Indian Decade

India Faces Girl Problem, Again

The case of Afreen, allegedly killed for being a girl, has shocked India. But shock and no action is useless.

However scary they sometimes are, statistics don’t seem to manage to jolt us into action here. Take India’s declining sex ratio, for example. We all know there are villages in Haryana and Punjab where the figure is as low as about 400 girls per 1,000 boys. And that even in posh South Delhi, one of India’s most high-consumption, high-wealth areas, there are less than 800 female children per 1,000 boys. Nothing seems to change.

But last week things may have gone too far even for a complacent population. Umar Farooq is a car painter in Bengaluru. Three months ago, his second wife, 19-year-old Reshma Bano, gave birth to a baby girl whom she named Afreen. Her husband was distraught that the gods hadn’t blessed them with a boy. He then allegedly took out this frustration on the young infant, and has been accused of stuffing the young child’s mouth with clothes, battering her with a blunt object and biting her.

Late last week, as Sumit Ganguly noted in Indian Decade, baby Afreen died in a hospital in Bengaluru of a cardiac arrest and convulsions after battling for her life. Her father is set to be tried for murder. As a news item, the story has captured urban, middle class attention. Yet, Afreen’s tragic story isn’t an isolated case. In only the past few weeks, other distressing incidents have also been reported – like the case in Jodhpur where a week-old baby girl was left unclaimed at a hospital because two couples both claimed a male child born on the same day in the same hospital. Or there was the case of a baby girl found abandoned near the railway station in a small Uttar Pradesh town.

It’s easy to direct our anger at these unfeeling parents, and to call them murderers and devils. But that’s not going to solve much. It’s the society that produces them that’s the real culprit. And that beckons us all to look inwards – if we can claim pride in India’s many beautiful traditions, then we must stand accountable for its many evils as well. Without that, nothing can change. After all, government schemes and non-profits can only design and facilitate the several girl child campaigns that have been launched over the last decade. But vowing to make them successful, rather than simply utopian ideas on paper, is something each of us needs to do – and follow through on.