Jan 28, 2009

'Off' you go, girl!

I have strong objections to the phrase 'married off', which is commonly and liberally used without as much as a thought to how it sounds or what it implies. It means (at least to me) that a daughter is a burden that needs to be disposed off (for the cause of holy matrimony) as soon as possible. Such a liability cannot be borne for long. What will the relatives/ neighbours/ society say? "Abhi tak ladki ko ghar pe bitha ke rakha hai?" Shuddering gasp with one hand clutching at the heart and the other the open mouth. Worse, daughters are dispensable, and need to be dispensed as soon as possible.

This mentality, of thinking of women as commodities being passed around from one male to the other (father to husband), comes from patriarchy. And not even the Law thinks otherwise! Last February, the Bombay High Court has held that every father is under obligation to 'maintain' his daughter and get her married off. Maintain?

We hear of parents saving money for their son's education and their daughter's marriage. This mindset is propagated far and wide by popular media. What everyone conveniently forgets in these arrangements for the future is the daughter's education. Was any money saved for that? Was it enough for her to pursue all her dreams? Or was she taught to see just one dream - getting married 'off' - day after day and night after night? To be a 'good' and 'cultured' girl who will dream only of being a 'virtuous' and 'homely' wife to some benevolent Angel of Mercy who will agree to 'take' her if bribed with enough dowry.

Not just that. It suddenly becomes her duty to 'stay' married as well. Even at the cost of her happiness and peace of mind. Even at the cost of her individuality and independence. Even at the cost of her life. After all, her parents are done with marrying her 'off', what more can they do? Why don't they educate her to settle into a profession and empower her to provide for herself, instead of and before embarking on a search for a 'settled' guy who can?

The findings of the National Family Health Survey III reveal that, in rural areas, 52.5 per cent of girls aged between 20-24 get married before they turn 18. The corresponding figure for urban India is 28.1 per cent. Is that shocking? Yes, it is, for someone who has lived in a posh locality, received the best of education, and would not think of marriage before the age of 25 or even more.

Yet, with the rise in the age at which daughters get married, investment in them has also risen due to a longer period for which her natal family must support her. Investment in her education becomes important to enable a better match, which will likely be more expensive too. All this becomes a vicious circle which spins the web of dowry.

At first glance, a tiny part of the world with good schools and colleges, malls and multiplexes seems to symbolise development. The person who collects garbage; that newspaper guy who leaves a daily at your doorstep; the milkman, the grocery boy: they are the inhabitants of a much larger space where a girl’s marriage before the age of 18 happens because it does. If at all such individuals are surprised by the survey’s findings, that would be since half the women of today’s India are getting married after 18!

Why do we not allow our daughters to marry as and when they meet the right kind of person? Why is there an age limit fixed for a decision that has nothing to do with age and everything to do with how the couple work as a team? Why do we not support her when she chooses to marry someone who respects her, as an equal, and not someone who tries to change her in accordance with his view of life? Why do we not let her be someone who uses her own mind to think what's best for her, and not be told about who she should spend her life with?

The old mindsets can change only when the onus of choosing a life partner is on the man and woman concerned. It is about being responsible for your own decisions and working together to implement them. Some of our glorious traditions need to be broken. For starters, the practice of arranging a marriage which leads to any kind of demand - expressed or implicit, needs to be changed.

As parents, you can begin by dissociating yourself from choosing the spouse of your children - and the expenses for and after the choice. Assume the role of a friend and confidante, instead, to guide your children through the path they choose and to lend an ear. Restore - completely, unequivocally - to your children, especially your daughters, their inalienable right to select their mates. Let them take responsibility of their lives before they become responsible towards each other. If they're mature enough to marry, aren't they equally wise to decide who they want in their lives?

A daughter is not the property of her parents to be donated or dispensed to some obscure unknown fellow who simply happens to have the astronomical bodies in the right position at the right time. She does not need to feel obliged just to have been born to you. Accept her adulthood. You may not be able to save her from a heartbreak or a failed marriage, but let her make her own mistakes and learn from them. Support and console her without saying 'I told you so'. Be there for her at all times, and yet do not interfere in her life. A fine balance indeed!

