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Hindus and Hinduism

The status of women in India among Hindus

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Disclaimer:

It is our policy to not criticize theological beliefs of any religion or spiritual tradition. However, we do occasionally criticize behaviors like sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance. We do this even in those cases where denigration of others is derived from theological beliefs.

That is: we do not criticize beliefs, only practices that harm others. We feel that the following examples within Hinduism in India falls into this category.

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Devaluation of females:

About 80% of the citizens of India are Hindu, 14% are Muslim and 6% are of other religions or no religion. Most of the negative behavior towards girls and women across the country can probably be safely attributed to the practice of Hinduism.

Infanticide has been widespread in India for centuries. R.J. Rummel reported:

"In India, for example, because of Hindu beliefs and the rigid caste system, young girls were murdered as a matter of course. When demographic statistics were first collected in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in "some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total of thirty other villages, there were 343 boys to 54 girls. ... [I]n Bombay, the number of girls alive in 1834 was 603." 1

With ratios like those, there must have been a very large number of unmarried male adults in the country, in the past!

A Reuters article in 2007-JUL reported on the high level in India of:

bullet Female feticide: This is the practice of using ultrasound measurements to determine the sex of a fetus, in order to subsequently abort fetuses that are found to be female.

bullet Infanticide: This involves the actual murder of a newborn females, typically because of her gender, within one year of birth.

bullet The widespread neglect of girl children.

bullet Mob violence, including murders, mainly victimizing women believed to be evil sorcerers. 2

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The Gendercide web site reported:

"A study of Tamil Nadu by the Community Service Guild of Madras ... found that 'female infanticide is rampant' in the state, though only among Hindu (rather than Muslim or Christian) families. 'Of the 1,250 families covered by the study, 740 had only one girl child and 249 agreed directly that they had done away with the unwanted girl child. More than 213 of the families had more than one male child whereas half the respondents had only one daughter." 1,3

"Most strikingly, according to UNICEF, 'A report from Bombay in 1984 on abortions after prenatal sex determination stated that 7,999 out of 8,000 of the aborted fetuses were females. Sex determination has become a lucrative business'." 1,4

Using ultrasound techniques to determine the sex of a fetus with the intent of aborting it if it is female is illegal in India. However, the law is widely ignored because local officials are reluctant to contradict the will of the people. 5

Reuters reported that:

"Around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents over the last 20 years, the government says, as female infanticide and foeticide, although illegal, are still prevalent with boys preferred to girls as breadwinners." 2

Data on infanticide is quite unreliable. However, if we assume that the 10 million deaths is an accurate estimate and that the cases involved mostly gender selective abortions, then the three most serious instances of genocide over the past 25 years may have been:

bullet The Rwandan genocide during 1994 which involved the murder of about 800,000 persons based on tribal identity, and

bullet The religiously-based genocide of about 200,000 in Bosnia Herzegovina, involving mainly Serbian Orthodox Christians targeting Muslims during the 1990's, and

bullet The continuing murder of an unknown number of newborn girls in India each year.

Reuters continues:

"Domestic violence and sexual abuse involving young girls is reported frequently in the country and a 2006 government survey found that 45 percent of girls were married before the [minimum] legal marriageable age of 18."

"India's adult female literacy rate was 47.8%, compared to the adult male rate of 73.4 percent in 2004."

"The sex ratio in the country is still one of the world's lowest, with an average of 933 females recorded for every 1,000 males in the 2001 census."

" 'Education of girls even in big cities was dismal and census figures show that the population of the girl child was dropping,' said Chakraverti, adding that tough laws and education of parents were needed to force change. 'Most [girls] cannot complete primary education'." 2

Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, mentioned in the Reuters article, is a Wiccan and social activist. She was nominated by the government's National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) to head a panel given the task of improving the status of young girls. 2

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More information on the sex ratio in India:

Many families in India prefer boys to girls when building their family. A major reason is that dowries are often required by the husband's family when girls marry. Although dowries have been banned since the 1960's, they are still common. Another reason is that a woman will often leave her family of origin and join her husband's family when she marries. A third reason is sexism in favor of males. Girls are thus often looked upon as a burden by their parents.

Some women resort to abortion when an ultrasound shows that a the fetus is female. Abortions in India are legal up to 12 weeks gestation, but an ultrasound test typically cannot determine the gender of the fetus until much later in pregnancy. Although it is illegal, some clinics offer a package deal to pregnant women that covers an ultrasound test and includes an abortion if the fetus is female. One study in 2011 found that there were a half million sex-selection abortions a year in the country. 6

According to an article in The Atlantic, thousands of girl babies are abandoned after birth and allowed to die. 6

CNN published a disturbing infographic during 2014 showing the ratio of girls to boys aged 0 to 6 in India for each state and for the country as a whole. They found:

  • Punjab and Haryana states to the northwest of Delhi had the lowest ratio with fewer that 850 girls per 1,000 boys (i.e. a surplus of boys in excess of 17.6%).

