Since India is a BRIC nation, one of the rising economic superpowers, we need to understand if it will continue in the conservative patriarchal direction practiced by the 80% who live in villages. Or will India pick up on the dedication to equality of some of the educated elite who live in urban areas—considered decadent and westernized. The three catastrophic issues facing India in this century are population explosion, the AIDS epidemic (over 2.5 million people with HIV) and female genocide—all are sex related.[i] Yet sexuality is a taboo subject, despite the fact that India may overtake China as the most populous nation before 2030. Over half of Indians are under 22, childbearing age.
In Sex and Power, Rita Banerji analyzes this important question in terms of the horrifying treatment of women, which she proves fits the definition of genocide: abortion of girls, female infanticide, child brides (about 65% of girls marry before the legal age of 18), dowry murders (an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 yearly[ii]), polyandry where a girl is married to brothers—catching on in areas with a shortage of girls, gang rapes, honor killings, and neglect of girls’ health and education. Why invest in a daughter since she will join another family? As a proverb says, raising a daughter is like watering a plant in your neighbor’s yard. A girl is an outsider in her family of origin and her husband’s family. These cruel practices resulted in the elimination of around 50 million women.
Ms. Banerji reviews the “yo-yo” history of religion in India from celebrating sexuality to abhorring it to find a precedent for picking equality and a healthy acknowledgement of human sexuality. She found a model in Tantric philosophy, based on equality and balance between female and male, Shakti and Shiva. But in modern times, sex is not discussed; even kissing in movies is prohibited. Production of the film Water (2005) about child widows in the 1930s was shut down in Varanasi by Hindu fundamentalist groups and the state government.[iii] Four years later woman director Deepa Mehta completed the film in Shi Lanka and the DVD is available in the West. If you watch it, know that widow houses still exist. Girls and boys are not supposed to interact, due to the religiosity of conservative people. (Yet at the same time it’s become acceptable for girls to show flesh in beauty pageants, films, and modeling.) She concludes, “Female genocide in India is the psychopathic fallout of the socialized dichotomy of men and women and sex and the sacred, and the inability of Indian society to overcome this schizophrenic vision.”[iv] The future is bleak because of widespread illiteracy and politicians cater to the majority religious conservatives to get their votes. Her campaign to bring female genocide to public outrage is explained at www.50millionmissing.in, including a petition to sign.
[i] Rita Banerji. Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies. Penguin Books, 2008, p. 285.
[ii] Banerji, p. 306. A 2004 estimate by Amnesty International was 15,000 while independent surveys report 25,000.
[iv] Banerji, p. 319.