Daughters, Wives and Widows

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  1. Killing the Girl Child in India
  2. The International Picture
  3. Female Abduction: The girls stolen from the streets of India
  4. Till Death us do Part: Bride Burning
  5. Child Brides
  6. Untouchable Sacred Whores
  7. Urban Rape: The Final Desecration
  8. Widows in Charnel Houses

Kedar Ghat Varanasi Feb 2000 (Chris King)

Nearly 40% of female suicides worldwide occur in India 2018

Killing the Girl Child

By far the most important cause of a shift in the balance of the sexes is a sexual culling, simple, brutal and carefully hidden from the eyes of seekers after the truth. Millions of girls are destroyed at or before birth, as testimony to their worthless state. In the West, young boys die at a higher rate than their sisters. In two-thirds of the less developed world, the opposite is true. Beliefs in elite male desirability permeate into the social customs of whole societies. The murder of female children is common and, in the new global economy, has become more so. Chinese, deprived of a chance to have more than one child killed more than 250,000 baby girls between 1979 and 1984. Worldwide, the average sex ratio at birth is about 103 male births to every 100 female births. In some age groups in China there are 122 boys for every 100 girls, consistent with 17% of all girls being killed at birth. In one recent study of clinics in Bombay, of 8,000 abortions, 7,997 were of female foetuses, leading to a move to ban ultra-sound for sexual differentiation. In one hospital 96% of mothers who were told they had a daughter aborted, while 100% with sons carried to term (Ridley R577). Several countries in the Middle East have extremely high sex ratios forming the most extrema countries in the world (see map and statistics below). This is attributed at least partially to large predominantly male foreign work forces. It is difficult to know to what extent this masks a difference in birth sex ratios

Culprit countries sex ratio birth to 14 years (Wikipedia): Red shades indicate increasing surplus of males, green females.

Seven thousand fewer girls are born in India each day than the global average would suggest, largely because female fetuses are aborted after sex determination tests, UNICEF said on Tuesday. The problem of female feticide has significantly worsened ince 1991. Out of 71,000 children born every day in India, just 31,000 are girls giving a sex ratio of 882 girls to 1,000 boys. But the global sex ratio - 954 girls to 1,000 boys - suggests that 38,000 girls should be born. (Feticide means 7,000 fewer girls a day in India Reuters December 12, 2006).

Gender discrimination kills 239,000 girls in India each year, study finds

An estimated 239,000 girls under the age of five die in India each year due to neglect linked to gender discrimination, a new study has found. The figure, which amounts to 2.4 million deaths a decade, does not include pre-natal mortality rates. "Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born," wrote the study's co-researcher Christophe Guilmoto in the Lancet medical journal (Guilmoto C et al. 2018 Excess under-5 female mortality across India: a spatial analysis using 2011 census data Lancet 6 e650). "Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation. It is also about care, vaccination, and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival." The report is the first to examine the number of avoidable deaths among girls under five in India at a district level, showing specific geographic patterns of avoidable female mortality across India's 640 districts.

Avoidable or excess mortality is defined as the difference between observed and expected mortality rates. To determine that figure for India, researchers used UN population data from 46 countries to calculate the difference between the expected morality rate for girls aged under five in areas of the world without gender discrimination and the reality inside India. The researchers found that 29 out of 35 Indian states showed overall excess mortality in girls under five, and all Indian states and territories, apart from two, contained at least one district with excess mortality. The average level of excess mortality in girls aged 0-4 in India between 2000-2005 was 18.5 per 1,000 live births, or close to a quarter of a million deaths a year. "Around 22% of the overall mortality burden of females under five is therefore due to gender bias," the study's authors, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) said in a statement released Monday.

India's gender inequality has likewise led to millions of 'unwanted' girls. Couples' tendency to keep trying until a boy is born has led to the birth of as many as 21 million girls who are "notionally... unwanted," the Economic Survey 2017-18 states. The preference for boys and the availability of sex-selective operations, although illegal in India, means there's a gender gap of as many as 63 million girls, classified in the report as "missing." Some of the ingrained preference is due to the norms governing inheritance, the continued practice of paying a dowry for female children to be married and the tradition of "patrilocality" -- women joining their husband's households -- and rituals which need to be performed by male children. 55% of couples who have a girl will try for another child and will keep trying until they have a boy. It's referred to in the report as fertility "stopping rules.".

The murder of girls is a valued Indian tradition. Rajputs, Sikhs and other warrior castes preferred to marry their daughters to a husband of higher rank which meant an expensive dowry, or the rapid disposal of the unwanted child at birth. The British became concerned when they saw the results of the first census of 1871. In some villages, the commissioners reported, not a single female child was to be found. The authorities brought in the Female Infanticide Act, which set heavy penalties on child murder, and policemen were stationed in such places but, twenty years later, some provinces still had twice as many boys as girls. For a time, the habit began to fade, but now things have changed for the worse. Dowries often take half of a poor family's disposable wealth and the death of unwanted children has become more, not less, common with India's new affluence.

Steve Jones (R349), in forthrightly decrying this situation, notes that the value of females depends on the market:

How the natural birth sex ratio ends up with around 51.3% boys from US data.

In Kerala, a liberal society with an educated population, daughters are born unscathed. In the north and northwest of the country, in contrast, tradition rules. All over the Punjab, Haryana and the United Provinces, men want large families, and many children die young. Women move out of the household to marry, and are rarely seen in public once they have done so. The economy is based on wheat, rather than as in Kerala on rice. Wives play almost no part in the fields, and their value has been further reduced by the farm machinery brought in after the green revolution. Girls suffer as a result (the sole exception lies among the untouchables, whose poverty is such that the efforts of all children are needed to keep the family alive). In certain villages, young boys outnumber girls by three to one. Week-old girls die at twice the rate of their brothers. Often, neither the birth nor the death is recorded; but, when parents admit their child's demise, the cause is given as 'pneumonia', or that 'the baby became stiff'. Boys, the villagers tell the curious, are saved from such a fate because the correct gifts have been made to the gods. Mothers stay in hospital for several days when blessed with a son, but after the birth of a daughter leave at once. Dais, traditional birth attendants, often kill the child, for a fee of around a hundred and fifty rupees (about two pounds sterling). They can, they claim, assess a baby's gender even before birth, and stand ready to do their duty. In some places, each admits to a murder a week. The relatives may do the job themselves by forcing the mother to place tobacco under her child's tongue. If she refuses, she is herself killed or thrown out of the house.

