The status of Women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, their history has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors.
Women's rights under the Constitution of India — mainly includes equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination; further, India has various statutes governing the rights of women.
As of 2011[update], the President of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the parliament) were women. However, women in India continue to face numerous problems such as crime, gender inequality.
History of women in India
Women during the early Vedic period[better source needed] enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life.[better source needed][page needed] Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period.[non-primary source needed] Rigvedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their own husbands in a practice called swayamvar or live-in relationship called Gandharva marriage. Scriptures such as the Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi.
Originally, women were allowed to undergo initiation and study the Veda's. In the Dharmasutra of Harita, it is mentioned that:
There are two types of women: those who become students of the Veda and those who marry immediately. Of these, the students of the Veda undergo initiation, kindle the sacred fire, study the Veda, and beg food in their own houses. In the case of those who marry immediately, however, when the time for marriage comes, their marriage should be performed after initiating them in some manner.[full citation needed]
In Mahabharata, the story of Draupadi's marriage to 5 men is a case in point. This pointed to the fact, that polygamy was matched with polyandry during the Vedic era. Women could select their husband in an assembly called `swayamwar’. In this practice, the King would invite all the princes, and the princess would select one, and marry him while the court watched. This clearly showed, how women's rights were taken seriously during the Vedic era. This practice was prevalent till the 10th century A.D.
Also, in the Puranas, every God was shown in consort of their wives ( Brahma with Saraswathi, Vishnu with Lakshmi, Shiva with Parvati), and practices of idol of god and goddess also showed equal importance to women and men, Separate temples were setup for goddesses, and within each temple, goddesses were treated and worshipped with as much care and devotion as the gods were. There are also specific practices that endure to this day, in terms of preference of worship.
In the book "Hindu Female Dieties as a resource for contemporary rediscovery of the Goddess" by Gross Rita.M, 1989, says
"According to some scholars the positive constructions of femininity found in goddess imagery and in the related imagery of the virangana or heroic woman have created a cognitive framework, for Hindus to accept and accommodate powerful female figures like "Indira Gandhi and Phoolan Devi, The same would not have been possible in Western religious traditions "
Even in the practice of Homa ( ritual involving fire, and offerings to fire), every mantra or Shloka is addressed to Swaha, the wife of Agni, instead of Agni himself. Devi Bhagavata Purana: 9.43, says that all requests to Agni had to made through his wife only.
"O Goddess, Let yourself become the burning power of fire; who is not able to burn anything without thee. At the conclusion of any mantra, whoever taking thy name (Svaha), will pour oblations in the fire, he will cause those offerings to go directly to the gods. Mother, let yourself, the repository of all prosperity, reign over as the lady of his (fire's) house."
This aspect of Swaha as Agni's wife is mentioned in Mahabharata, Brahmavantara Purana, Bhagavatha Purana as various hymns.
In the Gupta period instances are not rare of women participating in administrative job. Prabhabati, the daughter of Chandra Gupta II performed administrative duties in her kingdom. Instances of women of the upper classes extending their phase of activities beyond the domestic circle are provided by the queen and queens regent in Kashmir, Rajasthan, Orissa and Andhra. Institutions were established for co-education. In the work called Amarkosh written in the Gupta era names of the teachers and professors are there and they belonged to female sex. They were the authors of Vedic scripts and ‘mantras ‘.
Two hundred years before Alexander's attack on India, Queen Nayanika was ruler and military commander of the Satavanhana Empire of the Deccan region (south-central India).
In 300 BC, Princess Kumaradevi married Prince Chandragupta, and they ruled their two kingdoms as co-regents.
Queen Orrisa assumed regency when her son died in the late ninth century and immediately involved herself in military adventuring. Queen Kurmadevi of Mevad commanded her armies on the battlefield in the late twelfth century. Queen Didday of Kashmir ruled as full sovereign for twenty-two years, and Queen Jawahirabi fought and died at the head of her army.
South in Sri Lanka, Queen Sugula led her armies against the southern king, her nephew. When pressed by the royal forces, she guided her forces into the mountains, where she built a number of forts. Sugula held out against the king's army for ten years and is remembered in Sri Lankan history as "Sugula the rebel queen fearless".
