7 thoughts on Satyamev Jayate (female feticide)

Is there anything more embarrassing to our national conscience as Indians than the demand for a male child and the extents to which it takes us?

Episode summary

The show opened with a story about a woman’s fetus being aborted by her family without her knowledge, under the guise of a check-up. Knowing India’s sex ratio and male-child obsession, it’s not hard to decipher that the fetus was female. Another woman got her nose bitten by her husband for conceiving a girl. After discussing such stories, Aamir Khan showed us the decline of female births per 1000 male births over a few decades. He explained that sex-selective abortion happens more among the rich and upper-class people—not the poor and uneducated as we would like to believe. Aamir interspersed interviews with sympathetic victims with phrases on the importance of the girl-child and how it’s the sperm that determines the sex of the offspring and that blaming mothers for fetal gender is as baseless as it is immoral. The audience seemed almost infomercial-like and appear to be crying on cue. The show ended with Aamir saying that we need fast-track courts to punish the wrong-doers. Oh and by the way, women are awesome, mothers are awesome.

1. The issue of consent

Of course, nobody bothered to isolate this question—what about the mother’s consent? There’s no legal or moral crime here bigger than aborting a fetus without the woman’s consent. Clubbing it with anti-female-feticide sentiment dilutes the issue. Of course, to tackle a type of crime, its societal cause must be noted. The desire for a male child makes people want to abort female fetuses (feti?). If that desire is irrational or immoral, making people aware of that is important. So, let’s address that murky question.

2. Should female feticide be legal?

Most people I know and hang out with are pro-abortion. It is a yes or no question—just not easy. If the law considers a fetus living, it cannot be killed—abortion should be illegal. If a fetus is non-living, it can be legally killed. The ‘why’ should be up to the person on whose body the fetus takes maximum toll—the woman. Proscribing abortion where you find it distasteful is basically punishing people for their thoughts. Why stop here? A stray homicidal thought when your boss forces overtime or refuses a pay-raise would become punishable.

Making prenatal sex-determination illegal—like many other prohibitions—has just made it expensive. That’s one reason female-feticide happens more in rich households.

3. Is it moral to want a male child?

If I ever decide to spawn, I wouldn’t want a boy, or a girl for that matter. But it’s no longer cool to voice a preference a male child. It’s kosher to declare how much you want a daughter. This kind of political correctness sweeps biases under the carpet. There is nothing moral about preferring a daughter to a son.

Let me be a little cynical here. In today’s India, conceiving a boy is a good retirement plan. Under that axiom, is it wrong for people to want financial security? It sounds repugnant to kill a fetus because it’s female, but once we say that the fetus isn’t living to support abortion—rightly I might add—we must give the woman the right to abort her baby for any reason she deems fit.

4. Oh! The sex ratio

The skewed sex ratio is bad, but for whom? Fewer women means greater demand for each available woman. LET ME MAKE IT CLEAR THAT I THINK IT IS WRONG TO SELL ANYONE, MAN OR WOMAN. We must punish the sale of women. The concept of owning people needs to die.

UPDATE: This article in the economist says that skewed sex-ratio is leading to women immigrating from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Also the sex ratio is improving—or rather—worsening slower than before. The worst offending states like Punjab and Haryana are improving quickly. It is unlikely, says Monica Das Gupta (pdf link) of the World Bank, that India will ever reach Chinese levels. 

But, if the rich community finds itself short of eligible women, rich men will start marrying middle-class women. And so on. That has been the tradition everywhere. Typically, women marry up in lifestyle and finance, and men marry up in looks. Whom we marry is a combination of family compatibility, wealth compatibility, attractiveness etc., and these are fungible—there are many rich unattractive men with pretty wives who used to be poor. As this happens, women in each economic tier will marry men in a higher economic tier. So, each individual woman has a better chance to marry up, or to be appointed to a female-only job. It’s just statistics. The losers in this situation are poor men. Men in the lowest economic tier will suffer the lack of a partner.

The show highlights this by caricaturing what should have been a serious interview with some older men who are unable to marry. But that’s not society’s problem. No man is owed a wife.

5. How the show annoyed me

So many to choose from—Aamir Khan saying, “Kitna seekhney ko milta hai hamare Adivasi bhaiyon se!” (Look how much we can learn from our Adivasi brothers!) or people cheering the homeless woman who said, “Hamein yeh paap nahi karna” (I don’t want to commit this crime) about abortion.

