The people in the desert state of Rajasthan had to face the invasions from Arab countries. On the one hand they wanted men to fight on the other they had to save the chastity of girls. There have been examples when all the women in the fort townships would consign themselves to flames to save themselves from the sexual greed of the invaders.
The two reasons gave a psychological turn to the whole scenario. Men won’t have daughters. The custom of putting the girl child under one of the legs of the cot was quite common in some remote villages. The infanticide continued for centuries and is heard of even today.
Both the reasons and ways of killing a female child have changed. The most dominant reason of doing away with the child is dowry. Formerly it was in vogue only in certain areas of the country. North was considered notorious for it. During the last decade scientific innovation of amniocentesis came to the help of the parents.
A study in Delhi revealed that out of the 1000 cases of foeticide (Killing the baby in the womb) 999 were of female foetus after their sex was known through this test. Most of these cases were from highly educated and well placed families. Even these families would not like to and cannot face the exorbitant demands of dowry. Killing the female foetus is as heinous a crime as the other ways of killing the child in rural areas.
The malady that might have originally sprung in the North has gradually spread to almost all the states. Gujarat where bride burning was not heard of till the sixties is one of the most affected states. Up to seventies the dowry system was common only among Patidars in Gujarat and Chettiars and Reddys in Andhra Pradesh and the urban areas of the South—rather of the whole country. In rural areas it was most common among the so called upper castes throughout the North.
Of late an organisation ‘Alternative for India Development’ (AID), a Non Government Organisation (NGO) working with the tribal’s of Bihar and Tamil Nadu came to some startling findings in certain rural areas. It was rather surprising that in Bihar, a backward state, the cases of female infanticide were not as rampant as in certain areas of Tamil Nadu.
A survey of three districts Salem, Dharmapuri and Madurai was taken up. These are the districts where the government had introduced the cradle scheme for the girl child (the unwanted babies). The urban people in Tamil Nadu know about the gifts of bonds, a gold ring, free education and a lump-sum at the time of marriage as propagated by the government. The rural people have no idea about these state beneficiencies.
It may look surprising that in 75 per cent cases the mothers take the decision to kill the child. Some of them feed the child with erukkampal, milk from a pale poisonous flower. Some are given nallipal milk of another poisonous plant. Some mothers stifle the child with a towel. Others throw paddy husked milk in the throat of the child. These are rather cases of heinous crime motivated by compassion for the child. How long will the Indian society live with this paradox?