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The Disturbing Reason For The Reluctance to Call India’s Female Genocide By Name

May 29, 2010

by Rita Banerji

When a group is considered so undesirable that its elimination becomes the function of a nation’s social machinery,  and millions of this group are annihilated, it is without a question, a GENOCIDE.

In about 3 generations more than 50 million women have been eliminated from India’s population. They are eliminated in the millions before birth.  They are drowned, strangled or poisoned within the first few months of birth.  They are deliberately starved to death, such that the mortality rate of girls under 5 years is 40% higher than for boys the same age.  And 1 woman is murdered for dowry every 20 minutes.

Females in India are being killed because they are regarded as undesirable and disposable objects.  Like victims of any genocide.  Then why is this systematic dehumanization of women and their massive annihilation not recognized as a ‘genocide’?

Some point out, that this is because the victimized group is female.  If it were boys and men being so ruthlessly annihilated, surely India and the world would have responded very quickly!


But there is a more disturbing reason why.

What I have realized as I work with The 50 Million Missing campaign, is that what people are really uncomfortable with – is the killing factor here.  Where it is generally assumed that genocide is committed by groups alien to each other, in India the killing factor is the family.

Girls and women are being killed by their own  –  parents, grandparents, husbands and in-laws. For India where family is a sacred altar, immaculate, and untouchable —   perhaps the easiest way of dealing with this genocide is through denial and apathy.  For the rest of the world – where family is still assumed to be the ultimate safe haven, India’s female genocide is incomprehensible.

It is this refusal to call it ‘genocide,’ that has resulted in all kinds of ridiculous attempts by government and NGOs to stem the killing.  Attempts that have failed miserably!  Attempts to plead for mercy – ‘Save the girl,’ ‘Please let girls live,’ or to provide incentive for why women should not be killed. Who will the men marry?  Who will bear the children? Some have attempted to add “economic value” to the girl – through education or vocational training so their families could be tempted to keep them!   This regardless of the fact that the gender ratio for girls gets worse as one goes up the education and economic ladder in India.  Dowry violence and murder are also more prevalent with increased wealth!  [click here for more] This is not surprising, because this genocide like any other, is also an exercise of power!

If the subject of this genocide was a religious or ethnic group – the above endeavors would be unthinkable. Even distasteful ! Statements like ‘Please let the Tutsis live,’? Or ‘Don’t kill the Jews because they good for our economy’ would be unthinkable.

Then why is it different for women as a group?  Why do we have to justify why girls and women should be allowed to live?

The bottom line is – that every girl and woman in India has the fundamental human right to safety and to life. Even if she never marries.  Never has children.  If she is illiterate, uneducated, and poor.  Once a girl is born, she has a right to life that nobody has the right to take from her – not even her family! Till such time India and the world contend with this, and accordingly deal with this genocide, there is no hope for change.


Rita Banerji is an author and founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign.   The research for her book Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies (Penguin 2009), provided the impetus for the founding of this campaign. Her website is

3 Comments leave one →
  1. hale permalink
    February 15, 2012 12:57 am

    In many of the articles i have read they talk about the murders, the gender population ratio and the reasons, yet there isn’t much talk about what the government or Law enforcement is doing to try to stop this or whether they even want to.

    • February 23, 2012 7:28 am

      @hale — Right now ours is the ONLY campaign that is talking about government accountability and the enforcement of laws and pushing for it through our petition. No other groups working with what is now called ‘the girl child problem’ from within or outside India thinks that this should be in their words ‘pushed.’ Would these groups think the same if this was true for the genocide of other groups based on race, religion or ethnicity? We don’t think so. So we don’t understand why we are the only ones pushing for legal accountability!! But we will intensify that push this year. Please stay with us. The support of people like you is invaluable to our campaign. Please circulate our petition.

  2. emery permalink
    February 23, 2012 10:25 pm

    I think the fact that the family is responsible is the main reason that people especially in the west don’t believe that there is a genocide in India. If for example the Pakistani intelligence service the ISI was killing India’s girls the world would have responded. The fact of the matter is most people regardless of where there from still want to believe that the family always has the best intentions. I think the world’s inaction has far more to do with this than the fact that the victims are women. although some communities where women are also not valued also find it essay to look the other way for this reason.

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