“Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden"

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The Fatal Mentality from the Indian Subcontinent and Female Infanticide


(Image from DW.de)

There is a saying in India; “raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden”. Another one of the like goes “It is better to have a thousand sons than one daughter”.


From a Western perspective, such a view on females and on having female children can appear both backwards and extreme. Yet taking a step into the cultures of the Indian subcontinent (i.e.: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), which maintains the belief that the male is a thriving income generator of the household while the female is linked to a very expensive dowry, such sayings continue to ring true for the everyday life for certain Indians.


In 1961, the dowry system was outlawed in India. Despite this form of government intervention, tradition still makes this detestable pact, (of which the bride’s parents are required to pay the groom’s family a hefty sum in order to marry her off) continues to thrive and is still being practiced by almost the majority of the population. As of now, the government has done little to enforce this law, now almost 50 years old. Regardless of one’s caste and social standing, the dowry must be paid and without one, prospects for one’s daughter of being married are slim. In addition to that, a dowry must be paid for every girl and as such, adds a significant economic burden on families with numerous daughters but limited financial means.


Having a son represents generating more income for the family since inheriting a daughter-in-law allows the groom’s family to pocket the gains, which can consist of large grams of 22-karat gold and even land. As a result, families are pressured to produce male sons to both ensure the family’s survival and also ensure that money stays within the household.


Rich families in India ensure that only a boy is born by consulting an Ob/Gyn and performing an ultrasound to determine the sex. If it is found to be a girl, then the families will pressure the mother to get an abortion. Though the Indian government had emplaced the PNDT Act, which outlaws sex determination using ultrasound, families consult private practitioners and pay them handsomely to perform the task regardless.


Poorer families result to simply abandoning the female babies, sometimes leaving them to the care of women groups who advocate higher tolerance of female dignity. The majority simply kills the child off, using cruel methods such as placing a wet towel on the baby’s face or feeding her poisoned milk. This practice had existed for centuries, with the British colonial government at the time enforcing a law in 1870, which banned female infanticide.


Despite campaigns in the area where this is prevalent (such as Utter Pradesh, Delhi, and Gujarat) from UN Women and NGO’s, this is still a very real problem in today’s India and has even leaked to far off places where the Indian community is dominant – such as within Great Britain itself.


It was reported early this week by The Independent that illegal abortions have been occurring in the UK predominately by families with origins to the subcontinent, who try to use ultrasound as a means prior. Britain has already had many of its NHS hospitals ban gender determination within many of London’s boroughs that are home to a large Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi population (such as Tower Hamlets in East London) in order to prevent such atrocities. According to the article however, the deed occurs nonetheless. British girls of subcontinent origin are shocked when their in-laws suddenly promote the idea of an abortion to them after the gender is determined and many run away from their marriage and homes in efforts to save their unborn daughters. Others who stay at home are severely abused by both their in-laws and their husbands until they preform the abortion. If they chose to keep the girl, a life of misery only follows suite.


With this, it is obvious that the core root to this problem is the very mentality of the uselessness of girls from within the Indian continent. Combating against this fatal way of thinking is crucial for female infanticide to stop and would also promote the end of both the dowry system and the abandonment of young girls by their families.


However, it takes more than NGO’s and international organizations to strike head-on to this problem – it takes the Indian people themselves to be active and protest against this crime against women, which can only result in a catch-22 in the future. But like many things, it will take time for this dramatic change to a millennia old mentality to properly sink in.


But maybe we can begin in changing this thought by just altering the expression I used in the beginning of this blog. Instead, let’s change it to say “Raising a daughter maybe like watering your neighbor’s garden, but the rose vines stretch to both sides of the fence and its fragrance will forever perfume for others to enjoy”


There – it’s a start at least!

See Also:

To view the article referred to from The Independent, called "The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters", click here.

To view the documentary from Journeyman Pictures entitled "The Brave Women Waging War against Female Infanticide" , which takes an in-depth look into the problem of female infanticide in India and the problems this can produce later in the future, click here.

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1 reply

This was actually a great blog and a very precisely explained. You actually included facts that are considered a taboo to be spoken about. It was great reading it. Keep up the good work! All the best! Maanya Arora, August 15, 2020

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