Female Infanticide in India

- Dr. K.J. Kurian,
Madurai, Tamil Nadu, South India

Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 3 (1993), 3.

I read with great interest the articles on ethics in the newsletter. Many are thought provoking and need mass action. I include some comments on the local situation which may be of interest in consideration of practical ethics.

For a long time in a small hamlet, "Usilampatti", of the Madurai District of Tamil Nadu, India, a tribe called "Kallar" has dominated. "Kallar" means robbers, pirates, marauders, as they were in the past. There was even a Dept. in the local government called The Kallar Reclamation Dept., which was designed to reeducate them, as a backward "class". But their numbers spread in Southern District's of Tamil Nadu. A common feature is the practice of female infanticide. They tolerate a first born female baby, but not a second, because they cannot afford it. Both men and women agree that due to economic deprivation and social conditions, and having to marry girls means giving a dowry and jewels plus incurring the expenses of the marriage feasts, it is impossible to bring up a girl baby. Until girls mature they can be of some help at home or help producing food. However, leaving an unmarried adult woman at home is dangerous, and the work place is also considered unsafe. Therefore they poison the female babies soon after birth with a poison mixed with milk, or a milk-like juice from a shrub - madder juice, and the babies die due to nausea and diarrhoea. If they do not kill them, they may simply abandon the baby at a government hospital after giving a fictional address.

The governments of India and Tamil Nadu have sent commissions to study and eradicate the practice, suggesting various steps. But social and economic customs cannot be brushed aside - under the carpet. The main point is that a girl needs to be married, which needs a few thousand rupees which poor villagers cannot afford. Even if the dowry system is outlawed in theory, it continues in practice in most of India. Society should start taking these unwanted girl babies and bring them up, educate them, and set them up in self employment. Marriage may be the end result when they can afford it, and support themselves. This infanticide has been going on in the past, and it continues at the present. No amount of sermons will change this, but a practical economic way out is to build them up in a job.

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