The practice was once limited to the higher castes, but a desire to copy their betters, combined with economic pressure, has spread it even to Sikhs and Christians. As the Indian economy has evolved, so have the reproductive rules. The Kahar community in southern India was branded a criminal tribe in the days of the Raj' and many of its members were imprisoned for banditry. Their women were assertive, worked hard and supported their kin while their husbands were out of circulation. Their villages were poverty-stricken, but both dowries and infanticide were unknown. In 1958 a dam was built. A few communities could grow cash crops and became wealthy, but most stayed poor. At once a dowry system began as parents became desperate to marry their daughters into a richer household. Now the incidence of child murder is among the highest in India. In one recent year, five hundred and seventy of the six hundred girls born were dead within days. So scandalous were the figures that the law at last became involved. For the first time in India, somebody was found guilty of child murder and went to prison. She was, needless to say, a woman, but who was really responsible? No man was charged with any crime.

Nowadays a husband's relatives ask not for clothes, but for televisions. In the slums of Bombay, a dowry may represent five years' worth of household expenses. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 has had no effect. Twenty years on, only the rural northwest had much of an excess of boys soon after birth. Ten years later child-killing had spread, and for the first time in history, India's cities now as a whole have a masculine bias. A dreadful recent development involves dowry murder young brides whose families have not come up with the goods are burned alive, often with the pretext of an accident with a kerosene stove. At least 2000 wives a year are the victims of such crimes, which did not become common until the 1970s.

Prenatal sex tests e.g. with ultra-sound were forbidden in 1996, because they lead to selective abortion, with a three-year sentence and a heavy fine, but the law applied only to government health centres and not to private clinics. Bombay alone has two hundred clinics that offer such abortions, with almost all the procedures aimed at daughters. Now, the job has got easier, with portable scanners taken from village to village to check whether a fetus passes its prenatal examination. Up to a million unborn girls are destroyed in India each year. To check whether his wife is pregnant with the wrong kind of child costs an unskilled worker two months' wages, but the fiscal balance makes it worthwhile. For the middle class, private clinics have begun to provide test-tube fertilisation followed by selection of the desired type; and, of the few dozen who have so far used them, every one has asked for a boy.

The murder of children which so shocked the British in 1871 led to a ratio of 972 women to a thousand men. In 1991 modern science had shifted the figure to 929 females to each thousand males. Gandhis goal of a nation in which, intellectually, mentally and spiritually, women would be equivalent to men has not been realised.

Indian women (AP)

India has an unusual gender balance. In most countries, women slightly outnumber men, but in the year 2001, for every 1,000 male babies born in India, there were just 933 girls. This has often been explained by the fact that some Indian mothers abort their female offspring because they regard them less favourably than boys. But the latest research suggests that discrimination may persist into childhood. The researchers analyzed autopsy reports of babies in three socially deprived parts of Delhi over a five-year period and discovered that the overall death rate for girls was almost one-third higher than that for boys. This was particularly the case for sudden, unexplained deaths - three out of four cases were girls. The researchers suggest some of these deaths may be cases of parents actually killing their female babies. Where death occurred because of a severe and non-preventable disease, there was no gender gap, but deaths due to diarrhoea - which is treatable - were twice as likely to happen to girls as to boys. Again, the researchers suggest that this could be due to discrimination, with parents seeking medical help more urgently for male than for female offspring.

Left: India's 2011 census shows a serious decline in the number of girls under the age of seven - activists fear eight million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade. In 1961, for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven, there were 976 girls. Today, the figure has dropped to a dismal 914 girls. Although the number of women overall is improving (due to factors such as life expectancy), India's ratio of young girls to boys is one of the worst in the world after China. Many factors come into play to explain this: infanticide, abuse and neglect of girl children. But campaigners say the decline is largely due to the increased availability of antenatal sex screening, and they talk of a genocide (India's unwanted girls BBC 23 May 2011) .

In the matrilineal societies of Kerala and Karnataka in the south and Meghalaya in the north-east, women have enjoyed high status and commanded respect. But the latest census figures show the good news even in these areas could be turning bad. A minor decline in the number of girls has begun in the three states which, campaigners worry, might be indicative of a trend. What is seen as most distressing is the steep decline in the number of girls under seven in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and in Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura in the north-east (see next chart). Even though these states have registered numbers much higher than the national average, the decline is too substantial to ignore. But all is not lost. Some states, such as Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh - which saw the gap between numbers of boys and girls widen in 2001 - have shown an improvement. That is cause for some cheer, campaigners say.

Medical research in India suggests that baby girls are much more likely to die than infant boys, even from illnesses that can be treated. The research, published in the British Medical Journal, was carried out at St Stephen's Hospital in Delhi. The report concludes that the imbalance in the proportion of deaths may be due to the fact that baby girls are less welcome and are treated less favourably by parents (Indian girls - more likely to die BBC 18 July, 2003)

The UN children's agency Unicef says it's a problem of "genocide proportions" and that 50 million women are missing in India because of female foeticide and infanticide - the killing of baby girls. The Indian government disputes this estimate, but the reality of life in Haryana is hard to argue with.

Technology driving rise in abortions of girls in India Feb 2015

Narendra Modi's "Save the daughter" campaign, with a budget of some $15 million, aims to persuade Indian couples to stop selectively aborting female fetuses, a practice that some worry is already causing social instability in the country. Abortion is legal in India, but not on the basis of fetal sex. India's highest court has ordered the Google, Yahoo and Bing search engines to stop adverts for providers of prenatal sex determination from popping up alongside online searches for abortions. The court is expected to order them to block adverts in the search results themselves.

Girls have long had a hard time in India. Infanticide was historically common, especially in north and west India, as girls were expensive to keep and required a dowry, while it was the sons who supported ageing parents. This had waned by the 1950s, but in the 1970s parents began to switch to prenatal sex selection, thanks to the availability of tests such as amniocentesis, and abortion. This accelerated in the 1990s, when ultrasound became available. You can get an ultrasound in villages that don't have clean drinking water. Technicians use code to tell parents what they want to know: "buy pink clothes". Affluent couples are having IVF in Dubai or Singapore and choosing male embryos.