So she can't be your son? Why does she have to? Just let her be your daughter. Is that too hard?

Chastity belts, next?

So free am I, so gloriously free,
Free from three petty things -
From mortar, from pestle and from my twisted lord,
Freed from rebirth and death I am,
And all that held me is hurled away.

(Mutta, Therigatha, "Poems by Buddhist Nuns", translated by Uma Chakravarthi and Kumkum Roy)

India - a melting pot of beliefs, a melange of faiths, a multitude of languages.

In India, culture manifests itself within the multi-layered and multi-coloured lattices of region and religion. Therefore, any attempt to look at culture as a homogenized entity would be erroneous to begin with. The diversity contained in what is called Indian culture indicates high degrees of interaction, assimilation and integration for all communities in the lived sense. Even a cursory look at daily life of any section of Indian society will reveal the continuities between various kinds of cultures and the experiential basis of these continuities. Culture cannot be viewed outside of a social context. We find across the length and breadth of the county that cultural practices vary according to social patterns that have been historically and geographically determined to a very large extent.

Indian culture - from a strictly ritualitic point of view - has been appallingly male-appeasing. A plethora of 'traditions' and 'customs' existed - and many still exist - which explicitly and emphatically advocate discrimination against females and award them a secondary status in society. These include casteism, widow burning, untouchability, dowry, terminating the girl child. And sadly, quite a few Indians will go to any extent to defend these practices. What's more, there is no guilt or remorse involved, not even a feeling of wrong-doing, all in the name of 'culture'. India takes pride in celebration of womanhood. But again, she doesn’t like it when a girl child is born. We have an unnecessary and completely unrealistic grand opinion of ourselves – a sense of greatness which is completely hollow, an artificial construct so delicate it can burst like a bubble.

Over the years, however, women have begun to realise they have an equal right to live and contribute as an active member of a society, and that they too enjoy fundamental human rights like men. The emergence of the women's movement, popularly (and condescendingly) called Feminism, concentrated on changing the intellectual fields for women. By and large, it began to play a major role in directing women’s feeling of themselves as the other sex.

In many ways the Indian women’s movement has far outstripped the women’s movement in the West in recognizing the wide range of issues that impinge on women’s equality and emancipation. In India, religious fundamentalism and sectarian nationalism have additionally become obstacles to women’s advance. The women’s movement in India analyses how desecularisation of polities has affected societies.

Culture in India, considering the multiplicity of our social fabric, has little to do with religion. Mixing the two is merely a dangerous strategy adopted by extreme-right groups to capture political power. The obsession to identify Indianness with religion leads to the violation and erosion of the rights of Indian citizens, and to collate religion and politics thrusts forward an obsolete and injust patriarchal ideology in the guise of 'Bharatiyata'.

In the name of tradition and culture, there is active recreation of old social evils so vociferously fought against for decades by the women’s movement. These include some absolutely abhorrent practices such as untouchability, suppression of property rights, child marriage, sati, veil, and restricting women to the home.

Misula*, an adivasi from Gujarat, recounts her very identity being challenged and suppressed, terrorized into declaring herself as part of the majority community. Urmila*, a dalit activist from UP, underlines that although she belongs to a caste where women and men are treated with some semblance of equality, extremist forces make incursions leading to observance of social evils. Similarly, Vaishnavi* from Jharkhand narrates the struggle of adivasi women over land rights, and their heroic stance to safegurd and protect their life pattern and sources of livelihood. Intimidating tactics adopted by right-wing parties in UP include the harassment of and discrimination towards the minorities in their daily lives. While they make a big noise about the film on Benares widows by Deepa Mehta, they show utter apathy for the thousands of women abandoned by their families during the Kumbh melas.

Religion has always been used to suppress women’s rights and to sanction women’s oppression. The religious texts also make women a party to their own oppression by creating and endorsing definitions of the ‘ideal’ woman. These definitions are largely penned around a misogynist and patriarchial image. Women, they say, are essentially mothers. They are also defenders of tradition and bearers of the family honour. These descriptions aim to keep women backward and divorced from the mainstream, even as real-life situations force them to come out in defence of their rights.