  • Jammu and Kashmir states to the North of Delhi had the next lowest ratio with between 850 and 875 girls per 1,000 boys (i.e. a surplus of boys between 14.3% and 17.6%).

  • Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh states had a ratio of between 875 to 900 girls per 1,000 boys. (i.e. a surplus of boys between 11.1 and 14.3%) 7

For the country as a whole, the sex ratio appears to have improved noticeably during the first decade of this century. The total population was composed of:

  • During 1991: 495 million females in the country and 531 million males. (a 7.3% surplus of boys).

  • During 2001: 496 million females and 532 million males. (a 7.3% surplus of boys).

  • During 2011: 586 million females and 623 million males. (a 6.3% surplus of boys). 7

The global sex ratio -- the average for the entire world -- in 2010 was 986 females for each 1,000 males. (a 1.4% surplus of boys). 7

The 2013-2014 Annual Report by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated:

"Some of the reasons commonly put forward to explain the consistently low levels of sex ratio are son preference, neglect of the girl child resulting in higher mortality at younger age, female infanticide, female foeticide, higher maternal mortality, and male bias in enumeration of population. Easy availability of the sex determination tests and abortion services may also be proving to be catalyst in the process, which may be further stimulated by pre-conception sex selection facilities. Sex determination techniques have been in use in India since 1975 primarily for the determination of genetic abnormalities. However, these techniques were widely misused to determine the sex of the foetus and subsequent elimination if the foetus was found to be female." 8

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Acid attacks, mainly against women:

According to Acid Survivors Trust International in the UK, there are about 1,500 personal attacks worldwide, mainly against women, in which acid is splashed in the face of the victim. A large number of these cases occur in South Asia. While there has been some progress in recent years, acid attacks in India appear to be on the  rise. Bismillah Geelani, writing for Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) said:

"Alarmed by the increase, acid attack survivors have launched a campaign to demand immediate measures to help prevent attacks and rehabilitate survivors."

"Geeta" who was a victim in northern India said:

"It’s as if everything ends after an acid attack. Your face turns into something that makes people feel sick. They don’t want to look at us or even talk to us. Even our relatives don’t want to have anything to do with us so they don’t invite us to family functions like weddings, etcetera. Sometimes even our own children are afraid of us."

She and other acid attack survivors are agitating to pass a law specifically against acid attacks, to regulate acid sales, and to provide free medical treatment for survivors.

Ashish Shukla is a member of the New Delhi-based advocacy group Stop Acid Attacks. She said:

"Acid has become a weapon of choice. ... an overwhelming majority of these attacks are against women, and the main reasons behind them often involve one-sided infatuations and refusals of marriage proposals."

On the order of 200 acid attacks occur yearly in India.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Case study: Female Infanticide," Gendercide Watch, at: http://www.gendercide.org/
  2. Bappa Majumdar, "Gov't turns to Wiccan queen to save girls", Reuters, 2007-JUL, at: http://wwrn.org/
  3. Malavika Karlekar, "The girl child in India: does she have any rights?," Canadian Woman Studies, 1995-MAR.
  4. Yi Zeng  et al., "Causes and Implications of the Recent Increase in the Reported Sex Ratio at Birth in China," Population and Development Review, 19: 2, (1993-JUN), Page 297.
  5. "10 million females illegally aborted in India. Parents desperate to bear son changing nation's demographics," WorldNetDaily, 2006-JUL-07, at: http://www.wnd.com/
  6. Ranjani Iyer Mohanty "Trash Bin Babies: India's Female Infanticide Crisis," The Atlantic, 2012-MAY-25, at: http://www.theatlantic.com/
  7. "The gap between male and female population in India," CNN, 2014-SEP-03, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  8. "Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Annual Report 2013-14," Page 27, at: http://nrhm.gov.in/ This is a PDF file.
  9. Bismillah Geelani, "Survivors of acid attacks call on Indian government to implement preventative and rehabilitative measures," Free Speech Radio News, 2015-FEB-06, at: https://fsrn.org/

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The path by which you may have arrived here:

Home page > World Religions > Hinduism > here

Home > Status of women > here

Home > Human rights > Status of women > here

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Copyright 2007 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-OCT-07
Latest update: 2016-SEP-7
Author: B.A. Robinson

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