The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent brought changes to Indian society. The position of Indian women in society further deteriorated during this period,[better source needed] . The purdah system and Jauhar are attributable to the Muslim rules that existed between 10th century awards.
The Rajputs of Rajasthan, started the practice of Jauhar after a century of Islamic invasions of the 10th century.The early Islamic invasions in Sindh did not result in Jauhar, as is evident from the history of Raja Dahir or Sindh. After the attack by Mohammed-Bin-Qasim in 10th century, and the killing of Raja Dahir, his wife and daughters were sent off as sexual slaves to Damascus. This sexual slavery prevalent in 10th century, may have resulted in the evolution of Jauhar in Western India, which were the first parts of India exposed to invasions from the Persian and Turkish empires. The subsequent Islamic invasiosn
Polygamy was practised among Hindu Kshatriya rulers. However, this practice may not be considered a uniform social behavior, as at the same time, there were kingdoms which practised polyandry also. Nair warrior communities in Kerala practiced polyandry for centuries, during the medieval period up to the British 18th century.
The status of women of Islam, followed Islamic precepts, and rules of Sharia.
Women were restricted to Zenana areas of the house.
Women had to wear the Burqa or niqab, and were disallowed to move alone without a guardian,
Their rights were dictated by the Sharia law, which prevented women from getting share of the inherited wealth.
Apastamba sutra (c. 4th century BCE).[non-primary source needed] captures some prevalent ideas of role of women during the post Vedic ages. The Apastamba Sutra shows the elevated position of women that existed during the 4th century B.C.
A man is not allowed to abandon his wife (A 1.28.19).
He permits daughters to inherit (A 2.14.4).
There can be no division of property between a husband and a wife, because they are linked inextricably together and have joint custody of the property (A 2.29.3).
Thus, a wife may make gifts and use the family wealth on her own when her husband is away (A 2.12.16–20).
Women are upholders of traditional lore, and Āpastamba tells his audience that they should learn some customs from women (A 2.15.9; 2.29.11).
The Stri Dharma Paddhati of Tryambakayajvan, an official at Thanjavur c. 1730 says the following about the role of women. This book shows that role of women during marriage had been specified clearly, and the patriarchal view of society had emerged clearly, as they detail the service of women to men in marriage.
However, there were cases of women often becoming prominent in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion also during this period.[better source needed]Razia Sultana (1205-1240) became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond queen Durgavati (1524-1564) ruled for fifteen years before losing her life in a battle with Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the powerful Mughal forces of Akbar in the 1590s. Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power, and was recognised as the real power behind the Mughal throne. The Mughal princesses Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known poets, and also influenced the ruling powers. Shivaji's mother, Jijabai, was queen regent because of her ability as a warrior and an administrator. Tarabai was another female Maratha ruler. In South India, many women administered villages, towns, and divisions, and ushered in new social and religious institutions.
Jijabai was the mother of Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire.
Akka Mahadeviwas a prominent figure of the Veerashaiva Bhakti movement of the 12th century Karnataka.Her Vachanas in Kannada, a form of didactic poetry, are considered her most notable contribution to Kannada Bhakti literature
To quote Sir Lepel Griffin K.C.S, from his books on Sikh history, the Sikh women
"have on occasions shown themselves the equals of men in wisdom and administrative ability." Usually the dowager ranis were up to commendable works. A passing reference of the role of some of them towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth century may not be out of place here. Rani Sada Kaur, widow of Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Kanaihya and mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was well versed in the affairs of the state and commanded her soldiers in the battle-field. She was a very shrewd lady with a thorough grasp of statecraft. Mai Desan, the widow of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia, was a great administrator, an experienced and a wise diplomat who conducted the civil and military affairs dexterously."
He quotes many women, who had served the Sikh cause including
- Rattan Kaur, the widow of Tara Singh Ghaiba, was a brave and an able lady who kept the Lahore Durbar forces at bay for a sufficient time till the gate-keepers were bribed by the Lahore army.
- Mai Sukhan, the widow of Gulab Singh Bhangi, strongly defended the town of Amritsar against Ranjit Singh for some time.