And that is why the mayhem that unfolded in Mangalore certainly angers us but does not surprise. It is yet another dagger through our broken hearts. It was once again a brutal reminder that as a country we have decided not to grant protection to half the population. Those who carry out the assaults are unabashedly bold and unrelenting, because they know that there is a political and judicial construct that will help them get away with their crimes. That explains why after the attacks and the outrage that followed, they have been freely intimidating the victims and also the brave young man who came to their rescue.

So what next, after no holding hands with men or even no talking to them? Chastity belts?

* All names changed to protect privacy

Jan 25, 2009

Mere paas "decency" hai...

"Freedom is that instant between when someone tells you to do something and when you decide how to respond."

Freedom is the right to live as we wish. This right, however, died a painful death on Saturday, when 'activists' of a self-styled pro-Hindutva moral brigade which calls itself the Sri Rama Sene barged into a pub in the coastal city of Mangalore and assaulted (physically and sexually) a group of young girls. Oh yes, they had a 'reason' for their impotent behaviour too, as most impotent men always do. According to these 'morally uptight' local Talibanis, the girls were "violating traditional Indian norms".

A deranged mob of about 40 'men' forcibly entered the pub, claiming 'unethical' activities were on inside, and that some of the public had complained. They then viciously attacked the hapless girls and also outraged their modesty. The young men accompanying the girls to the pub on the busy Balmatta Road were also assaulted when they tried to protect their friends, as also were the staff who'd collectively risen to help.

Claiming responsibility for the attack, state deputy convenor of the Sene Prasad Attavar said that it was a spontaneous reaction against women, who flouted 'traditional' Indian norms of 'decency'. He said these girls were Hindus who dared to get close to Muslim men.

Sadly, Karnataka - a state that once had a strong image of peace and tolerance - seems to be heading in a very different direction now.

Source: TOI, NDTV, IBN

Okay, here's what I gather from this incident. "Indian Tradition and Culture" is a manuscript written by a bunch of goons and hooligans. The manuscript itself is a list of dos and don'ts that these morality-preachers collate and dispense at will. They decide what comprises morality and decency according to what they deem fit, and it only pertains to the females of the nation. It definitely advocates the use of violence and sexual perversion - liberally and frequently.

This piece of literary genius does not include (or rather overlooks) such mundane things as terrorism or dishonesty or crime in general. It only stresses on matters of utmost importance to India today - namely, what women should and should not do/ wear/ eat/ drink, where they should and should not go/ look, how they should sit/ stand/ talk/ pee/ shit/ barf, whether they should live/ see/ breathe without permission from the authors of the afore-mentioned script, how they should always provide for the sexual repression and frustration of these esteemed authors, and the like. As for men, well, some of them wrote the manuscript, didn't they?

All I can say is that Manu, the acclaimed author of the Kohinoor of Indian literature, Manusmriti, smiles in content and indulgence at his faithful protégés. After all, did he not say that a woman is an embodiment of the worst desires - hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character - and so should never be given freedom? The saviours of India surely know where to fuel their regressive mindsets from!

"Day and night women must be kept in dependence by males (of their families), and, if they attach themselves to sexual enjoyments, they must be kept under one's control."

Edited to add:

I just had to publish this comment from some anonymous 'moral' fellow who's too much a coward to display his/ her name while commenting - "one thing i want to know is how do we control a person who is beyond decency limits & who will draw the line? since the government & NCW have failed in this, common man has no other way but to resort to such wild behaviour. I saw the TV. what sri ram sena said is correct, these people usually take drugs & behave badly & dress badly also. NCW should be held responsible for this." This person should be lynched for insulting the common man by saying they'd believe in what the Sena did! And there's more to cover his/ her posterior - "I do not support sri ram sena either. They need to resolve this issue by peaceful protest Like wearing a black mask & sitting for dharna infornt of bad people & bad places. They should not hit people." Yeah, right!