Using careful statistical analysis of the country's census data, Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto calculates that up to 4 million girls were aborted between 1991 and 2001, and a further 6 million by 2011. Most are aborted at five months - ultrasound at four months can detect the fetus's sex. This could become easier with the next generation of prenatal testing, which requires only a blood test. A look at the data from the 2001 and 2011 Indian censuses shows what has happened. Normally, human societies have 950 girls for every 1000 boys aged 6 and under. For India, the number of girls per 1000 boys was 927 in 2001, and 914 in 2011. This seems a small effect but Jha says that in such a populous country it equates to millions of aborted girls.

Skewed sex ratios are starting to show up in states such as Kerala, where female infanticide was not historically an issue but where ultrasound clinics are now common. India went from some six children per woman in the 1960s to 2.4 now. In the past, people just had children until they had the desired number of boys. Now families planning only two children feel they cannot leave boys to chance. (Lancet. 2011 377(9781):1921-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60649-1)

More than 10m female births in India may have been lost to abortion and sex selection in the past 20 years, according to medical research. Researchers Prabhat Jha of St Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto, Canada, and Rajesh Kumar of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Research in Chandigarh, India writing in Lancet said prenatal selection and selective abortion was causing the loss of 500,000 girls a year, based on a national survey of 1.1m households in 1998. The 'girl deficit' was more common among educated women but did not vary according to religion. In most countries, women slightly outnumber men, but separate research for the year 2001 showed that for every 1,000 male babies born in India, there were just 933 girls. They found that there was an increasing tendency to select boys when previous children had been girls. In cases where the preceding child was a girl, the ratio of girls to boys in the next birth was 759 to 1,000. This fell even further when the two preceding children were both girls to 719 girls to 1,000 boys. However, for a child following the birth of a male child, the gender ratio was roughly equal (India 'loses 10m female births' BBC 9 Jan 2006).

Indian authorities have been ordered to enforce laws designed to stop the abortion of female foetuses. The Supreme Court ruled that clinics must be punished for using womb scans to determine the sex of a fetus. The case was brought by a children's charity which said many Indians have abortions after ultrasound scans tell them to expect a baby girl ("India confronts fetal sex checks" BBC10 Sep 2003).

This pattern of girl slaying is an overblown response under the pressures of a changing developing capitalist consumer society to pressures on the dowry from higher technological expectations and a desire on the part of more people in lower classes to adopt the life style including the practices of girl killing of those in 'higher strata': Nevertheless, its basis is firmly rooted in the Trivers-Willard hypothesis discussed in context of the prisoners' dilemma: as elaborated by Sarah Hrdy (R330 331):

"No research on biased sex ratios in birds or mammals had been done when anthropologist Mildred Dickemann first encountered the logic laid out by Trivers and Willard in their 1973 paper. Social scientists at that time paid scant attention to the idea that there might be innate human predispositions that enhanced inclusive fitness and the long-term survival of family lines. Devaluation of daughters was viewed as a purely cultural construct. It was assumed to be the outcome of free-floating minds spinning infinitely variable webs of meaning out of locally received traditions. As far as cultural anthropologists were concerned, the ideology of son preference along with the custom of paying dowries to marry off daughters sufficed to explain female infanticide. What other reasons could there be? Yet Dickemann was struck by how well the patterning of son preference in the north Indian case conformed to predictions of an evolutionary model that applied to animals generally. Trivers and Willard proposed that parents in good condition should prefer sons, those that were disadvantaged, daughters. They even specified that this logic would be found in socially stratified human societies, where women marry up the social scale, whenever the 'reproductive success of a male at the upper end of the scale exceeds his sister's, while that of a female at the lower end of the scale exceeds her brother's. A tendency for the female to marry a male whose socioeconomic status is higher than hers will, other things being equal, tend to bring about such a correlation.' Trivers and Willard's logic even explained the most puzzling feature of daughter slaying in the Rajput case - why the most elite families were the most likely to kill half of their offspring. By contrast, sub-elites were left paying exorbitant dowries to place daughters in one of these elite households, impoverishing their sons in the process. The poorest subcastes, who really did not have enough resources to feed their children, were the ones who welcomed daughters and did not kill them. None of this made sense unless one accepted the assumption that parents were not counting offspring but looking further down the line, toward grandchildren and beyond, toward the survival of a family line."

"Eliminating daughters at the top of the hierarchy produces a vacuum sucking up marriageable girls from below, and creating a shortage at the bottom. Families don't pay dowries to place daughters in families with the same or lower status than their own. They demand payment for them instead. At the bottom of the heap, sons whose families cannot cough up the required bride price remain celibate. Far from calamities, daughters are the most valuable commodity low-status families possess. Referring to a daughter as a commodity will strike many as extraordinarily callous. But we are not talking about post-industrial Western populations that for generations have lived in an unprecedented state of ecological release, freed from concern about famines. Continued survival of such parents and their children rarely depends on choices mothers make about how much food to allocate to one child versus another. But not all mothers are so fortunate. Daughters not only offered the only prospect for upward mobility, in many cases they provided the only possibility at all of continued survival of a family line. In parts of the world where drought and famine are recurring hazards, the landless and dispossessed invariably have the worst chance of making it through. Under such harsh circumstances the likeliest survivors will be offspring of mothers who marry into families with access to resources, like arable land. Hypergamy (girls marrying up) is not a fluke. It was a long-standing necessity for lineage survival. Nor can it be denied that decisions leading to it have genetic outcomes. Centuries of hypergamous mating have left a trail of genetic markers, like bread crumbs through the forest of the Indian caste system, documenting the different paths followed by the two sexes as they married and produced offspring. An examination of genetic traits carried in mitochondrial DNA (found in somatic and egg cells but not preserved from sperm), which is transmitted only from mother to offspring, showed that these mother-transmitted traits are spread widely beyond traditional caste boundaries. For centuries, they have been carried by brides and concubines moving up in the world by marrying into higher-caste families. By contrast, paternally transmitted markers, traits passed from father to son on the Y-chromosome, are less mobile. Father-transmitted traits remain localized, rarely spreading beyond the caste where they originated. This may be one reason why male traits are more vulnerable to extinction than those carried by mothers. Thus do customs previously viewed as purely cultural have profound demographic and genetic consequences, as well as deep roots in human motivations and their decision rules regarding children".

India estimates 21 million of its girls are 'unwanted' BBC Jan 2018 The desire among parents in India to have sons instead of daughters has created 21 million "unwanted" girls, a government report estimates. The finance ministry report found many couples kept on having children until they had a boy. Authors called this a "subtler form" of son preference than sex-selective abortions but warned it might lead to fewer resources for girls. Son preference was "a matter for Indian society to reflect upon", they said. The authors also found that 63 million women were "missing" from India's population because the preference for sons led to to sex-selective abortions and more care was given to boys. Tests to determine a foetus's sex are illegal in India, but they still take place and can lead to sex-selective abortions.


