Saturday, December 23, 2006

India’s endangered species: girls

Indian female feticide: 10 million killed in 2 decades

According to a UNICEF report released this month, 7,000 fewer girls are born in India every day than the global average would suggest. This is attributed to both abortion after ultrasound tests and also the killing of newborns.

Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Child Development, says that in India, 10 million girls have been killed by their parents in the past 20 years, either before they were born or immediately after. She aptly calls it a “national crisis.”

"Today, we have the odd distinction of having lost 10 million girl children in the past 20 years," Chowdhury told a seminar in Delhi University.

"Who has killed these girl children? Their own parents."

In traditional Hindu practice, girls are often viewed as liabilities: they are tools in trade, property to be bartered – not only in the lingering practice of dowry, where the bride’s parents pay for the groom to marry her, but also in the continuation of a kind of emotional suttee, where the wives only have rights as their men choose to give them.

Scratch the surface of Indian society, and you’ll find powerful social prejudice, to the point of female devaluation. And now, that devaluation is seen in the destruction of unborn and newly born girls: as technology increases, so does selective killing… inordinately biased against girls.

"Even today when you go to a temple, you are blessed with 'May you have many sons.'"

Female feticide worst in places of militant Hinduism

Perhaps not surprisingly, the incidence of female feticide rises in the places where traditional Hinduism is practiced militantly. For instance, in the western desert state of Rajasthan, where militant Hinduism controls much of the political and police infrastructure, newborn girls are often killed by pouring sand or tobacco juice into their nostrils.

"The minute the child is born and she opens her mouth to cry, they put sand into her mouth and her nostrils so she chokes and dies…

"They bury infants into pots alive and bury the pots. They put tobacco into her mouth. They hang them upside down like a bunch of flowers to dry…

"We have more passion for tigers of this country. We have people fighting for stray dogs on the road. But you have a whole society that ruthlessly hunts down girl children."

Is it any surprise that this state of Rajasthan is also the place where orphan caregivers have been terrorized and tortured, this last year? Some people are very invested in making sure that young girls don’t get a chance, that outcast children remain outcast – locked into their sordid place.

Female feticide not a matter of education, but ideology

Also, interestingly, in India, the incidence of female feticide also rises in relation to education and social class. Chowdhury says that the practice of killing baby girls is ‘more prevalent among the educated, including in upmarket districts of New Delhi, making it more challenging for the government.’

"How do we tell educated people that you must not do it? And these are people who would visit all the female deities and pray for strength but don't hesitate to kill a girl child…”

One can sense the frustration in her voice: the very ones who supposedly wouldn’t do such a thing – educated classes – are the ones who practice it most. Underlying her words is the rampant drumbeat of a lingering caste system, and all its ideological devastations.

In other words, the India that Amy Carmichael discovered, where young Indian girls are most at risk, where beautiful girls are devalued and sold before the altar of Shiva, that India still makes itself known – to the tune of 10 million dead girls in 20 years, and countless other millions broken into little inner pieces, trapped in physical and spiritual slavery.

And, when caregivers offer integral intervention to these outcast girls, they soon find that they only risk their own lives and reputations: in many places, it isn’t safe to rescue girls from social destruction. Just ask Sam Thomas and the Hopegivers caregivers, who’ve been persecuted, imprisoned and terrorized this last year, in Rajasthan!

The place to counter female feticide…

The place to counter this female feticide is in the heart – to change the heart, to offer a new vision to the mind. In practical terms, this means supporting those who are making a difference – those who actually rescue these girls and tell them that their life has infinite meaning!

In other words, there is an inward and outward demand that this feticide places upon us: it begins in our hearts, we who say we care, and then flows to the point places of need. It begins as we look in the mirror and say, “Who, me?” and then answer by saying, “Yes, I too bear the blame.” And then, giving and living to make a difference: give to people like Hopegivers, who exist to meet this need, among others. And, then live like we really care about feticide: it’s pure spiritual foolishness to act as if we are against female feticide in India, and then voting to support abortion here in the USA. It’s like the lady who said she supported missions in Africa but wouldn’t let a black man pray in her church – the same human idolatry underlies both feticide and abortion…

Look in the eyes of these girls, and ask if they deserve a chance at equal life. Ask if they are worth the world – and consider how many lights like theirs have been darkened!

And as you ponder this, consider a gift to Hopegivers, this Christmas! As one said long ago, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!”

In your gift, in your life, in truth, the light goes on, still!

Merry Christmas as you make a difference this year, here!


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