Edited again to add:

Here's what the founder of Sri Rama Sene, Pramod Mutalik, has to say after Saturday's appalling incident - "We oppose this. Women have to be protected as the law has failed. Parents are worried about their wards going astray in materialistic pursuits. We are the custodians of Indian culture." Like hell you are! And like hell the parents gave YOU the authority to 'protect' their daughters! And, surprisingly, he says "there is no need to raise such a hue and cry about the incident". Sure, there's no such need; Manu made that clear eons ago!

Barf bag, please

Is it just me, or is no one really smiling? Yes, I have a sense of humour. And a very active one at that. Yes, I’ve listened to and even laughed at sexist jokes and did not fire up in indignation at the derogatory undertones. But yes, I am outraged at this. I'm sorry, but the laughter just doesn’t erupt from within my being.

Courtesy: UltraViolet

Jan 24, 2009

Gaudaan... Vastradaan... Annadaan... Bhoodaan... Kanyadaan?

Kanyadaan = kanya (girl) + daan (donation) = Literally, the donation of one's girl/ daughter

Kanyadaan is often dubbed as 'mahadaan' - a donation of the highest order. As one of the irrefutable rituals of a Hindu wedding, the father of the bride is entrusted with the 'sacred responsibility' of performing kanyadaan as one of the greatest daans of his lifetime.

The idea of 'donating' one's child generates from our patriarchal norms and traditions which are unabashedly male-centric. The focal point of the universe is thought to be men, and women, instead of complementing them, are marginalised at the peripheries. Women are seen as merely an instrument to fulfil masculine purposes - particularly that of 'putra-praapti' or begetting sons so as to keep the lineage alive.

For producing male progeny later in her life, an unmarried female has to be kept 'chaste' and 'pure' by her father as part of the larger plan of survival of human race. Her personality, spirituality and psyche is expected to be so moulded as to unquestionably fit into her pre-destined role of the second sex. Nowhere is it ever mentioned that begetting daughters is a desirable (or even one of the not-so-desirable) goal of society, even though they are as much a part of evolutionary progress as sons would be.

Nothing is more atrocious than the concept of 'kanyadaan'. It is against the basic human values. In fact, shockingly, parallels can be drawn between 'gaudaan' (donation of a cow) and kanyadaan. Cows are useful to the extent that that they produce milk and calves, hence they need to be fed and kept properly. Similarly, the practice of kanyadaan draws from certain religious ancient texts which actually mention that a woman's place is at home where she should be given sufficient food, ornaments and clothes to wear - all so that when her husband comes home from work, he finds her attractive for producing male progeny.

Marcel Mauss wrote: "To give something is to give a part of yourself." This worries parents, especially fathers, making them extremely cautious about their daughters' marriage arrangements. Kanyadaan quite literally takes part of the girl's father with it - in the form of her father's blood, and his money. On the other hand, the gift of kanyadaan is likened to a gift to God. The daughter’s husband is akin to Vishnu, while the daughter herself represents Lakshmi (not surprising, considering the amount of dowry she brings to her marital home).

According to the scriptures, a daughter is the finest gift a man has to give to another man. Though he loves his daughter, he cannot keep her. In fact, to keep her past her puberty was considered a great sin for a father in olden days, which was why tiny pre-pubescent girls were married at a very early age, often as young as five or six.

However, the humiliation of the daughter, now a daughter-in-law, doesn't end there. Her acceptance involves the receiving family in risk. Conveniently overlooking the absolute dependence of the lineage on her reproductive powers, the ideology of marriage focuses on the dangerous substances the bride brings in her blood to mix with the husband’s patrilineage.

"The boy will enter the householder stage and he is taking the girl to enter; hence it depends on the girl. If she isn’t of good blood line, his whole grhastyam is spoiled. So purity of blood is essential." So say the 'wise'!

