"Female Genocide" in India

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Though much has been written about the deliberate killing of girl children and women and the overwhelming preference for male children in India, it is recently that this trend has been termed as genocide or a holocaust. Prof. Amratya Sen's 'missing women' sparked a nation-wide debate on issues like female feticide & infanticide; sex-selective abortions; dowry-related homicides; neglect of the girl child and the skewed sex-ratios in the country. Many estimates say that 50 million females are "missing" in India.[1]

It is no coincidence that immigrant Indian populations in the US, UK and Canada are also showing very skewed gender ratios. In a 2006 UN General Assembly speech it was announced that the gender ratio at birth recorded for the Asian American population was "biologically impossible."[2]

Some Facts

Sex Ratio

In India, there has been a steady decline of sex ratio from 972 in 1901 to 933 females per 1000 males in 2001. From 1961 to 1991, sex ratios for children under age 10 became more masculine all across India (Bhat, 1989; Das Gupta and Bhat, 1997; Desai, 1994; El-Badry, 1969; Miller, 1989; Parasuraman and Roy, 1991). In South Asia and India traditions, values and customs crusted over time have resulted in the insatiable desire for sons. Sons are preferred over daughters for a number of economic, social and religious reasons, including financial support, old age security, property inheritance, dowry, family lineage, prestige and power, birth and death rituals and beliefs about religious duties and salvation (Dyson and Moore, 1983; Arnold et al, 2002; Kishore, 1993;Das Gupta, 1987; Das Gupta and Mari Bhat, 1997; Basu, 1989, Chen et al, 1981; Levene, 1987; Miller, 1981; Caldwell and Caldwell,1990).[3]

Female Child Mortality

In India, the levels of excess female child mortality as a result of son preference have increased during the last several decades (SRS). NFHS-1 (1992-93) indicates that child mortality for girls in India as a whole, at 42.0 per 1000, was 43 percent higher than for boys at 29.4 per 1000 (International Institute for Population Sciences, IIPS, 1995). The corresponding figure from NFHS-2 was 42 per 1000, which was 49 percent higher than boys at 28.[4]


Girls are more likely to be malnourished than boys in both northern and southern states (Arnold et al, 1998; Sen and Sen Gupta 1983; Pebley and Amin, 1991, Wedley, 1993). Gender differentials in nutritional status are reported during infancy, with discriminatory breastfeeding and supplementation practices. Infant girls are breastfed less frequently, for shorter duration, and over shorter periods than boys (Wyon and Gordon, 1971; Kielmann et al., 1981; Das Gupta, 1987).[5]


In India, discrimination of girls in both preventive (immunization) and curative (treatment of illness) care are also reported with varying degrees amongst the states. Studies have recognised this as the main pathway for excess female child mortality. Even when such discrimination is not fatal, it can still produce greater frailty among survivors and thus is an important child health issue in itself (Mosely and Becker, 1991; Mosley and Chen, 1984). Poor health has implication for surviving girls. Their poor health in reproductive years may be perpetuated across generations (Merchant and Kurz, 1992). Studies across India have found that boys are much more likely than girls to be taken to a health facility when sick (Caldwell, Reddy and Caldwell, 1982; Das Gupta, 1987; Ganatra and Harve, 1994; Govindasamy and Ramesh, 1996; Kishor, 1995). Boys had higher immunization rates than did girls in all except Goa and Karnataka, although the extent of this difference varied by states (Kurz and Johnson-Welch, 1997).[6]

Dowry-related Homicide

According to an article in Time magazine, deaths in India related to dowry demands have increase 15-fold since the mid-1980s from 400 a year to around 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. Some commentators claim that the rising number simply indicates that more cases are being reported as a result of increased activity of women’s organisations. Others, however, insist that the incidence of dowry-related deaths has increased. An accurate picture is difficult to obtain, as statistics are varied and contradictory. In 1995, the National Crime Bureau of the Government of India reported about 6,000 dowry deaths every year. A more recent police report stated that dowry deaths had risen by 170 percent in the decade to 1997. All of these official figures are considered to be gross understatements of the real situation. Unofficial estimates cited in a 1999 article by Himendra Thakur “Are our sisters and daughters for sale?” put the number of deaths at 25,000 women a year, with many more left maimed and scarred as a result of attempts on their lives.[7]

What is Genocide?

According to Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948,

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Female Genocide in India

In her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies’ [Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2008], Rita Banerji says that the killing of girls and women in India meets at least four of the five definitions of genocide as set by the United Nations. She concludes, “…it goes without saying that India accounts for one of the largest, and silently ongoing, genocides in human history...(and) a very peculiar aspect of female genocide in India is that it is never called ‘genocide’ in plain terms. It tends to be presented as a gender ratio predicament, like an arithmetic problem gone awry.” She goes on to say, "Indeed, the routine elimination of women from the population is perhaps one of the most depraved secrets that India conceals in its folds of democracy and traditionalism...To hold India accountable for the genocide of its women means that it is not the crime of a small section of society, but includes the complicity of an entire nation of people."  As founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign whose stated goal is to fight female genocide in India, Banerji emphasizes the need to recognize this as a "genocide."[8].

Gita Aravamudan, in her book ‘Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide’ [Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2007] compares the incidence of female feticide and infanticide in India to a ‘holocaust’ and ‘serial killing. She says, “…a whole gender is getting exterminated…(in) a silent and smoothly executed crime which leaves no waves in its wake…In some parts…(of India) almost two generations of women have been exterminated.


  1. Source: 50millionmissing
  2. Eberstadt, Nicholas: The Global War Against Baby Girls - Speech delivered on December 6, 2006 before the UN General Assembly
  3. Source: Gender Bias Against Female Children in India
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Source: WSWS
  8. Ibid.


See also



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