The International Picture

The earliest evidence for sex-biased infanticide derives from the DNA of baby skeletons-all less than two days old and without apparent defect excavated from the sewer of an ancient brothel in Roman Ashkelon on the southern coast of modern Israel. Fourteen of the nineteen victims of what archaeologists suspected were male consistent with coming from prostitutes in lower class society where daughters would be more valuable.

Whatever the social pressures to get rid of one sex, the laws of reproduction will, in the end, always make their presence felt. To interfere with them can lead to painful and expensive consequences. In China girls are still sometimes called 'Too Many' or 'Little Mistake' to reflect their value, but once they were worth even less. In the nineteenth century the province of Huai-Pei suffered a series of famines which led to civil war. Daughters were despised as another mouth to feed and, quite soon, their numbers began to plunge. As their brothers grew up, they found nobody to marry. Great gangs of disaffected youths grew into a horde of a hundred thousand rebels, the Nian. They almost overthrew the Imperial dynasty before they were crushed. The problem of the friendless and discontented Chinese youth has returned. Even official statistics (which understate the problem) suggest a ratio of 117 male births for each 100 females which gives the nation eighty million young men with no hope of marriage. The age gap between groom and bride has increased as older men take teenage wives (which makes life even worse for the next generation), and bachelor villages have appeared in distant provinces. The residents of such places ('bare branches', as they are known) once became monks, or soldiers, or eunuchs in the royal household. Now they move to the cities and add to social unrest. There has been an outbreak of abduction of girls, who are sold into families in search of a daughter-in-law or as prostitutes in the male-filled cities. The government sees the problem. Selective abortion of daughters has been banned, and posters proclaim that 'Girls are fine descendants too'. It will, alas, take more than slogans to remove a habit built so deep into the nation's fabric.

A principal effect of the one-child policy was to cause children after the first to be skewed. Later births in families with more than one existing daughter were extremely male-biased, those with several sons were somewhat female-biased (R427).

Bobbi Low (R427 173) notes the effects of this process of families biased towards sons:

"In the early 1980s, the government of China instituted its "one child" policy in an attempt to slow China's population growth rate. Couples were restricted to one child per family, with some exemptions. The cultural history of son preference has interacted with the limits on family size, and possibly with marriage preferences. The proportion of families with only one child did increase, and the birth sex ratio became more male-biased. In one or two provinces the sex ratio. of children in single-child families to soared to over 129.

But it was primarily in later births that the sex ratio became most pronounced. In a nationwide study in 1989-90, the sex ratio of first births was 105.6, right at the worldwide average, but the sex ratio of later-born children depended on how many older brothers and sisters already existed. The sex ratio of third-borns when there were two older sisters was 224.9 males per 100 females, and the sex ratio for third-borns with two older brothers was 74.1. Some daughter preference did exist when several older brothers were already born".

  1. 'We lose 1,400 girls a year. Who will our boys marry?': Armenia's quandary 2018
  2. China's great gender crisis Nov 11
  3. Is India's population policy sexist? Jul 11
  4. Perils of baby sex preference Jul 11
  5. Sex selection: The Forgotten Story 2011 Amniocentesis tests and ultrasound scans have led to more than 160 million girls being aborted in Asia alone since the 1970s, according to one widely quoted 2005 estimate. It had to do, Hvistendahl writes, with the West's paranoid population control movement during the Cold War - a growing fear that more hungry babies would grow up and turn to communism. The "monster of sex determination in Asia" lead to vastly skewed ratios in countries like India, China and South Korea.
  6. Taiwan's birth rate plummets to 0.9 despite government measures Aug 11. Taiwan has the world's lowest birth rate.
  7. South Korea Welcomes its Daughters 2011
  8. UN warns on Vietnam birth ratio Oct 10
  9. China's one-child policy - success or failure? Sept 10
  10. South Koreans told to go home and make babies 20 Jan 2010 South Korea has one of the world's lowest birth rates
  11. China faces growing sex imbalance 11 Jan 2010 More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses by 2020. The gender imbalance among newborns is the most serious demographic problem for the country's population of 1.3 billion. The academy of social science cites sex-specific abortions as a major factor, due to China's traditional bias towards male children.
  12. Shanghai urges 'two-child policy' Jul 09
  13. China 'may revamp one-child rule' 29 February 2008

"China acts to protect baby girls" BBC 15 July, 2004:

China says it will intensify its efforts to protect girls and address the gender imbalance of newborn babies. A senior government official said that trafficking and abandonment of girls would be severely punished, and a ban on selective abortion reinforced. Government figures show that 117 boys are born for every 100 girls. The imbalance is widely believed to be a result of China's strict one-child policy. Many parents abort baby girls, hoping to try again for a boy. "Illegal sex determination and sex-selective abortion must be strictly banned," said Zhao Baige, the deputy director of China’s National Population Commission. "China has set the goal of lowering the sex ratio to a normal level by 2010"

Yet the sex ratio is still as skewed as in India:

China will have 30 million more men of marriageable age than women by 2020, making it difficult for them to find wives, according to a national report. The gender imbalance could lead to social instability, the report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission warned. It found that around 118 boys were born to every 100 girls in 2005 (Chinese facing shortage of wives BBC 12 Jan 2007).

South Korea corrected its excess of boys starting 1990. "One daughter is equal to 10 sons," was the message desperately being promoted by the South Korean government.