- Dharam Kaur, wife of Dal Singh of Akalgarh, after her husband's imprisonment by Ranjit Singh, mounted guns on the walls of her fort and fought against the Durbar forces. She was a brave and a wise lady who was able, for some time, to foil the designs of the Lahore ruler on her territory.
- After Sardar Baghel Singh's death in 1802, his two widows, Ram Kaur and Rattan Kaur, looked after their territories very well. Ram Kaur, the elder Sardarni, maintained her control over the district of Hoshiarpur which provided her a revenue of two lakh ruprees and Sardarni Rattan Kaur kept Chhalondi in her possession, fetching her an annual revenue of three lakh rupees. She administered her territory efficiently.
- Similarly, Rani Chand Kaur, widow of Maharaja Kharak Singh, and Rani Jindan, widow of Ranjit Singh, played important roles in the Lahore Durbar polity.
and many more are quoted in his works.
Among the few women in history to save a kingdom by sheer force and willpower, in the Maratha empires
- Rani Tarabai’s unflagging courage and indomitable spirit are at par with the legendary
- Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi,
- Rani Rudramma Devi of Warangal and
- Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal.
There have been positive practices of women as subject of respect in India, and there have been regressive practices as well. Here are some practices
- Naari Puja
In Kerala’s Alappuzha district, an ancient temple called Chakkulathu Kavu holds an exceptionally remarkable annual ritual of worshipping women in the month of December.
Popularly known as Naari Puja, the ritual is conducted every year on the first Friday of Dhanu maasam. The chief priest of the temple himself conducts the puja.Thousands of women are worshipped during the ceremony regardless of the caste, religion or creed they belong to. Women are seated on a chair (peetom) for the ritual and the chief priest washes their feet. The women are later garlanded and offered flowers.
Sati is an old, almost completely defunct custom among some communities, in which the widow was immolated alive on her husband's funeral pyre. Although the act was supposed to be voluntary on the widow's part, its practice is forbidden by the Hindu scriptures in Kali yuga, the current age.[unreliable source?] After the foreign invasions of Indian subcontinent, this practice started to mark its presence, as women were often raped or kidnapped by the foreign forces.[better source needed] It was abolished by the British in 1829. There have been around forty reported cases of sati since independence. In 1987, the Roop Kanwar case in Rajasthan led to The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act.
Purdah is the practice among some Muslim communities requiring women to cover themselves in for the purpose of modesty.
Devadasi or Devaradiyar means “servant of God”. These women were dedicated to God and were considered given in marriage to God, meaning that they could therefore not marry any ‘mortal’. Nevertheless, they were free to choose partners, from among married and unmarried men alike. These relationships could be long and stable, or just for a short period of time. But in no way were these women economically dependent on their partners. They learned music and dance, and as many as 64 types of arts. They would dance and sing in temples or in front of royalty and earn gold and land as a reward. Some chose to dedicate themselves only to God and stayed without a partner all through their life.The tradition of Devadasi culture can be traced back to as early as the 7th century, particularly in southern parts of India during the reigns of the Cholas, Chelas, and Pandyas. They were well treated and respected, and held a high social status in the society. It was common for them to be invited to be present at or initiate sacred religious rituals. As long as the temples and empires flourished, so did they. With the death of the empires, the Devadasi practice degenerated into a practice of sex labor, and child prostitution. A law banning the practice of Devadasi prostitution was enacted, and is banned. However, according to the National Human Rights Commission, in 2013, there were as many as 450,000 Devadasis in India.
During the British Raj, many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotirao Phule fought for the betterment of women. Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College, Calcutta and a member of "Young Bengal", set up the first free school for girls in India in 1847 in Barasat, a suburb of Calcutta (later the school was named Kalikrishna Girls' High School).
While this might suggest that there was no positive British contribution during the Raj era, that is not entirely the case. Missionaries' wives such as Martha Mault née Mead and her daughter Eliza Caldwell née Mault are rightly remembered for pioneering the education and training of girls in south India. This practice was initially met with local resistance, as it flew in the face of tradition. Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts led to the abolition of Sati under Governor-GeneralWilliam Cavendish-Bentinck in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's crusade for improvement in the situation of widows led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. Many women reformers such as Pandita Ramabai also helped the cause of women.
