India’s culture, like many others, prefers boys. Not only do they carry on the family name, they don’t cost the family a dowry. (Dowries are officially outlawed in India, but the practice continues.) There is a cottage industry in India of ultrasound machines: if it’s a boy, celebrate! If it’s a girl….the response is often abortion, and “try again.”
Like China, India is now suffering the consequences of gendercide. There are not enough brides for the young men of India. Being a single male isn’t an option, either, in a culture that values marriage and family. How to solve this problem? Human trafficking.
Jaida disappeared more than two years ago from their makeshift settlement along the Brahmaputra River. She was last seen talking to a stranger on a rainy day.
Her parents’ hopes rest with Shafiq Khan, a human rights activist, who has come to find out why more than 3,000 women went missing in the state of Assam in 2012. The National Crime Records Bureau estimated in 2012 that about 10 women are kidnapped in Assam every day. Some of these women are found again. Some go missing forever.
Eastern Indian states like Assam, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha turn into source areas for bride trafficking, because they have much more balanced sex ratios. Meanwhile, India’s northwestern states are more conservative and also more affluent, meaning they’re able to afford ultrasound scans and selective abortions.
If a young woman does manage to escape the trafficker, her family often will not accept her back; she is viewed with shame. Women few rights, and little value in India.
The skewed sex ratio is due to what Puneet Bedi, a Delhi suburb gynecologist, calls “mass murder on an unprecedented scale.” Census data shows some districts in India have fewer than 800 girls born for every 1,000 boys, leaving male-heavy villages.
A maverick amongst India’s medical community, Bedi accuses his colleagues of helping parents use ultrasound scans to determine the sex of the baby and abort females, because of a cultural preference for sons. If this practice doesn’t stop, Bedi fears the worst for the future of India.
“The social fabric of society we accept as normal is unimaginable when a good 20 or 30% of the women are missing,” he says.
Akhleema and Tasleema, sisters who were sold as brides, describe their lives as ones of labor, beatings and being “treated like dogs” among the villagers in their new home.
In a culture where women are routinely raped, killed, kidnapped and trafficked, it does not seem as if things will soon improve for Indian women, either in or out of the womb.