In Korea there is a similar imbalance in the sex ratio caused by selective abortion:

"One son is worth ten daughters,'" exclaimed the exultant south Korean mother of a newborn boy. It's a harsh assessment, but one often heard. in male-dominated Asian societies. In South, Korea, however, the preference for boys has taken a disturbing turn. There are at least 113 men for every 100 women in Korea, one of the highest gender imbalances in the world which, according to sociologists has profound social implications. A shortage of wives perhaps is the most obvious of these, but more alarming is the willingness of many Korean women to abort female fetuses in pursuit of a son. About 30,000 female fetuses each year or one in every 12 girl births after tests to confirm their gender. The high rate of abortion is partially explained by the aborting of female foetuses,' Professor Cho says in her paper. She notes that in a national survey in 1991, nearly one-third of respondents approved of abortion of female foetuses. The abortion rate is extremely high in Korea. One survey says that half of women aged between 15 and 44 have had abortions, a rate that has stayed steady since the late 1970s. Abortions are a major factor behind the sex imbalance, particularly among third and, fourth-born children where there are more than 200 boys for every 100 girls. Most women pray for their first born to be a boy, consuming such bizarre folk medicines as raw rooker's testicles and holding religious services to boost their chances. They become increasingly desperate if they produce only girls, leading to more sex-tests and abortions. "When I felt that the fetus was a girl, I aborted my pregnancy,' said one woman interviewed for a recent paper in the Asia Journal of Women's Studies published by Ewha Women's University. "I almost decided to abort my third pregnancy because my dreams and the shape of my belly told [me] it was a girl." In 1990 doctors were banned from telling parents the sex of their unborn child after ultra-sound tests or amniocentesis. The Government's aggressive campaign to convince to convince Koreans that a well-raised daughter is worth ten sons has seen the imbalance dip since 1990 But, despite new moves to revoke the licences of offending doctors, a high number still take money to tell parents their child's sex, and the practice is almost impossible for the authorities to trace.

However the situation is beginning to improve: South Korea Welcomes its Daughters 11

  1. In recent years ethnic Korean women from China have been imported by marriage agencies for rural men unable to find wives. The match often ends badly as many of the women are already married and agree to the match solely to support their families back home. "Nowadays the age of the girl children subject to sexual abuse is getting lower. The problem of sexual violence is high anyway and many people think it is due to the sex imbalance." The signs are encouraging that the imbalance will gradually correct itself, but its consequences will linger for - years as the pressure on women to bear sons is still immense. The so-called 'son-preference' is rooted in South Korea's Confucian philosophy, which stresses the role of the son in carrying on the family's bloodline, and in various ancestral rituals. Bearing a son is regarded as a woman's most important role. Girls are secondary since they become part of their husband's family after marriage. But these traditions have been modified to suit South Korea's embrace of capitalism. It is a chauvinistic society where women have little prospect of a well-paid job. Boys, simply, are a better bet for parents wanting financial support in their dotage. "Boys are seen, as a guarantee against economic upheaval," says Professor Cho. But she points out that South Korea's modernisation is slowly changing the attitudes of some young women: "Many young women don't want to live like their mothers."

Authorities in Vietnam are preparing a law which will stop doctors from performing tests on pregnant women which will tell them whether they will have a son or daughter - aimed at stopping the abortion of females in a society where many parents prefer to have sons:

Senior officials are concerned that Vietnam's current population imbalance, where there are more men than women, could get worse. Vietnam has one of the world's highest rates of abortion. It is used as a contraceptive and, the authorities fear, as a way of ensuring that pregnancy results in sons, not daughters. Two-child policy The new law to ban gender testing is being prepared with the support of the National Committee for Population and Family Planning. It has warned that having an imbalance of men to women could lead to violence as men compete for partners. Vietnam's rulers urge people to control the size of their families as part of their economic and social responsibilities to the country, where the population has reached about 80 million. Women are encouraged to delay having children until their early twenties and there is a two-child policy. In the most extreme cases, parents can be penalised for having a third child. They can be expelled from the Communist Party or have their land confiscated. But Vietnam has decided against a one-child policy after looking across the border to China where the policy has led to a massive gender imbalance. There is also concern about the rate of abortions in Vietnam. The average is for a women to have two abortions in her lifetime. The high rate is attributed to the use of terminations as contraception and also to the trend for urban living and, among the young, more liberal attitudes to sex (Vietnam to ban gender testing BBC 18 Nov 2001).

Low (R427 171) also notes that highly biased sex ratios can also occur from some customary practices without necessarily implying infant mortality or abortion:

"Among orthodox Jews, marital intercourse is prohibited during menstruation and for seven days thereafter, and the husband is not to masturbate or seek other sexual outlets. At the end of the seven days, the wife takes a ritual bath, and the couple is directed to have intercourse at that time, and twice' a week during the rest of the month, with the exception of men in unusual occupations. There is additional advice if the couple wishes to conceive a son: intercourse should take place twice in succession. It is difficult to obtain birth sex ratios for orthodox Jews independent of nonorthodox Jews, and conception biases are certainly difficult to measure, for the obvious reason that important parameters are difficult to control. Nonetheless several things are true. Y-bearing sperm, which combine with the egg to make an XY (male) fetus, are slightly pointier-headed (hydrodynamically better) than X-bearing sperm; they are also smaller, with fewer resources to stay alive if the egg is not immediately ready. As a result, in humans as in most mammals, conceptions close to time of ovulation tend to be male- biased. The orthodox cultural practice of abstinence for about twelve days per month, combined with frequent intercourse near the time of ovulation, appears to interact with biological biases in conception probabilities: sex ratios for Jews in a number of traditionally orthodox locations historically average 137 males/ 100 females, while for nonorthodox Jewish populations, and nearby secular populations, they average 105, the worldwide average".

The developed world, less bound by economic pressure, is not much concerned with gender balance. Parents with two boys, or two girls, choose to have a third child more often than do those whose first pair were of different gender. This affects their own household, but has no effect on the overall balance. In the United States a third of counsellors would allow a pregnancy termination for a couple who want a child of a particular gender even if no medical issue is involved. The figure for Israel is twice as high. Britain has so far been strict, except to avoid inborn disease.

Plenty of couples try to subvert the rules of nature in a less drastic way and are happy to pay for the privilege. The author of ‘How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby’ retired to Las Vegas on the proceeds. The FACS machine, used to sort cattle sperm, has now been turned to our own ends. The businesses who shift the ratio for cows have been joined by the MicroSort Company, which does the same for humans. So far its services are restricted to couples who already have two or more children of the same sex and who are happy to be counselled to ensure that they do not reject a child of the unwanted variety should the device fall. At two thousand dollars a try the procedure is not cheap, but already five hundred or so American pregnancies have come from sorted sperm.

In stark contrast to parents in the developing world, Americans who make such choices much prefer girls. Three-quarters ask for a daughter rather than a son. The global shortage of a hundred million of their fellows is a reminder that in other places the economic sums add up in a different way. Remorseless as such calculations may be, human evolution follows the rules of other creatures and the laws of nature are likely to win in the end.