Kittur Chennamma, queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse. Abbakka Rani, queen of coastal Karnataka, led the defence against invading European armies, notably the Portuguese in the 16th century. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British. She is now widely considered as a national hero. Begum Hazrat Mahal, the co-ruler of Awadh, was another ruler who led the revolt of 1857. She refused deals with the British and later retreated to Nepal. The Begums of Bhopal were also considered notable female rulers during this period. They were trained in martial arts.
Chandramukhi Basu, Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi were some of the earliest Indian women to obtain a degree.
In 1917, the first women's delegation met the Secretary of State to demand women's political rights, supported by the Indian National Congress. The All India Women's Education Conference was held in Pune in 1927, it became a major organisation in the movement for social change. In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed, stipulating fourteen as the minimum age of marriage for a girl.[full citation needed] Though Mahatma Gandhi himself married at the age of thirteen, he later urged people to boycott child marriages and called upon young men to marry child widows.
Women in India now participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc.Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for an aggregate period of fifteen years, is the world's longest serving woman Prime Minister.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)) and Article 42. In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. (Article 42).
Feminist activism in India gained momentum in the late 1970s. One of the first national-level issues that brought women's groups together was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen accused of raping a young girl Mathura in a police station led to country-wide protests in 1979-1980. The protests, widely covered by the national media, forced the Government to amend the Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Penal Code; and created a new offence, custodial rape. Female activists also united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women's health, women's safety, and women's literacy.
Since alcoholism is often associated with violence against women in India, many women groups launched anti-liquor campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and other states. Many Indian Muslim women have questioned the fundamental leaders' interpretation of women's rights under the Shariat law and have criticised the triple talaq system (see below about 2017).
In the 1990s, grants from foreign donor agencies enabled the formation of new women-oriented NGOs. Self-help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) have played a major role in the advancement of women's rights in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements; for example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women's Empowerment (Swashakti). The National Policy For The Empowerment Of Women came was passed in 2001.
In 2006, the case of Imrana, a Muslim rape victim, was highlighted by the media. Imrana was raped by her father-in-law. The pronouncement of some Muslim clerics that Imrana should marry her father-in-law led to widespread protests, and finally Imrana's father-in-law was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The verdict was welcomed by many women's groups and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
According to a report by Thomson Reuters, India is the "fourth most dangerous country" in the world for women, India was also noted as the worst country for women among the G20 countries, however, this report has faced criticism for its inaccuracy. On 9 March 2010, one day after International Women's day, Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill requiring that 33% of seats in India's Parliament and state legislative bodies be reserved for women. A poll in October 2017 was published by Thomson Reuters Foundation, found that Delhi was the fourth most dangerous megacity (total 40 in the world) for women and it was also the worst megacity in the world for women when it came to sexual violence, risk of rape and harassment.
In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce. The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.
On 22 August 2017, the Indian Supreme Court deemed instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) unconstitutional.
Timeline of women's achievements in India
The steady change in the position of women can be highlighted by looking at what has been achieved by women in the country:
- 1848: Savitribai Phule, along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, opened a school for girls in Pune, India. Savitribai Phule became the first woman teacher in India.
- 1879: John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune established the Bethune School in 1849, which developed into the Bethune College in 1879, thus becoming the first women's college in India.
- 1883: Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Ganguly became the first female graduates of India and the British Empire.
- 1886: Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi became the first women from India to be trained in Western medicine.
- 1898: Sister Nivedita Girls' School was inaugurated
- 1905: Suzanne RD Tata becomes the first Indian woman to drive a car.
- 1916: The first women's university, SNDT Women's University, was founded on 2 June 1916 by the social reformerDhondo Keshav Karve with just five students.
- 1917: Annie Besant became the first female president of the Indian National Congress.
- 1919: For her distinguished social service, Pandita Ramabai became the first Indian woman to be awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal by the British Raj.
- 1925: Sarojini Naidu became the first Indian born female president of the Indian National Congress.
- 1927: The All India Women's Conference was founded.
- 1936: Sarla Thakral became the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft.