What is even more baffling is that often traditions like kanyadaan are not questioned, since on the superficial level they are not perceived as being overtly gender discriminatory. However, the problem is they serve to perpetuate gender inequality and reiterate a woman's tertiary existence and male supremacy. This plays on a woman's psyche and strengthens the in-built injustices of society where women are subject to violence and abuse, even death. Another problem is that since kanyadaan takes place during a wedding, gender-sensitised citizenry are also hesitant to disrupt the ceremonies to protest against this regressive practice.

Jan 18, 2009

The Frog Princes

In a bizarre ritual, two minor girls from the remote Pallipudupet village in Tamil Nadu's Villupuram district were married to frogs on Friday night. The ceremony, an annual feature during the harvest festival Pongal, is conducted 'to prevent the outbreak of mysterious diseases in the village'.

The girls, both 7, dressed up in traditional bridal finery of gilded sarees and gold jewellery. They wed the frog 'princes' in elaborate ceremonies amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. The priests garlanded the brides and tied the magalsutras on behalf of the frogs. The girls were pronounced as wives of the amphibians before the sacred fire at the auspicious hour. The ceremonies concluded in sumptuous feasts.

And like any traditional Indian wedding, there were 'baraatis' and 'gharaatis' as well! The villagers living in the western part of the village acted as relatives of the brides and those from the eastern part acted as relatives of the grooms. Relatives of the brides came in a procession to the grooms' adopted homes to fix the marriage and later went to the temple pond to catch the frogs. The frogs were tied to long sticks bedecked with flowers, as they awaited their resplendent brides.

Sadly, unlike the popular fairy tale, the ugly frogs could not have turned into handsome princes when their brides kissed them. That was at least a 'fairy tale', though. The poor amphibians were thrown back into the temple pond after the ceremony.

An elderly woman of the village said the ritual was practised traditionally for several generations to 'ward off evil spirits and diseases' from the village. The district collector R Palaniswamy says he deputed a team led by the local social welfare officer to visit the village and submit a detailed report. The district administration, he says, proposes to evolve 'comprehensive schemes' to enlighten the villagers against such evil and ignorant practices.

Funnily, this evil and ignorant practice has been going on right in front of his unseeing eyes, year after year.

Source: The Times of India website

Now, here's the reactions from various readers of the news:

"The only thing missing in this report is whether the persons performing these rituals were thrown in the pond with the frogs. Ignorant goons. Please leave kids alone!"
Nope! The villagers are still on terra firma.

"Why attrocities only on females? These folks should start marrying off the males now. Poor goverment policies. Shame on people and netas of India."
Yes! Why are ONLY females always married to dogs, trees, snakes, stones and what not? How on earth are THEY always responsible for anything that does or may happen (in this case outbreak of 'mysterious diseases)? And why should it happen at all - to anyone, male or female?

"This is a violation of frog rights! :)"
Sarcasm at its best! Sadly, the smile doesn't come.

"It is astonishing and sad that such bizarre practices are still practised in this era. I am curious to know if these girls are allowed to marry 'human beings' later on or are they supposed to live life praying for their 'Frog Prince'."
Trust me, I won't be surprised if they live their lives as lawfully wedded to and faithful wives of the animals.

And, finally, to add salt to the wound comes this comment that left me seething:

"This looks exactly like an article a Western newspaper would publish about India. What exactly is evil about this custom? Was anyone harmed here at all in this ritual? Is this more evil than universal Christian custom of eating Jesus' flesh and blood at church (transubstantiation)? The only thing evil here is the reporter's bizzare hate towards harmless age-old Indian traditions."
Perfect! The best defense is offense - so start mudslinging other religions and traditions. Christianity has its own set of superstitions - agreed. So instead of sitting pretty and talking big, fight against those as well!
And how was no one harmed? What about the girls? Their dignity? Their self-esteem? Their rights as a human? Their respect as an individual? Oh, I forgot, the poor girls were not supposed to have any of those.
Just to think (let alone believe!) the girls are in any way responsible for what happens/ happened/ will happen/ can happen/ may happen in the village is tantamount to harming them. How would you like it, Mr. wise guy, if someone blames you for the tsunami of 2004 and forces you into holy matrimony with a whale?

Jan 13, 2009

Jan 10, 2009

What the ....