The Indian government says it will reward girls from single child families with free education and other benefits. The move is intended to bolster India's dwindling female population and help promote population control. India, with a population of over one billion, has only 933 women per thousand men according to the 2001 census.(Free school for one-girl families Jyotsna Singh BBC 22-9-2005).

Girl’s less than half the value: Shanghai police are investigating a scheme to sell newborn babies on a popular auction Website, according to eBay officials. The starting bid for a baby was 1 yuan, like most items sold on eBay. If a bidder agreed to pay 28,000 yuan (US$3,457) for a boy or 13,000 yuan for a girl, the person would win the auction immediately (ShanghaiDaily.com 20-10-2005).

Bilasi Singh's daughter Bisanti has been missing for two years

Female Abduction: The girls stolen from the streets of India

Tens of thousands of girls disappear in India every year. They are sold into prostitution, domestic slavery and, increasingly, into marriage in the northern states of India where the sex ratio between men and women has been skewed by the illegal - but widespread - practice of aborting girl foetuses.

Trafficking peaked in the Sunderbans after a deadly cyclone destroyed rice paddies around the area five years ago. Local farm worker, Bimal Singh - like thousands of people - was left without income, and so he thought it was good news when a neighbour offered his 16-year-old daughter Bisanti a job in Delhi. "She went on a train. She told me 'Father, don't worry about me, I will come back with enough money so that you can marry me." They never heard from her again. "The police have done nothing for us. They came once and knocked on the door of the trafficker but they didn't arrest him. They don't treat me well when I go to them, so I am afraid to go to the police," Singh says.

Rukhsana was sweeping the floor when police broke into the house. Wide-eyed and thin, she stood in the middle of a room clutching a broom in her hand. Police officers towered above her, shouting questions: "How old are you? "How did you get here?" "Fourteen," she replied softly. "I was kidnapped." But just as she began to say more, an older woman broke through the circle of policemen. "She is lying," she shouted. "She is 18, almost 19. I paid her parents money for her." As the police pushed the girl towards the exit, the woman asked them to wait. She leaped over towards the girl and reached for her earrings. "These are mine," she said, taking them out. A year ago, Rukhsana was a 13-year-old living with her parents and two younger siblings in a village near India's border with Bangladesh.

Rukhsana's father looks on as she talks to police about her kidnapping

"I used to love going to school and I loved playing with my little sister," she remembers. Her childhood ended when one day, on the way home from school, three men pushed her into a car. "They showed me a knife and said they would cut me into pieces if I resisted," she said. After a terrifying three-day journey in cars, buses and on trains, they reached a house in the northern Indian state of Haryana where Rukhsana was sold to a family of four - a mother and her three sons. For one year she was not allowed to go outside. She says, she was humiliated, beaten and routinely raped by the eldest of the three sons - who called himself her "husband". "He used to say, 'I bought you, so you do as I tell you.' He and his mother beat me. I thought I would never see my family again. I cried every day," she said. "We don't have enough girls here," the woman who bought Rukhsana cried as she tried to convince the police to let her stay. "There are many girls from Bengal here. I paid money for her," she wailed.

There are no official statistics on how many girls are sold into marriage in the northern states of India, but activists believe the number is on the rise, fuelled both by demand for women in the relatively wealthy north, and poverty in other parts of India. "Every house in northern India is feeling the pressure, in every house there are young men who cannot find women and who are frustrated," says social activist Rishi Kant, whose organization Shakti Vahini (or Power Brigade) works closely with the police to rescue victims. In just one district, called South 24 Pergana of the Sunderbans in West Bengal, the BBC visited five villages and every one had missing children, most of them girls.

In a Calcutta slum we manage to meet a man who sells girls for a living. He doesn't want to give his name, but speaks openly about the trade. "The demand is rising, and because of this growing demand I have made a lot of money. I now have bought three houses in Delhi. "I traffic 150 to 200 girls a year, starting from age 10, 11 and older, up to 16, 17," he says. "I don't go to the source areas, but I have men working for me. We tell parents that we will get them jobs in Delhi, then we transport them to placement agencies. What happens to them after that is not my concern," the man says. The man says he makes around 55,000 rupees ($1,000; £700) from each girl. Local politicians and police, he says, are crucial to his operation. "Police are well aware of what we do. I have to tell police when I am transporting a girl and I bribe police in every state - in Calcutta, in Delhi, in Haryana. "I have had troubles with authorities but I am not afraid - if I go to jail I now have enough money to bribe my way out."

The head of the Criminal Investigation Unit in charge of anti-trafficking in West Bengal, Shankar Chakraborty, describes police corruption as "negligible" and says his unit is "absolutely resolute" in its determination to tackle the problem of trafficking. "We are organising training camps and awareness campaigns. We have also recovered many girls, from different areas of the country. The fight is on," he says. The very existence of his unit, he adds, shows the government's resolve and activists agree that police are now more aware of the problem. Every police station in West Bengal now has an anti-trafficking officer. But their caseloads are overwhelming, and resources are scarce.

"Simply changing the police will not give results. When we rescue a child together with the police, then what?" says Rishi Kant from Shakti Vahini. "What we need is fast rehabilitation. We need social welfare and judiciary systems that work."

Till Death us do Part: Bride Burning

There is a more sinister patriarchal logic to the burning of wives for their dowries. A new study (Swami R676), the first of its kind, provides appalling proof of what many in India already acknowledge - that many of the unusually large number of kitchen burning 'accidents' affecting young married women are in fact dowry-related murders, or forced suicides, acts of unimaginable violence against wives who can't meet their husbands' and in-laws' demands for yet more money. The study suggests that in spite of India's strict anti-dowry laws and long-running campaigns by women’s groups, incidents like these are on the rise across India. Worse still, the guilty nearly always go unpunished either because police and forensic pathologists fail to investigate the cases, or because rampant corruption scuttles them at a later stage.

Hindu practices in India cause the death of more females than any other social or religious system, when infanticide of up to 15% of girl children, plus up to 25,000 wife burnings annually are taken into account. Although the dowry is illegal, social customs persist (Swami)

The study carried out by Baldev Raj Sharma and his colleagues shows that of 385 burn deaths at his hospital between 1994 and 2001, most of the 292 women who died were not victims of kitchen accidents (Burns, 28, p 250). What's more, the numbers are rising. In 1994, burns accounted for 12 per cent of postmortems at the hospital. In 2001, the figure had jumped to nearly 30 per cent. However, the police reports Sharma examined concluded that 97 per cent of the women, usually young women within five years of their marriage, were burnt in accidents in the kitchen, usually due to a burst kerosene stove. Yet in some of their homes, kerosene wasn't even used in the kitchens. And while most kitchen accidents cause burns on the arms, chest and abdomen, many of these women suffered 80 to 90 per cent burns.

