Murder in the womb

Female Foeticide in Punjab: Causes and Consequences
by D.P Singh. Paragon International, New Delhi. Pages 166. Rs 750.

Female Foeticide in Punjab: Causes and ConsequencesFemale foeticide has resulted in an alarming imbalance in sex ratio across the country. The situation has been particularly grave in Punjab, which has achieved the dubious distinction of having the worst sex ratio. It is unfortunate because all the 10 Gurus of the Sikhs preached equality among men and women. The recent discovery of two graves of female foetuses at Patran near Patiala has left a serious blot on Punjab. Hundreds of foetuses were found recklessly thrown in two mini-wells. It shows how "prosperity, tradition and technology" have combined to form a nexus to downgrade the position of the girl child.

The book is based on a study conducted by D. P. Singh, Reader, Department of Social Work, Punjabi University, Patiala. It covers the reasons behind female foeticide and gives the consequences of this social menace. The study is based on the answers of 120 respondents selected from five villages of Patiala district having large population and low sex ratio. The aim of the study is to have a "comprehensive account of the causes and consequences of female foeticide in rural Punjab".

The author analyses the socio-economic demographic profile of the respondents and lists their views towards the girl child. It is an effort to know the respondentís opinion regarding the pre-natal phenomenon. Studies like this can help us know the reasons behind the declining proportion of girls in the state.

The causes for preference for a mail child are many. Most of the people believe that the family name can be carried on by a male progeny only. Also, there are certain rituals that have to be performed by the boy of the family. Salvation, they feel, is possible only when the funeral rites are conducted by the son. A big deterrent for welcoming the girl child into this world is the curse of dowry. Unfortunately, this menace is growing by leaps and bounds. The consequences of the falling sex ratio can lead to complications. For example, the declining sex ratio in Punjab has forced hundreds of youths to "buy" a bride from poor families outside the state. This would, in the long run, drastically change the demographic structure of the society of Punjab.

The author concludes that the society of Punjab is patrilineal and patriarchal that has led people to hanker for sons. The people are prosperous and want heirs on whom they can bestow the family name, status and property. The tragic revelation is that while 45 per cent of the respondents had a liking for a brother in the family, only 36.67 per cent had a liking for a sister. It was the males (41.67 per cent) more than the females (31.67 per cent) who had a liking for a sister, which "indicates that the females have relatively less liking for their own sex".

The study is based on interviews, so the authenticity of the answers depends to a large extent on the respondents. The researcher in the author has tried to delve into various problems. He suggests the need for a mass movement that should include the efforts of the government, parents, teachers and non-governmental organisations. The work, which is ably supported by lots of facts and figures, can be of great use to researchers and those who are working to ameliorate the conditions for the girl child.