It is both commendable and shameful that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned female feticide in his independence day speech. Commendable because he elevated this very grave subject to the level of a captive national audience and shameful because the practice is so rampant that he felt compelled to do so.
I do not recall any other prime minister in their independence day speech specifically mention the grave problem of India’s horribly skewed sex ratio of 1000 boys to 940 girls. The prime minister deserves credit for giving his speech such sociocultural and anthropological specificity. India has failed staggeringly in not engendering a national climate where parents and their families feel a profound sense of shame and the fear of law before practicing female feticide.
It was extraordinary when Modi made a direct appeal to the country’s doctors “not to kill daughters” to fill their own coffers. He also appealed to the “mothers and sisters” of the country not to “sacrifice daughters” in the hope of giving birth to sons. I am doubtful about its eventual effect in terms of ending or even reducing this national crime but it is important that the people of India hear such specific rejection of the practice from its prime minister.
It is necessary that the August 15 speech become a national reflection on specific issues and challenges rather than a clichéd salutation to the country’s vague glories. Of course, it is important that the platform is used to fire up India’s imagination but it is equally required that prime ministers focus on existential challenges and offer workable solutions.
I have followed the problem of female feticide since 1986, well before it was a subject of national discussion. We are close to 30 years hence and, if anything, it has become even more widespread as has the apathy surrounding it. It is from that standpoint that I commend Prime Minister Modi for raising it in his very first speech.
A July 14, 1986 story by me when I was reporting for the Associated Press (AP) from Bombay
In recent years a lot has been written about female feticide in India and how it is causing a potential societal crisis. According to India’s census, between 2001 and 2011 six million girls have gone missing in large measure because of this practice. As of 2012, out of 35 Indian states 28 recorded a decline in the sex ratio. There are now 36 states and union territories.
Female feticide, like most national challenges facing India, is not a partisan issue. It is a deeper sociocultural problem that goes to the very heart of India’s identity. It has been a society that has been either indifferent to or comfortable with this silent genocide. I am glad that the prime minister has attempted to put it firmly back in the center of national debate. Whether it changes anything, of course, is a different story altogether.