In traditional Indian homes, girls learn to cook when they are around 13, which is when most accidents would be expected to occur. Most burns victims in the West are children and the elderly. In stark contrast, only 4 per cent of the deaths studied by Sharma were among girls younger than 15. The number jumps to 16 per cent for women aged 16 to 20 - the age at which most women marry - and to 28 per cent for those aged 21 to 25. The most damning statistic is that every one of the married women was burned in her in-laws' home. "That speaks for itself," says Sharma. Why then, in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence, do the guilty nearly always go free? The problem is not with the anti-dowry laws. "The villain of the piece is the investigation," says NR Menon. And the problem starts with the woman's dying declaration. "There is a belief that the dying will not lie. Invariably, the victim is brought to hospital by her husband and her in-laws, the very people who may have tried to kill her or forced her to attempt suicide (the law treats those responsible as guilty in both cases). The woman is told that her own parents will be hurt if she doesn't say it was an accident, or is beseeched to consider the fate of her children if she dies and her husband goes to jail, or warned that she will have to come back home if she survives. "Even if I send the in-laws outside, she'll invariably lie".

In fact, Sharma found that fewer than 4 per cent of the women died within an hour because of shock, while more than half survived for anywhere from three days to over a week before succumbing to infections. Sometimes, in the hours or days before her death, the woman reveals that she tried to commit suicide after being unbearably tormented at home, or even accuses her husband and in-laws of trying to kill her. In such cases, the courts are forced to consider an her statements and look at other evidence. Some evidence comes from the post-mortem, which must be performed on the body of any woman who died an unnatural death within seven years of marriage. And experienced forensic pathologists can usually tell whether burns are accidental from their nature and extent. Yet even then the system fails. The problem is that such evidence is not enough in itself. Because the police invariably do not start investigations until the woman dies, supporting evidence from the scene is usually lost. It should be completely obligatory on the part of the police to take the help of the forensic scientists and forensic pathologists. Until two years ago, Victoria Hospital's burns ward was like a railway station, she says. People wandered in and out as they pleased, and staff had to be bribed to change sheets or give injections. ‘It was a hell-hole,’ says Fernandes. And this remains the state of many hospitals across the country.

Kali in the flames Katmandu (Chris King)

"According to the reported deaths - and they are all under-reported - almost 100 women die every month in Bangalore [of unnatural causes such as hanging, poisoning or burns]. And 70 to 800 per cent of these deaths are deemed accidental", says Fernandes. "The interest and commitment to find out the truth are not there." As a consequence, official figures on dowry-deaths don't mean much. The National Crime Records Bureau in Delhi reported about 6000 dowry deaths a year in the 1990s. Unofficial estimates are much higher. Himendra Thakur of the US-based International Society against Dowry and Bride-Burning in India estimated in 1999 that nearly 25,000 women are murdered or forced to commit suicide every year. Aside from sheer negligence, corruption at all levels is sabotaging efforts to crack down on the culprits. "When they don't succeed with the police and the doctor, they get hold of the prosecutor," says Saldanha. "And he'll very cleverly sabotage the case." The problem is so bad that in Karnataka state an astounding 97 per cent of the accused in dowry death cases are acquitted. And after appeals to the High Court, the acquittal, reach nearly 99 per cent. This problem affects the entire country, creating a climate in which some men feel they can get away with murder. Saldanha adds that one section of India's anti-dowry law states that if a woman dies, any property or wealth given as a dowry should be returned to her own family, regardless of whether her husband was convicted or acquitted. "Judges in India had totally overlooked [that] section As a result, when the case fails, the husband and in-laws are left with the loot. And that gives them a tremendous appetite to do it again. Society will have to take a leading role and revolt against this, and see that the system is taken to its logical end."

Most killing of women for non-payment of 'promised' dowry have so far occurred in the urban affluent upper-caste Hindu communities, in spite of its rapid escalation and migration into traditionally incidence-free areas and non-Hindu communities of India as well as Bangladesh and Pakistan (where death of newly married women due to 'stove bursting' has often featured the news media in recent years). In places where traditionally there is an absence of caste- or dowry-based marriage system (such as the tribal communities of the far-east Indian states or predominantly caste-free Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist majority areas), dowry deaths are still not rampant (Partha Banerjee). This evidence reasserts that the problems of dowry death, bride burning, and other forms of dowry-related violence on women is a Hindu phenomenon that is now almost out-of-control. Reasons cited by one author are: (1) retention of the caste system, (2) undermining of the woman by the religious orthodox and social patriarch making herself and her family vulnerable to socio-economic pressure and extortion, (3) ever-increasing greed of the bridegroom and his family, (4) an economically strangled hyper-populated society non-supportive of unmarried women, (5) a morally depraved political system run by the pro-status quo conservatives. (6) Apathy from the educated Indian middle-class.

The epicenter of the problem of bride burning and other forms of dowry-related violence on women is Delhi (the Indian capital), western and central Uttar Pradesh (cities such as Kanpur, Lucknow and Agra have witnessed the highest number of deaths), and places adjoining Delhi (Haryana, northeastern Rajasthan, northern Madhya Pradesh, and southern Punjab), and the problem has largely been concentrated among the upper caste above-average Hindu communities. Now the problem has spread rapidly to other traditionally incidence-free areas and classes -- south Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, western states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, and eastern states such as Bihar and West Bengal (the latter having been one of the bastions of leftist politics of India) have witnessed rapid surge of incidents in recent years.Incredibly, in some cases, the convicted husband will be requested by the parents of his previous bride to marry her sister. The latter is an example of the severity of the problem. The sister and her parents have no place else to go but the abuser/killer man. The death of the woman has left a permanent mark of misfortune on her family resulting outcasting/abhorrence by other prospective bridegrooms. The surviving sister can't remain unmarried: the patriarch society and the upper caste rulers would not permit that. But the incidence of the 'untimely death' of her older sister prevents her parents to find a "clean" groom for her. Now, here comes the widower willing to remarry with an batch of dowry probably a little less than the first time. And, he will now probably be more 'forgiving' to the bride's family he already so much knows. So, who should the family turn to but the 'closely related'?

