An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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We don’t know if we’re having a boy or girl. In India it’s illegal to find out.

April 9, 2016

Sasmita and I decided against learning the sex of our coming baby. We do not want to cloud the joyous event, by placing expectations or hopes of a specific gender.

But there’s another reason; Sasmita is uncomfortable discovering a baby’s sex because in India it’s illegal.

Our 2016 baby shower

Prenatal sex determination testing is against Indian law.

Indian society across all levels devalues girls. As a result, the government passed a law called the Prohibition of Sex Determination Act 2003. It targets decreasing female foeticide.

Stories abound of Indian doctors and other hospital workers creating separate lists for people paying extra to discover if they are having the dreaded ‘girl child’ or a son.

Essentially, a pregnant woman arrives at a hospital or health clinic and receives typical medical checkups ensuring the baby is healthy.

But, for an illegal fee, a doctor may open a separate door to a room with a sonogram machine and there an expectant mother can learn the sex.

According to the Act, a woman agrees not to find out the baby’s gender from any gynecologist, or other health care practitioner. Many couples are so afraid that they’ll have a girl, they’ll pay this illegal fee to be sure. Then they abort it outright or kill it after birth.

It sounds somewhat comical, this cloak and dagger sex determination.  However, the reality is horrifying and catastrophic for India’s development.

India has too many men. The sex ratio of between 900-930 women (varying geographically) for every 1000 men is the world’s highest. The next closest is China and India is ahead by a lot.

The country’s age-old preference for boys, over girls, is a demographic disaster.

The 2011 census estimated that India had 37 million more men than women. That included more men in demographic bands committing the worst crimes against women, rape, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Rural Indians aren’t the biggest killers of girls; it’s those in urban areas and the affluent that abort their daughters far more than villagers.

It’s a strange paradox; on one hand, India’s city dwellers are generally richer than their country brethren. It makes sense they’re able to pay illegal fees to discover their baby’s gender. But they are also statistically more educated and presumably know intellectually how harmful their actions are.

This shows just how strong and pervasive Indian society’s mindset is against girls.

sobering blog post sums up these attitudes using scientific data.

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister spoke about girls during his first Republic Day address in 2014;

“Have we seen our sex ratio? Who is creating this imbalance?” Not God. I appeal to the doctors not to kill the girl child in the mother’s womb. I request the parents not to kill daughters because they want a son. Don’t kill daughters in the womb, it is a blot on 21st century India.”

I don’t like Narendra Modi. But I was happy to see him bring this topic to the national spotlight. I respect him for it.

One Indian politician’s solution is to let everyone find out their babies gender and then track the couples to learn if those having girls, actually birth them.

But it’s all lip service. Prime Ministers’ speeches or tracking births won’t change Indian societal mindsets.

The sad truth is the specter of dowry is so powerful and women’s value so minimal that grandiose speech and lofty goals honoring the nation’s women make no significant difference.

Families do not want girls because marrying them off is expensive. Whereas having a son brings money to the family.

What message is society sending to Indian men, about the value of women?

If a boy grows up knowing his parents were going to have a girl and then learns his parents aborted it solely because it was a girl, I don’t think he’s going to grow into a man respecting women.

He will instead view girls are objects and second class human beings, therefore justifying any violence, sexual or otherwise against them.

There is a large disconnect between how Indian women are discussed and how they are treated. This could be its own separate post because there’s a bit to unpack.

Fortunately, Sasmi and I live where a girl’s birth is celebrated just as much as a boy.

We are thrilled to welcome our child no matter what it is and will love it no differently.

2 Comments
Susan Herrigel
April 9, 2016 at 4:52 pm

AJ you have hit upon some of the concerns that have bothered me since I was a child…my parents had 3 girls, before my brother was born. They told us how lucky we were to live in the US because girls in countries like India and China “controlled their offspring by keeping boys and giving away or selling the girls”. My father was in the textile business and was very aware of ‘sweat shops’ both overseas and here. He was always concerned about where and who was working in their factories and what would help make the workers health better. Unfortunately he didn’t own the company but worked in Sales, so could only recommend what changes should be made.

I know that you and Sasmita will be wonderful parents…can’t wait for your new arrival!

    A.J. Bryant
    April 15, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for reading Susan. Interesting comment about your dad and ‘sweatshops.’ When he said how ‘lucky’ you were, did you have a response, or were you too young? I hadn’t thought that this was something that business owners and workers were aware of in the US, but it makes sense. Kudos to your dad for at least recognizing it, even if he could only recommend changes to policy, but not enact them himself.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!