- 1944: Asima Chatterjee became the first Indian woman to be conferred the Doctorate of Science by an Indian university.
- 1947: On 15 August 1947, following independence, Sarojini Naidu became the governor of the United Provinces, and in the process became India's first woman governor. On the same day, Amrit Kaur assumed office as the first female Cabinet minister of India in the country's first cabinet.
- Post independence:Rukmini Devi Arundale was the first ever woman in Indian History to be nominated a Rajya Sabha member. She is considered the most important revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam from its original 'sadhir' style, prevalent amongst the temple dancers, Devadasis.She also worked for the re-establishment of traditional Indian arts and crafts.
- 1951: Prem Mathur of the Deccan Airways becomes the first Indian woman commercial pilot.
India has one of the highest number of female politicians in the world. Women have held high offices in India including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. The Indian states Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh,Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tripura have implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs. Majority of candidates in these Panchayats are women. Currently 100% of elected members in Kodassery Panchayat in Kerala are women. There are currently 5 female chief ministers in India.
As of 2016, 12 out of 29 states and the union territory of Delhi have had at least one female Chief Minister.
The status of women in India is strongly connected to family relations. In India, the family is seen as crucially important, and in most of the country the family unit is patrilineal. Families are usually multi-generational, with the bride moving to live with the in-laws. Families are usually hierarchical, with the elders having authority over the younger generations, and the males over females. The vast majority of marriages are monogamous (one husband and one wife), but both polygyny and polyandry in India have a tradition among some populations in India.Weddings in India can by quite expensive. Most marriages in India are arranged.
With regard to dress, a sari (a long piece of fabric wound around the body) and salwar kameez are worn by women all over India. A bindi is part of a woman's make-up. Despite common belief, the bindi on the forehead does not signify marital status; however, the Sindoor does.
Rangoli (or Kolam) is a traditional art very popular among Indian women.
In Indian culture, families usually start there day by worshiping God and doing puja ("Arti"- Indian tradition to worship god).
"The Indian way of life provides the vision of the natural, real way of life. We veil ourselves with unnatural masks. On the face of India are the tender expressions which carry the mark of the Creator's hand.".....George Bernard Shaw
Main article: Women in Indian Armed Forces
The Indian Armed Forces began recruiting women to non-medical positions in 1992. The Indian Army began inducting women officers in 1992. The Border Security Force (BSF) began recruiting female officers in 2013. On 25 March 2017, Tanushree Pareek became the first female combat officer commissioned by the BSF.
Female infanticide in India has a history spanning centuries. Poverty, the dowry system, births to unmarried women, deformed infants, famine, lack of support services and maternal illnesses such as postpartum depression are among the causes that have been proposed to explain the phenomenon of female infanticide in India.
Although infanticide has been criminalised in India, it remains an under-reported crime due to the lack of reliable data. In 2010, the National Crime Records Bureau reported approximately 100 male and female infanticides, producing an official rate of less than one case of infanticide per million people.
The Indian practice of female infanticide and of sex-selective abortion have been cited to explain in part a gender imbalance that has been reported as being increasingly distorted since the 1991 Census of India, although there are also other influences that might affect the trend.
Section 315 of the Indian Penal Code defines infanticide as the killing of an infant in the 0–1 year age group. The Code uses this definition to differentiate between infanticide and numerous other crimes against children, such as foeticide and murder.[a]
Some scholarly publications on infanticide use the legal definition. Others, such as the collaboration of Renu Dube, Reena Dube and Rashmi Bhatnagar, who describe themselves as "postcolonial feminists", adopt a broader scope for infanticide, applying it from foeticide through to femicide at an unspecified age. Barbara Miller, an anthropologist, has "for convenience" used the term to refer to all non-accidental deaths of children up to the age of around 15–16, which is culturally considered to be the age when childhood ends in rural India. She notes that the act of infanticide can be "outright", such as a physical beating, or take a "passive" form through actions such as neglect and starvation. Neonaticide, being the killing of a child within 24 hours of birth, is sometimes considered as a separate study.