6. What’s the harm?

Most people would chide me with Oh come on. Surely, the proletariat of India needs simplified black-and-white information delivered from Aamir Khan’s lips and seasoned with drama. As long as people don’t abort female fetuses, really, what’s the harm? The harm is that this is top-down misinformation. No matter how you explain lying-for-good or embellishing the truth, ends don’t justify means. The right of the pregnant woman to not be harmed is paramount, and it shouldn’t be clubbed with the ‘immorality’ of female feticide.

7. Any positives?

  1. We must appoint a fast-track court for those cases where the mother was side-stepped by the family. Only the pregnant woman can decide whether a fetus is carried to term. That point was highlighted.
  2. The importance of the girl-child was well-explained.
  3. Despite his smug self-righteousness, Aamir seemed sincere.
  4. Who knows, the resultant awareness might help.

I know the second episode is already out—better late than never I guess.

GOP race to the bottom

And then they were four

So what by Miles Davis serenades me while writing about the Republican primaries. It’s always fun to watch presidential candidates coddle their bases during primaries by extolling the magnitude of their orientation, only to reach the general election and water down everything they said merely months ago, their chests still smarting from self-righteous thumping.

Mitt Romney needed to cruise through the primaries without any extreme right wing proclamations to take on Obama in November. He probably didn’t realize that the Republican base would sooner endorse a welfare-using pot-smoking mother-of-six than the ex-Governor, whose capacity for emotion would make a sociopath sit up and take notes. And they haven’t even played the Mormon card yet. Well, at least we can conclude that magic underwear can barely withstand the triumvirate of one wrinkled heartless crypt-keeper, one Christy senator whose main claim to fame is the guarantee of giggles upon googling his name and one shameless adulterer who was cheating on his wife while lampooning Bill Clinton for the same. The NIH budget is richer by a few thousands that can now go to fund illegal abortions.

Some people need to be sat down and explained to that making abortion legal doesn’t make it mandatory. Only that confusion can explain the outrage on this issue. Also, wide availability of contraception doesn’t mean that the high school lunch lady will sprinkle crushed Plan B over your daughter’s apple pie.

I think the employer-insurer nexus must go, but while it exists, insurance plans must cover contraception and abortion. An employer whose religious beliefs do not allow these interventions might be skittish about shopping for such a plan, but consider the alternative. Unwanted babies are less cared for and more prone to crime. Steven Levitt suggests that legalized abortion is responsible for half the drop in crime in the 90s. What if a Jehovah’s witness organization claims that forcing it to cover blood transfusions is religious persecution? Christian scientists do not believe in any medical intervention, and that disease is merely God’s will. Where does it end?

Pharmacists who believe that contraception is against their religion shouldn’t be forced to sell them, and at least one judge agrees. People should not be forced to engage in any transaction. No questions asked. This isn’t a matter of religious freedom. It’s freedom. Don’t worry about the supply of contraceptives drying up. There are plenty of sane pharmacists. But I must ask these pharmacists how they reconcile their faith and their professions. The Bible does not weigh in on melanoma or the common cold. It’s not a big leap of faith that some scientific information led to their career choice.

We live in a country where churches have automatic tax-exempt status. (Other religious organizations must file for this status if their gross annual receipts exceed $5000.) Everyone is forced by threat of state-funded violence, to subsidize Christianity in a country whose bill of rights begins with the words Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…etcRepublican politicians love saying that the U.S. Constitution is founded upon Christian principles. If a 4,543 word document is based on ten sentences that would fit on an index card, wouldn’t the founders have mentioned that as a footnote? Maybe they were being paid by the word.

What is exceptionally galling, is that a barely legitimate argument about gay marriage, immigration and abortion has descended to discussion of previously undoubted issues like contraception and mentioning Satan among adults (link to 2008 video).

This election was supposed to be about the economy. But the economy, to the right-wingers’ chagrin, is doing better. Nobody is breaking out the champagne just yet, but we are far from the train-wreck predicted most gleefully by the right. Now that that angle is out of the window, the right has gone back to what it does best: kiss up to Christ and call Obama a pansy on the international stage. Whatever your politics, you won’t be taken seriously if you don’t admit that as far as national security is concerned, this president does better with a scalpel than the previous one did with a sword. He has ridden us of Osama and al-Awlaki with minimal cost.

Mitt Romney cannot come out of this unscathed, and if he gets wounded enough, he won’t pose a real threat to Obama in November. The primaries have shown that Christ one-upmanship can reach ridiculous levels. The Christian death-grip on the right has sapped the traces of political discourse left in this country.