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"More power, wealth a social strata has, more the genocidal violence towards females"

Mar 07, 2013

In 2006, writer and activist Rita Banerji started the '50 Million Missing' campaign to bring focus to the rampant practice of female foeticide in India. Since then she has been spreading the word on what she calls mass female genocide and talks to OneWorld South Asia about how India needs to wake up and do something concrete to stop violence against women.

Rita Banerji

OneWorld South Asia: You started your campaign, 50 Million Missing in 2006. And according to the most recent statistics the ratio of 914 girls to 1000 boy, is the lowest since 1947. What do you think is the reason that female foeticide still remains such a rampant practice?

Rita Banerji: The ‘50 Million Missing’ is about a system of violence that kills females at all stages of life. So it’s not just about female foeticide, but about all forms of violence against females that have also increased in India. The rate at which girls under five years are being killed, either starved or battered to death, has almost doubled! The mortality rate for girls under five years was 40 per cent higher than for boys that age, about a decade ago. Now it is 75 per cent higher! Dowry related violence and murders have sky rocketed! Rates at which women are lynched as “witches” has increased. Rate of rape crimes is up by 87 per cent Regions, states and communities in India that never had these crimes, do so now! In 20 years, 20 per cent of women in India will have been exterminated. This is more than violence. It is a genocide on a scale that is unprecedented in human history.

To answer your question, systemic violence against females in India has increased and spread, because there is no system of law and order. There are laws, but they are not implemented and the government and law enforcement agencies are not held accountable. This is anarchy. Systemic violence always escalates in an uncontrollable manner where there is no legal and judicial safeguard for human rights. That is true for any country.

OWSA: Slowly, there seems to be a debunking of the myth that female foeticide is an occurrence in India's rural areas. Urban places like Delhi and Chandigarh seem to have higher rates of female foeticide. What is your view on this?

RB: An analysis of India’s most recent census data clearly shows a pattern. The more power a social strata has, as in the form of wealth or education, the higher the rate of genocidal violence against females, and lower the gender ratio. The worst gender ratio is in the top most 20 per cent of Indians. That pattern is seen at every level of society. Wealthier villages have lower ratios of girls, than poorer villages, and the same pattern holds when comparing districts and states. And not just female feticide, but there is also increased infanticide and dowry violence. The only strata in India where the gender ratio is close to normal is in the poorest 20 per cent . Obviously this is not the strata where there is infanticide. Even in rural areas it is homes that have higher incomes, or land etc. that are more likely to kill their infant girls. For instance, one of the baby girls we tried to intervene to save from being killed, lived with her grandfather who was a sarpanch. He owned orchards. He had set up a mobile store and a motorcycle showroom in his village.

I think this pattern points to a fundamental flaw in how we’ve looked at India’s female genocide so far. We’ve like to think of it as a fallout of poverty and illiteracy. But really it is an exercise of power. It is the powerful who have the resources to persecute, kill and destroy.

OWSA: Many activists have urged the government to go beyond just media campaigns to effectively tackle the problem of female foeticide. In your opinion, what can be done in terms of policies and deterrents to help curb this?

RB: The government’s media campaigns are lame and just lip service. They put out some banners, they make some laws, and they like to think their duty is done. In a democracy it is not enough for a government to make laws and assume that takes care of the question of accountability in answering to the violation of human rights. Our system of law, order and justice in India is not just slack, but is also corrupt and complicit in the genocidal violence on females. So the government as it stands right now is also complicit in the violation of its own laws. That is the hallmark of all corrupted systems. It is – a failed democracy.
I think we all know that and we need to stop pretending. Citizens and activists who want change have to band together and start pushing for a system of accountability from the government (with results), and a reinstatement of a system that protects and implements laws, which right now is non-existent. We’ve wasted too much time, money and energy dancing around banners with frivolous slogans like ‘save the girl child.’ We need to find the courage to look the truth in the eye, and start doing what we all know needs to be done.

To answer your question, systemic violence against females in India has increased and spread, because there is no system of law and order. There are laws, but they are not implemented and the government and law enforcement agencies are not held accountable. This is anarchy. Systemic violence always escalates in an uncontrollable manner where there is no legal and judicial safeguard for human rights. That is true for any country.

OWSA: 50 million is a big number. What made this phenomena go unnoticed for so long? And in your opinion is it possible to bring some basic, systemic fundamental changes in attitudes towards women to help garner more respect for women?

RB: Well, the fact that Indians were eliminating women in massive numbers was clearly documented by the British in their census in the late 1800s and early 1900s. So this is not a new revelation. Just that India has preferred to close its eyes to it.

The reason this massive human rights violation has gone unnoticed for so long is that as a nation state we’ve responded to it the way most of us as individuals do at home. So when laws are violated, the human rights of individuals are violated in our homes – women are forced to abort their girls or kill their baby girls, or women are beaten, blackmailed or killed for dowry, we tolerate it. We support the violators. We hush it up. We hide it from others. We all do it. When we learn to do that as members of a family, we then move into society, into jobs – in the government, police, courts, hospitals, or just ordinary citizens, and we do the same for the nation as a family. Our country mirrors the way our family units work. As citizens of a nation we function the same way we do as members of our families. We deny it, hide it. We get defensive when it is exposed internationally. We are doing what our families do – closing ranks and being complicit directly or indirectly in the perpetuation of this violence.
To answer your question about whether we can bring about a change in the misogynist attitude that underlies this female genocide, consider this. All genocides, the systemic targeting and destruction of a human group, is based in cultural prejudices. The group that is targeted and killed – be it India’s female genocide or Germany’s Jewish genocide faces irrational prejudices that are rooted in history. The question is in case of female foeticide, why do we do this? Perhaps because women are not seen as human, not even by women themselves. I think this approach stems from the kind of hugely internalised cultural denial. There is only one realistic and ethical way to stop any kind of genocidal violence – and that is through an efficient and accountable system of law and order.

OWSA: What is your further plan of action in the campaign and where do you see this going?

RB: Right now there are three things we are focusing on:

  • We are continuing to ‘un-silence’ the female genocide and raise global awareness about it. We must remove the veils of complicity, denial and silence that have sustained it both within our families, and nationally and internationally. There is a video that we are asking people to download and share and become the Voice of the Campaign.
  • We also want the public to support this petition for the implementation of laws and official accountability, and become a part of the mass momentum building around it.
  • We will soon start an initiative for people in India and Indian communities outside India, asking them to tell the stories from their lives on our blog and to make the personal -- political. We’ll be looking for people, who using own identities (names and faces) will tell how either they stood up to stop their own rights being violated in their family or community or stood up or spoke up for another woman or girl in their own family. The change in India’s approach to female genocide will begin with the change in the attitudes of how each individual behaves in their own family.
Hendrikus Piek says:
May 24, 2013 05:48 AM

What the heck and how and when did thins go so deadly wrong in the thinking and in the education of the people of India, which resulted in this unbelievable abomination against girls and women!!!

Hendrikus Piek says:
May 24, 2013 05:54 AM

"Systemic violence always escalates in an uncontrollable manner where there is no legal and judicial safeguard for human rights. That is true for any country"??? NO SIR !!! Systemic violence always escalates in an uncontrollable manner WHERE THERE IS NO PROPER EDUCATION, NO HIGH STANDARD OF VALUES AND NORMS!!! That is where the root of the problem lies. That is true for any country.

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