British colonists in India first became aware of the practice of female infanticide in 1789, during the period of Company Rule. It was noted among members of a Rajput clan by Jonathan Duncan, then the British Resident in Jaunpur district of what is now the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Later, in 1817, officials noted that the practice was so entrenched that there were entire taluks of the Jadeja Rajputs in Gujarat where no female children of the clan existed. In the mid-19th century, a magistrate who was stationed in the north-west of the country claimed that for several hundred years no daughter had ever been raised in the strongholds of the Rajahs of Mynpoorie and that only after the intervention of a District Collector in 1845 did the Rajput ruler there keep a daughter alive. The British identified other high-caste communities as practitioners in north, western and central areas of the country; these included the Ahirs, Bedis, Gurjars, Jats, Khatris, Lewa Kanbis, Mohyal Brahmins and Patidars.
According to Marvin Harris, another anthropologist and among the first proponents of cultural materialism, these killings of legitimate children occurred only among the Rajputs and other elite land-owning and warrior groups. The rationale was mainly economic, lying in a desire not to split land and wealth among too many heirs and in avoiding the payment of dowries. Sisters and daughters would marry men of similar standing and thus pose a challenge to the cohesion of wealth and power, whereas concubines and their children would not and thus could be allowed to live. He further argues that the need for warriors in the villages of a pre-industrial society meant female children were devalued, and the combination of war casualties and infanticide acted as a necessary form of population control.
Sociobiologists have a different theory to Harris. Indeed, his theory and interest in the topic of infanticide is born of his more generalised opposition to the sociobiological hypothesis of the procreative imperative. According to this theory of imperative, based on the 19th-century vogue for explanations rooted in evolution and its premise of natural selection, the biological differences between men and women meant that many more children could be gained among the elites through support for male offspring, whose fecundity was naturally much greater: the line would spread and grow more extensively. Harris believes this to be a fallacious explanation because the elites had sufficient wealth easily to support both male and female children. Thus, Harris and others, such as William Divale, see female infanticide as a way to restrict population growth, while sociobiologists such as Mildred Dickemann view the same practice as a means of expanding it.
Another anthropologist, Kristen Hawkes, has criticised both of these theories. On the one hand, opposing Harris, she says both that the quickest way to get more male warriors would have been to have more females as child-bearers and that having more females in a village would increase the potential for marriage alliances with other villages. Against the procreative imperative theory she points out that the corollary to well-off elites such as those in northern India wanting to maximise reproduction is that poor people would want to minimise it and thus in theory should have practiced male infanticide, which it seems they did not.
Reliability of colonial reports on infanticide
There is no data for the sex ratio in India prior to the British colonial era. Reliant as the British were on local high-caste communities for the collection of taxes and the maintenance of law and order, the administrators were initially reluctant to peer too deeply into their private affairs, such as the practice of infanticide. Although this did change in the 1830s, the reluctance reappeared following the cathartic events of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused government by the East India Company to be supplanted by the British Raj. In 1857, John Cave Browne, a chaplain serving in Bengal Presidency, reported a Major Goldney speculating that the practice of female infanticide among the Jats in the Punjab Province originated from "Malthusian motives". In the Gujarat region, the first cited examples of discrepancies in the sex ratio among Lewa Patidars and Kanbis dates from 1847. These historical records have been questioned by modern scholars. The British made their observations from a distance and never mixed with their Indian subjects to understand their poverty, frustrations, life or culture at close hand. Browne documented his speculations on female infanticide using "they tell" hearsay.Bernard Cohn states that the colonial British residents in India would not accuse an individual or family of infanticide as the crime was difficult to prove in a British court, nevertheless accused an entire clan or social group of female infanticide. Cohn says, "female infanticide thus became a 'statistical crime'", during the colonial rule of India.
Aside from numerous reports and correspondence on infanticide from colonial officials, there was also documentation from Christian missionaries. who were significant writers of ethnographies of India during the 19th century. They sent letters back to Britain announcing their missionary accomplishments and characterising the culture as savage, ignorant and depraved. Scholars have questioned this distorted construction of Indian culture during the colonial era, stating that infanticide was as common in England during the 18th and 19th century, as in India. Some British Christian missionaries of the late 19th century, states Daniel Grey, wrongly believed that female infanticide was sanctioned by the scriptures of Hinduism and Islam, and against which Christianity had "centuries after centuries come into victorious conflict".