I recently came across a revolting practice while researching on content for my next post. I was too sickened and outraged to comment when I read it, so I'll put it up here for my readers.

A hostel in Madurai has been forcing students to maintain a public register of their menstrual cycle. This, apparently, is to prevent pre-marital sex and to ensure that teenage girls do not 'go astray'.

This crass invasion of girls' privacy has been taking place for years at the government hostel for poor and backward class students in the affluent and very urban Madurai. The register has columns for the exact dates of their cycle. Even slightly irregular dates invite snide remarks and harsh reprimands by the hostel warden.

"Making them write down their menstrual cycle dates creates mental torture. Most girls are not even able to tell their parents about these things. It is creating a lot of tension," said Jeeva, Regional Convenor, TN Child Rights Protection Network.

Defending the outrageous measure, the hostel warden says it is the best way to 'keep the girls under check' and prevent possible pre-marital sex. "I've only been continuing what my predecessors started. I am doing it with students' interest at heart," said Selvarani, warden, Adi Dravidar Students Hostel.

The girls revealed that the policing is done by the cook under the overall supervision of the warden. But while their records may be strictly monitored, their sanitation is not. The girls claim their hostel has just one bathroom but that is exclusively for the warden. The girls can enter it but only to clean it and not use it. Ironically the moral brigade is unconcerned about the fact that the girls have to bathe out in the open after dusk. From banning anything except sari and salwar-kameez-dupatta on college campuses to monitoring their menstrual cycles, primitive mindsets, it seems, are there to stay in our educational institutes as well.

Courtesy: "Reflections" (Dr. Bruno's blog) and NDTV

Born to die

“Let a female child be born somewhere else; here, let a male child be born.”
- Atharva Veda v 1.2.3

Lakshmi* already had one daughter, so when she gave birth to a second girl, she killed her. For the three days of her second child's short life, Lakshmi admits, she refused to nurse her. To silence the infant's famished cries, the impoverished village woman squeezed the milky sap from an oleander shrub, mixed it with castor oil, and forced the poisonous potion down the newborn's throat. The baby bled from the nose, then died soon afterward. Female neighbors buried her in a small hole near Lakshmi's square thatched hut of sunbaked mud. They sympathized with Lakshmi, and in the same circumstances, some would probably have done what she did. For despite the risk of execution by hanging and about 16 months of a much-ballyhooed government schemes to assist families with daughters, murdering girls is still sometimes believed to be a wiser course than raising them. "A daughter is always liabilities. How can I bring up a second?" Lakshmi, 28, answered firmly when asked by a visitor how she could have taken her own child's life eight years ago. "Instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her."

A tenant cultivator, Gauri* has two daughters and a son at 24. The baby that she was accused of strangling was the third daughter. She and her husband were jailed along with their youngest child. That three baby girls born around the same time had died in Gauri's village had alerted the police. The father of one of the girls had told his wife, "Why should I have anything to do with the legal proceedings when the baby died in your mother's house? I won't bear the expenses. It is your problem, not mine." Home on bail, the wife solved the problem by taking her own life.

Various brutal methods are adopted by parents to kill the female infant. Usually, midwives are hired to carry out the task, who feed milk laced with the sap of poisonous plants or pesticides to the infant, give paddy (rice with its husk) that slits the tender throats of new-born children, feed salt to increase their blood pressure or even stuff the infants into clay pots. In some cases female infants are starved or dehydrated by parents and are even wrapped in wet towels to help them catch pneumonia.  These techniques have been passed on from generations in our country and continue to be passed down further.

Alligundam, a remote village in Tamil Nadu, is an eye-opener in many ways. The families there are aggressively protective of their right to eliminate their female children. A village elder shouts angrily, "We don't kill female infants in this village? Go and see... you will find at least one girl child in every house." What he conveniently forgets to mention was that the next... and the next... and the next... would all be eliminated. The families believe that one girl is needed to 'light the lamp' in each home; the others are intrusions who just have to go. They want more boys, so family planning is never an option.

What lies at the root of this tragedy for these families? At an awareness camp for school children conducted by an NGO in an infanticide-prone area the children were asked who they preferred for a sibling - boy or girl. 99 percent of them favoured boys; girls, they said, cost more to their parents. A 14-year-old schoolboy ran away from home when his parents refused to kill the twin girls born to them rather late in their life - he did not want to shoulder the responsibility of marrying them off later in life!

Female infanticide is a wicked practice that is common in India. People forget that on the one hand they worship female deities and view young girls as their avatar whereas on the other hand they are busy murdering innocent females. It is true that the birth of a male child is an occasion of celebration while most families see the birth of a female child as a burden. A son is said to carry the family name forward. It hardly matters if the daughter is more capable than the son. It is the son who is more pampered and treasured. Women who are incapable of giving birth to a son are often ridiculed and abused and even thrown out of their husband’s home. Sons are called upon to provide the income; they are the ones who do most of the work in the fields. In this way sons are looked to as a type of insurance. With this perspective, it becomes clearer that the high value given to males decreases the value given to females. In most traditional homes, where a girl child is looked upon as Goddess Lakshmi, she is also said to bring poverty for her parents and riches for her in-laws. This is in reference to the system of dowry where girls take money and presents to their husband’s homes when they get married.

60-year-old Kanchamma*, a midwife in a non-descript village in Tamil Nadu, has witnessed the killing of many female infants. Her job, she says, is only to deliver the baby. What they do with it is a family decision. On rare occasions, though, she is able to persuade the family to give a girl child away for adoption. Kanchamma, with her native wisdom, has a perfect explanation as to why more girl babies were getting killed every year. "The value of a girl goes down every time the value of gold goes up," she says.

This raises several fundamental issues for reflection. Are the women who commit (or are forced to commit) such crime more sinned against than sinning? Are we punishing the victims of patriarchy rather than its perpetrators? Didn't they kill the female babies they had been taught to devalue from childhood, mainly to ensure their own survival in their marital homes? "If the baby is a girl, don't come back" is an injunction not to be taken lightly. Should not the state have launched a massive education campaign to publicise the basic biological reality that it is the chromosomes of the father, not the mother, that determine the sex of the baby? Given the reality that vast stretches of rural India still reel under patriarchy in its crudest forms, is it realistic to penalise its victims for not standing up to it? Whose fault is it that the woman, who labours equal to (and sometimes more than) the man, yet subsists on much less, has come to be perceived as a liability?

The disastrous impact of the consumerist culture spawned by globalisation that has been a driving force in pushing up dowry rates and consuming brides in flames has been widely held to account by social scientists for the spread of infanticide to new areas and communities. They perceive the spread not as a relic of an atavistic past, but as consequence of a narrowly based, consumerist path of capitalist development within a framework of strong patriarchy and son preference, and an environment of universalisation of the small family norm. They also suggest that policy intervention and social mobilisation are urgently needed on this issue.

A perception held by a section of social activists is that as one strives to change state policy as a long-term goal, punishing those who kill their offsprings with a proprietorial right, could work as an effective deterrent in the short term. This has, in effect, opened the floodgates to foeticide, aided by modern scanning technologies. Another point of view that it is the father who should be arrested instead of the mother, as infanticide could not happen against his wish, was tested in a gathering of women in an affected area; some thought that it would ruin the marriage and would split the family. Many, including a large number of NGOs working in these areas are against any punitive action, and stress instead basic policy changes that would expedite attitudinal changes.

It would be naive to perceive female infanticide and foeticide solely as expressions of violence of the families concerned, ignoring the deceptively invisible violence that is inherent in the path of market-driven economic development and an acquisitive culture that creates and strengthens inequalities and inhumanities. Compassion, humaneness and the worth of the individual are totally alien values in an economic dispensation where greed is assiduously cultivated and individual profit is celebrated as the crowning civilisational goal and glory. It is about time we exerted ourselves to reflect and debate on who the major and minor players are in these killing fields and whether the women in distress should be penalised and made to bear a cross that belongs elsewhere.

* All names changed to protect privacy