Female foeticide, rampant in India and creating a cruel and dangerous gender imbalance in its population, is unfortunately also well and alive amongst Indians in Canada – two recent reports in Canada have confirmed (Globe and Mail April 12, 2016).
The first study examined 5.9 million births to Canadian born mothers and 1,77,990 births to Indian born mothers, between 1990 and 2011. It found 105 boys were born for every 100 girls which was “consistent with the natural odds of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls”. For Indian born mothers “by the third birth 138 boys were born…for every 100 girls, and by the fourth birth, 166 boys …for every 100 girls.”
The second study examined over “1.2 million births in Ontario between 1993 and 2012 to women who had up to three children. It “found women from India who already had two daughters gave birth to 196 boys for every 100 girls. For Indian-born mothers who had already had two daughters and received an abortion before their third child, the ratio jumped to 326 boys for every 100 girls and 409 boys for every 100 girls if the mother had multiple abortions.”
We are proud Indians by heritage. Every time we look at the increasing gender imbalance in India, our pride, already injured by India’s ubiquitous corruption, begins to feel quite hollow. We must confess female foeticide is one of India’s glaring shames and we in the diaspora are also killing many of our daughters before they are born.
For over forty years Raminder, my wife, has been fighting for gender equality in Canada and more particularly in the Indian diaspora. With the help of other women in the early seventies she founded the India Mahilla Association (IMA), the first organisation of its kind for Indian women in Canada. For her work on women’s issues we had faced ridicule and abuse from the traditional sections of the diaspora. I too became the target of this abuse when I was providing legal information to the diaspora via Punjabi and Hindi radio and more particularly so when the airwaves brought information and advice to men and women about their legal rights and responsibilities in cases of marital separation and divorce. The abuse and ridicule intensified even more when with the assistance of other women and men Raminder organised public campaigns against violence against women.
Then a new phenomenon emerged in the eighties and nineties. A doctor from across the border in the USA started advertising in British Columbia, Canada, gender determination services and counselling for abortion if desired. His advertising campaign focused on the Indian community and Indian newspapers in British Columbia. The IMA fiercely fought that misogynist incursion into our lives in Canada. It succeeded in preventing that US doctor from setting up a clinic in Canada and for a while his advertisements disappeared from the newspapers. In a sense they ran him out of Canada. Unfortunately he still continues to thrive in the USA on his Indo-Canadian clientele.
As the Canadian physicians increasingly refused to divulge the gender of the foetus to the expectant mothers in the early stages of the pregnancy we heard about the phenomenon of Indian women travelling to India for gender determination tests to be followed by abortion if a daughter was found growing in the womb.
These recent studies show that the curse and cancer of female foeticide is threatening to create a permanent gender imbalance in the diaspora’s population. We had already heard and seen some evidence of this gender imbalance in the elementary schools in Vancouver. Sadly the recent studies confirm this to be a national phenomenon in Canada.
Some among us are critical of the governments in Canada for the lax laws and are demanding more stringent laws from the Canadian government. If laws had helped – India has lots of them in this area – India would not have the hugely distorted gender ratio that continues to worsen by the day despite the laws and the governmental campaigns against female foeticide and infanticide. We need more than just laws.
As we campaigned over the years for women’s equality, the traditionalists and the ignorant among us accused us of fighting for women’s rights because we had three sons and no daughters and therefore faced no danger of “girls getting spoiled”. Well our next generation has eliminated the gender imbalance in our family. We are now the proud grandparents of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As is universally the case with grandchildren, they are the love of our lives.
So it is not just about the laws or lack of them. It is about a much needed revolutionary change in our values and views about women. We know and have seen the enemy of women’s equality: it is us. To end female foeticide in India or the diaspora it is we who must change.