Location and direct method
A review of scholarship by Miller has shown that the majority of female infanticides in India during the colonial period occurred in the north-west, and that it was widespread although not all groups carried out this practice.
David Arnold, a member of the subaltern studies group who has used a lot of contemporary sources, says that various methods of outright infanticide were used, including reputedly including poisoning with opium, strangulation and suffocation. Poisonous substances such as the root of the plumbago rosea and arsenic were used for abortion, with the latter also ironically being used as an aphrodisiac and cure for male impotence. The act of direct infanticide among Rajputs was usually performed by women, often the mother herself or a nurse. Administration of poison was in any event a type of killing particularly associated with women; Arnold describes it as "often murder by proxy", with the man at a remove from the event and thus able to claim innocence.
The passing of the Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870 made the practice illegal in the British Indian regions of Punjab and the North-Western Provinces. The Governor-General of India had the authority to expand the Act to other regions at his discretion.
Impact of famines on infanticide
Major famines occurred in India every five to eight years in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, resulting in millions starving to death. As also happened in China, these events begat infanticide: desperate starving parents would either kill a suffering infant, sell a child to buy food for the rest of the family, or beg people to take them away for nothing and feed them. Gupta and Shuzhou state that massive famines and poverty-related historical events had influenced historical sex ratios, and they have had deep cultural ramifications on girls and regional attitudes towards female infant mortality.
Impact of economic policies on infanticide
According to Mara Hvistendahl, documents left behind by the colonial administration following independence showed a direct correlation between the taxation policies of the British East India Company and the rise in female infanticide.
Regional and religious demographics
The decennial census of India from 1881 through 1941 recorded a consistently skewed ratio whereby the number of males exceeded the number of females. The gender difference was particularly high in north and western regions of India, with an overall sex ratio – males per 100 females – of between 110.2 and 113.7 in the north over the 60-year period, and 105.8 to 109.8 males for every 100 female in western India for all ages. Visaria states that female deficit among Muslims was markedly higher, next only to Sikhs. South India region was an exception reporting excess females overall, which scholars attribute partly to selective emigration of males and the regional practice of matriarchy.
The overall sex ratios, and excess males, in various regions were highest among the Muslim population of India from 1881 to 1941, and the sex ratio of each region correlated with the proportion of its Muslim population, with the exception of eastern region of India where the overall sex ratio was relatively low while it had a high percentage of Muslims in the population. If regions that are now part of modern Pakistan are excluded (Baluchistan, North West Frontier, Sind for example), Visaria states that the regional and overall sex ratios for the rest of India over the 1881–1941 period improve in favour of females, with a lesser gap between male and female population.
Contemporary data and statistics
Infanticide in India, and elsewhere in the world, is a difficult issue to objectively access because reliable data is unavailable. Scrimshaw states that not only accurate frequency of female infanticide is unknown, differential care between male and female infants is even more elusive data. Reliable data for female infanticide is unavailable. Its frequency, and that of sex-selective abortion, is indirectly estimated from the observed high birth sex ratio; that is, the ratio of boys to girls at birth or 0–1 age group infants, or 0–6 age group child sex ratio. The natural ratio is assumed to be 106, or somewhere between 103 and 107, and any number above or below this range is considered as suggestive of female or male foeticide respectively.
Higher sex ratios than in India have been reported for the last 20 years in China, Pakistan, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and some Southeast European countries, and attributed in part to female infanticide, among other factors. There is an ongoing debate as to the cause of high sex ratios in the 0–1 and 0–6 age groups in India. The suggested reasons for high birth sex ratio include regional female foeticide using amniocentesis regardless of income or poverty because of patrilineal culture, the under-reporting of female births, smaller family size and selective stopping of family size once a male is born,
Sheetal Ranjan reports that the total male and female infanticide reported cases in India were 139 in 1995, 86 in 2005 and 111 in 2010; the National Crime Records Bureau summary for 2010 gives a figure of 100. Scholars state that infanticide is an under-reported crime.
Reports of regional cases of female infanticide have appeared in the media, such as those in Usilampatti in southern Tamil Nadu.