Cerbera odollam, which grows across India and south-east Asia, is used by more people to commit suicide than any other plant, but doctors, pathologists and coroners are failing to detect how often it is used to murder people. Three-quarters of Cerbera victims are women. The team says this may mean the plant is being used to kill young wives who do not meet the exacting standards of some Indian families (J. Ethnopharmacology 95 123) NZ Herald

The fight to ban a 'humiliating' virginity test for newlyweds BBC 1 February 2018 A movement to stop newly-wed brides from a nomadic tribal community having to take a virginity test has begun in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, and campaigners are determined to put an end to the "humiliating" practice, reports BBC Marathi's Prajakta Dhulap. Anita, 22, says the ordeal of her wedding two years ago still reduces her to tears every time she thinks about it. Like the other women in the Kanjarbhat community - made up of around 200,000 people and mostly found in Maharashtra - Anita was forced to undergo a "virginity test" on her wedding night in order to ascertain whether or not she was "virtuous". The test is seen as an integral part of any wedding conducted within the community and is enforced by the highly influential panchayat (local village council). The couple are given a white sheet and taken to a hotel room rented by the village council or one of the families. They are expected to consummate the marriage while the two families and council members wait outside. If the bride bleeds during intercourse she is seen as a virgin, and if she does not, the consequences can be severe. Grooms are allowed to annul their marriages if their wives have not "proven" their purity, and the women in question are publicly humiliated and even beaten by family members because of the "shame" they have caused. This continues despite many experts having debunked the theory that a woman always bleeds the first time she has intercourse. In Anita's case, she always knew that the virginity test would be a sham, as she already had a sexual relationship with her husband before their marriage. But she said she was not prepared for what happened next. "I thought my husband would stand up for me in front of the village council, but when they asked if I was 'pure or impure', he pointed to the unstained sheet and called me a fake," she said. Marriages can be annulled if the bride does not 'prove' she is a virgin
"I was stunned. I had been in an intimate relationship with him for six months on his insistence. "The village council pronounced me 'impure' and went away and I was left alone. I just could not stop crying." Anita's husband, who had initially wanted the marriage annulled because she had "failed" the test, was forced to continue with the marriage after some social workers who had heard about the incident got the police involved. But she claims that he made her life a living hell, beating her regularly and humiliating her. Matters were made worse because the village council had banned the "fake" couple from attending any community events. "Things did not improve even after I got pregnant. My husband kept asking me repeatedly: 'Whose child is this?' The council members still ask him that as well," Anita said. Two months ago she was thrown out of her marital home along with her newborn son and is living again with her parents. But she says the stigma of failing the virginity test has impacted her whole family, with her sisters unable to find husbands because of it.d

Child marriage data 2018

Child Brides

Nearly half of Indian brides wed before they are 18-years-old, a survey by the Lancet medical magazine says. Carried out from a geographical and social cross-section of Indian society - total of 44.5% were married by the time they were 18.

Women who were child brides were far more at risk of having unwanted pregnancies. Marriage at a young age carries 'unacceptably high' health consequences.

"Child marriage has serious consequences for national development, stunting education and vocational opportunities for a large sector of the population," says the paper, led by Anita Raj, a doctor at Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts.

The survey involved 22,807 Indian women who were aged between 20 and 24 at the time of the survey.

India first introduced laws against child marriage in 1929 and set the legal age for marriage at 12 years. The legal age for marriage was increased to 18 in 1978.

While the practice of child marriage has slowly diminished, it remains unacceptably high among rural, poor and less educated girls and and among those from central or eastern regions of the country who are more vulnerable to the practice.

Survey conclusion - child brides are:

Existing policies and India's economic development gains have failed to help rural and poor populations eradicate child marriages. The reason why there are such high levels of sterilisation among young brides is because they have had their desired number of children at an earlier age. It was also indicative of inadequate fertility control, evident from the high numbers of unwanted pregnancies among the women. Sterilisation could reduce condom use in such couples, which would heighten the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Compared to a similar survey 10 years ago, the child bride proportion has fallen slightly but the Lancet report said the reduction was insufficient (BBC, AFP 2009).

A 16 year old girl auctioned of on Facebook in South Sudan in Nov 2018, resulted in the father reportedly receiving 500 cows, three cars and $10,000 in exchange for his daughter. According to children's rights organization Plan International, the girl was bid on by five men, some of whom were reportedly high-ranking South Sudanese government officials.

Untouchable Sacred Whores

Untouchability is practised everywhere in India - until it comes to sex. Ten-year-old Yellamma perches on a stone slab in the dying light, absent-mindedly fiddling with her hair. She doesn't realise it but her hair has condemned her to a life of sexual slavery. Yellamma was born a Dalit (or untouchable) and lives in Pagidimar village in Andhra Pradesh. She has a wild mane of hair matted into dreadlocks. Her father has been told by the village chief it is a sign that she must be dedicated to the goddess Ellammal. His only daughter will become a Jogini woman - a role performed - only by Dalits - and will have to have sex with any man that wants her. She will not be permitted to marry and the men need not pay nor bear any responsibility for any children. Her father says, "We have worshipped Ellammal for many years. She gives us protection and guides us. I don't want to disobey the sign because she will punish us. Look at her hair. It means she must be dedicated." In fact her hair is so tangled because her mother died from tuberculosis when Yellamma was only six and she had no one to care for her or look after her appearance. Her dedication as a Jogini has little to do with religion and more to do with economics. Her father is a day labourer, paid only in rice. He cannot afford meat or vegetables. Yellamma is a pretty girl and a Dalit - which is why her father has come under pressure from higher caste men to have her dedicated. She hasn't reached puberty yet but already the vultures are beginning to circle. More than 10,000 Dalit women across Andhra Pradesh are forced to work as temple prostitutes. The practice was outlawed in 1984, yet the use of Jogini women is still extensive in rural areas. There is little will to help these women, especially as the local police also make use of them. Many temple prostitutes are bonded to their work through fear of punishment from the goddess, but Dappu employs former Jogini women to show change is possible. Ex-jogini Hajamma was brave enough to leave her profession and has married. She now travels from village to village to persuade elders and parents to abandon the custom. So far Hajamma has saved more than 1130 girls from a life of misery and sexual servitude. She is slowly trying to win the confidence of Yellamma's father, who has finally agreed to take her to the barbers to shave off her hair. If it grows back straight she will not be dedicated to the goddess. With constant support from Dappu, