fine (Cruelty). Cruelty in this sense is defined as "anything driving the woman to suicide or causing grave danger or injury or harassment of a woman (including the demand for dowry)." If the Section is presented as grounds for punishment in court, the prosecution must establish that the demand for dowry, beating, or harassment was the main factor in the victim's suicide. In September of 2001, the Supreme Court of India also added that the demand or harassment for dowry needed to have occurred soon before the death. The demand for money also must have been in connection to the marriage, not including any events where gifts or money is usually given, such as the birth of a child (All Sums Paid).

    Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code also asserts the definition of a dowry death, not suicide. The cause of death needs to be found as burns, injury, or other unusual circumstances, and needs to have occurred within seven years of the marriage. Also, it needs to have been established that the woman was harassed by her husband and in-laws in connection with the demand for dowry. If these conditions are met, the accused are punishable by an imprisonment of seven years to a life term (Dowry Death).

    Women are beginning to stand up against bride burning, but it is still a very prevalent problem. Sangeeta Verma maintains that the more educated and bold women stand up for their own rights, but the weaker ones still bear the brunt. In Tamil Nadu, Mahamudha Shaikh explains, there is a female chief minister, female governor, and women in other high positions. But there is still discrimination is some places. Simi Sondhi and Asha Verma agree that although the situation has gotten better over the past few decades, women are still not treated equally and are still considered "second-rate citizens." In the large, modern, metropolitan cities, the status of women is "healthy and equal," states Illa Chandani. Yet, these are the urban areas where so many brides are burned, and for what? A new VCR, television, motorcycle, or refrigerator. Is this the reason why in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh alone, 1,977 cases of bride burning were reported in 1994, just one year (Thakur)?

    "Time has changed; not the circumstances" (Lajja). The problems of foeticide, infanticide, and bride burning are three of the least known to those outside the realm of Indian society. But even in the minds of many Indians, it is a problem either believed to be too small to not ignore or too large to do anything about. In order to stop these cruelties, one must look at the causes of the problems as well as the nature of the victims and oppressors.

    The first question to answer is why are women viewed as inferior. Many agree that men are biologically stronger; they can rape a woman. This leads them to view themselves as superior. Also, women are more emotional, which men view as a weakness (Shaikh). Sondhi adds that historically, women were not allowed to develop their leadership qualities. Chandani agrees that many of these beliefs are remnants of older generations. Furthermore, no matter what is believed, it has been a male-dominated world since as far back as history has recorded. This could be what is keeping many women from exercising their own rights.

    This brings another issue into view: why do women allow this to happen? For the answer, one must look at the causes of these actions. Almost all will agree that society is the biggest culprit. There is also competition with others, especially in cases of receiving dowry. People who spread gossip about who-gave-birth-to-a-girl, what a shame, etc. are also to blame. The media can also play a part. Most are in agreement that lack of education is another of the biggest factors. Also, many people believe, or are simply using as an excuse, that these actions are part of their religious duties. They believe that they are bound by society and religion, sums up Chandani, although, Shaikh adds, no religion really discriminates against men or women. She adds that discouragement of education is what brings about ignorance in some women. They think they are helpless without their husbands. Others simply do not want to separate their children from their father. Asha Verma adds that sometimes the woman's family members tell her not to worry about it and do not understand the seriousness of the problem. And Sondhi points out that many do not find much support in society to stand up against these barbaric actions, even though help is there if they look.

    As for the question of whether or not it can be completely stopped, most of the women believe that it can. They agree that females are the only ones who can help one another. Sangeeta Verma says that the females of the bride's in-laws need to help the bride go against the harassment. Asha Verma adds that the husband also needs to respect his wife and stand up to his own family, and the dowry system needs to be banned. Shaikh expresses the need for literacy for females, as well as higher positions in work and society. The government also needs to help families who have female children, such as giving free medical treatment and education. There should also be free marriages for educated women as well as a ban on mentioning the sex of a fetus.

    To look at the problem theoretically, there are many solutions. But after considering real life, one realizes just how difficult these problems are to solve. The first thing to remember is that these beliefs are ingrained in the Indian culture. And as Sondhi explains, "Cultural change is a slow process." For instance, dowry is an integral part of the marriage ceremony for many Hindu families. Not all of the tradition has to do with greed. Furthermore, the Western view and the Indian view of cultural duties differ considerably. In Indian society, the woman does have obligations that she needs to fulfill, such as being the main caretaker of the children and looking after the well being of the household. The education that so many people say is the key to solving problems of female abuse must be modified so that the women do not become firm feminists and disregard their duties (Shaikh). Also, there are many people who will harass or even kill women who try to make others stand up for their rights. There have been cases of village men threatening social workers with hatchets (Aravamudan). The majority of the rural Indian population, as well as those who follow tradition, will believe that these "new" ideas are evil, and are corrupting their women.

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    State Vice-Captain yaju's Avatar
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    There is also the factor of getting the information to women. India has a population of over one billion, and is growing every day. So many people live in abject poverty. The poorest live in slums, begging for just some water to drink. How will they be able to focus their attention on someone telling them that killing females is wrong? They are trying to survive without selling themselves. Even if they are given food and water for their attention, the government will not be able to feed half of these poor.

    The main question, though, is how will people ignore what they have been taught for countless generations? Yes, some of those who learn about these cruelties will want to stand up and shake someone and fight to make them understand the enormity of this female-stealing epidemic. Yes, women do want to keep their daughters. Yes, the parents of daughters would love to do anything to completely erase the dowry system. But it is not being pessimistic, simply honest, that the majority of the society will either act negatively or not at all, at least until there is a major, society-led movement to stop this cruelty, which will take so many more generations. There are so many who look forward to bringing home a dowry, oh, yes, and the daughter-in-law. There are those women who know they will be killed if they speak against the abortion or killing of the female growing inside her. They know that they have too many responsibilities, such as taking care of their other children, to die for such a "little" thing like that. The evolution of tradition to murder has taken so many hundreds of years, and those who take part in it do not realize, or choose to ignore, the fact that they are actually annihilating a human just because she is a female. It will take so much time for them to realize this, and even more time for all to change these ways. During that time, how many more females will "disappear"?

    The following quote sums up the frustration felt about this misery:

    [A girl] is married off, like she is a burden and needs to be

    thrown off! Is a woman just a childbearing machine? Does

    she not have her own identity? Doesn't she have her own

    individuality? (Lajja)

    Foeticide, infanticide, and bride burning: these are just three of the ways the females of India are abused. It is not so easy to stop these atrocities as one may think. There are so many causes to think of, so many ingrained beliefs, and so many people to worry about. The society and culture of India is one of the oldest on this planet. Just three of these problems are too complex for any paper to handle, too complex for any one person or any one solution.

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    Without even reading that..........


    WOAH!!!


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    what must be done seems simple to me, and it all revolves around education.

    1) religious education should probably come first - youngsters must be taught that it is wrong to kill (i am assuming this is the case with Hinduism- i dont know that much about it) and that no matter what, you must not harm a child (born or unborn) or a woman. if this is taught from a young age it will become engrained in a childs mind and they will develop a strong will against it. over time this should slow the trends out...

    2) female education - the women must be taught about it, and what to do about it. the government must introduce stronger laws and more specific laws to reduce the number of 'suicides or accidents'

    the government should also introduce shelters for abused women who need assistance and advicers etc at government centres around the country etc..


    those sorts of things anyway, however all government initiatives cost money and a goovernment would need to be very committed to the cause. if its a tradition this could be difficalt...
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    This is un Yaju like.
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    Can someone take most of the dots out of the name of the thread? It's making it so the Off-Topic page is larger than the screen!
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    State Vice-Captain yaju's Avatar
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    It would be very kind of you if you please send your feedback to my aunt i.e. the writer Mrs. Monica Verma at the email addresses given above.

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    International Debutant V Reddy's Avatar
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    Originally posted by age_master
    what must be done seems simple to me, and it all revolves around education.

    1) religious education should probably come first - youngsters must be taught that it is wrong to kill (i am assuming this is the case with Hinduism- i dont know that much about it) and that no matter what, you must not harm a child (born or unborn) or a woman. if this is taught from a young age it will become engrained in a childs mind and they will develop a strong will against it. over time this should slow the trends out...

    2) female education - the women must be taught about it, and what to do about it. the government must introduce stronger laws and more specific laws to reduce the number of 'suicides or accidents'

    the government should also introduce shelters for abused women who need assistance and advicers etc at government centres around the country etc..


    those sorts of things anyway, however all government initiatives cost money and a goovernment would need to be very committed to the cause. if its a tradition this could be difficalt...

    1) Nobody is thought to kill a person in any religion. I don't think it is religion based but more of a culture/tradition. It happens in the whole of South Asia and in all religions like Hinduism , Islam, Sikhism,Christianity,etc,. I think it will die out as the older generation continues to passes away.

    2) Dowry is banned , Husband can be arrested on just a complaint from Wife on some particular cases,etc,. have been initiated but what can the gov do when the people don't bother

    I am damn sure it's coming down atleast in South India and i think it is due to Education as the literacy rates in South India are quite high and the governments in South India are better too. There used to be a report on those every day in local newspapers a while back but now it has come down to one odd every month. But alternately the cost of marriages has gone like Yaju said to around 8-10,00,000 just on marriage functions. I can't beleive people waste that much money just on functions for others. The answer given is marriage is once in a lifetime thing but if they had brains they could invest that in banks and draw an interest of 10,000 = month salary or invest in those children in banks so that by the time they have become adults they have security of five-folds of that money(50,00,000) which has been assigned for them.

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    do you have a shorter version of it??????
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