One of the biggest reason for increase in female infanticide is being associated with the increase in number of private Ultrasound Scanning Centres which often tell the sex of baby, and as they become more accessible and affordable people who could not find out the sex of baby historically, have started finding it out and often results in abortion in case of girl child.
The 2011 Census has given the following sex ratios by religious communities
|Religion||Sex Ratio for Under 6 Years old |
(Females Per 1000 Males)
|Total Child Sex Ratio |
(Females Per 1000 Males)
|Total Sex Ratio |
(Females Per 1000 Males)
Extreme poverty with an inability to afford raising a child is one of the reasons given for female infanticide in India.[clarification needed] Such poverty has been a major reason for high infanticide rates in various cultures, throughout history, including England, France and India.
The dowry system in India is another reason that is given for female infanticide. Although India has taken steps to abolish the dowry system, the practice persists, and for poorer families in rural regions female infanticide and gender selective abortion is attributed to the fear of being unable to raise a suitable dowry and then being socially ostracised.
Other major reasons given for infanticide, both female and male, include unwanted children, such as those conceived after rape, deformed children born to impoverished families, and those born to unmarried mothers lacking reliable, safe and affordable birth control. Relationship difficulties, low income, lack of support coupled with mental illness such as postpartum depression have also been reported as reasons for female infanticide in India.[clarification needed]
Elaine Rose in 1999 reported that disproportionately high female mortality is correlated to poverty, infrastructure and means to feed one's family, and that there has been an increase in the ratio of the probability that a girl survives to the probability that a boy survives with favourable rainfall each year and the consequent ability to irrigate farms in rural India.
Ian Darnton-Hill et al. state that the effect of malnutrition, particularly micronutrient and vitamin deficiency, depends on sex, and it adversely impacts female infant mortality.
In 1991 the Girl Child Protection Scheme was launched. This operates as a long-term financial incentive, with rural families having to meet certain obligations such as sterilisation of the mother. Once the obligations are met, the state puts aside ₹2000 in a state-run fund. The fund, which should grow to ₹10,000, is released to the daughter when she is 20: she can use it either to marry or to pursue higher education.
In 1992 the Government of India started the "baby cradle scheme". This allows families anonymously to give their child up for adoption without having to go through the formal procedure. The scheme has been praised for possibly saving the lives of thousands of baby girls but also criticised by human rights groups, who say that the scheme encourages child abandonment and also reinforces the low status in which women are held. The scheme, which was piloted in Tamil Nadu, saw cradles placed outside state-operated health facilities. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu added another incentive, giving money to families that had more than one daughter. 136 baby girls were given for adoption during the first four years of the scheme. In 2000, 1,218 cases of female infanticide were reported, the scheme was deemed a failure and it was abandoned. It was reinstated in the following year.
The 2011 census data showed a significant decline in the child sex ratio (CSR). Alarmed by the decline, the Government of India introduced Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) initiative. The program is intended to prevent gender discrimination and to ensure survival, protection and education of girls.
The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) wrote in their 2005 report, Women in an Insecure World, that at a time when the number of casualties in war had fallen, a "secret genocide" was being carried out against women. According to DCAF the demographic shortfall of women who have died for gender related issues is in the same range as the 191 million estimated dead from all conflicts in the 20th century. In 2012, the documentary It's a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World was released. This focused on female infanticide in China and in India.
In 1991 Elisabeth Bumiller wrote May You be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India around the subject of infanticide. In the chapter on female infanticide, titled No More Little Girls, she said that the prevailing reason for the practice is "not as the act of monsters in a barbarian society but as the last resort of impoverished, uneducated women driven to do what they thought was best for themselves and their families."
Gift of A Girl Female Infanticide is a 1998 documentary that explores the prevalence of female infanticide in southern India, as well as steps which have been taken to help eradicate the practice. The documentary won an award from the Association for Asian Studies.
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- ^According to statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau, a department of the Government of India, kidnapping and abduction represented 40.3 per cent of recorded crimes against children in 2010, rape was 20.5 per cent, murder (other than infanticide) was 5.3 per cent, and exposure and abandonment was 2.7 per cent. All other crimes against children accounted for 31.5 per cent.