WE are a fascinating land of amazing contrasts. In the land of Seeta, Saraswati and Durga, women face depths of depravity. Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, witnessed more than a dozen rapes in about 72 hours. And this is a state that not just sends the largest number of lawmakers to Parliament, it is ruled by a powerful woman. Things are not dramatically different in rest of the country. In fact, national capital New Delhi is also the “rape capital” of the nation.
The largest democracy on the planet is turning increasingly inhospitable to the other half of the population. For all its breathless economic growth of recent years, India reports a high incidence of sexual assaults on women, one of the highest in the world. As many as 85 percent of women in New Delhi fear being sexually targeted when they step out of their homes.
Again, New Delhi is ruled by a woman chief minister, Sheila Dikshit. Indeed, for the first time in our history, we have four women heading four crucial states, not to forget Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president and the power behind Manmohan Singh's throne.
In fact, women have never had it so good in terms of both political and economic empowerment. They just do not beat boys every year in every examination, they have been challenging male dominance in virtually every sphere of activity— from banking and business to Bollywood to sports and in professions that have traditionally been male bastions.
Yet this extraordinary economic and political ascent of Indian women has also seen a disturbing and proportionate rise in crimes against the fair sex, probably a natural progression of male chauvinism. This silent war on women is not confined to sexual abuse and harassment at work place and in colleges and universities. We are killing women even before they arrive in this world. While we have always been a sexist society, science and new technology have honed our deep-seated prejudices and old-fashioned insecurities to a deadly perfection.
As India gets richer and its economic growth rate competes with China, it's increasingly shutting the door on its girl children. And female feticide or the so-called sex selection using ultrasound technology is not limited to metros or big cities anymore.
Thanks to our economic liberation and an increasingly profit-driven medical industry, the blessing of ultrasound technology has now invaded the remotest parts of rural India. Identifying and eliminating female of the species has become a massive, self-feeding industry. Indeed, it's a booming market out there that sells death and thrives with hospitals, companies selling ultrasound machines and prospective parents of course all being part of a conspiracy of silence. Ironically, India's most prosperous states, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana, are also its deadliest for girls. Being 10 to 15 percent of girls in these states are killed in their mothers' wombs. Over the past one decade, an estimated 15 million of girls were killed using the technology that was actually supposed to save lives.
Nearly 1500 girls are aborted everyday, as against 250 Indians who are killed in traffic accidents. Natural selection should and would have yielded an additional 600,000 girls every year. According to UNICEF, some 7,000 fewer girls are born every day than ought to be. The financial capital and home of the Bollywood dream industry, Mumbai, boasts a ratio of 874 girls, one of the lowest in the country. Jhajjar district in Haryana could well be the capital of female feticide, with 774 girls against 1,000 boys. No wonder in recent years the ratio of women across the billion plus nation has fallen to alarming proportions.
This was perhaps only inevitable in a culture in which boys have always been celebrated and pampered and girls made to feel unwelcome like nowhere else in the world. The child sex ratio is only emblematic of the status of women in the country.
Stand back and look at the issue: This is nothing but another form of rape and abuse. Except it enjoys the sanction of society. Killing machines that these “ultrasound clinics” essentially are do not operate in secret. They do business with impunity in full public view and right in the heart of our cities and towns and no eyebrows are raised. And all this has been happening right under the nose of successive governments led by Sonia Gandhi's Congress and the sole champions and defenders of Mother India, Bharatiya Janata Party.
It's not as if there are no laws. The Prohibition of Sex Selection Act or PNDT came into being in 1994 but has never been enforced. In 2001, the Supreme Court ordered central and state governments to strictly enforce the law by forming vigil squads. Little has changed though.
Indeed, the last decade has turned out to be the deadliest yet for girl children. Why do we insecure and arrogant men forget that our own existence is owed to women? Would we exist without the existence and magnanimity of our mothers? And I say this as a son, brother and father of girl children. We should be ashamed of ourselves and what we have visited on our women over the years and decades. Who has given us the right to deny a fellow human something that does not belong to us? Since when have we become God? The giving and taking of life is the right of the One who gave us life too.
Aijaz Zaka Syed in Arab News. Here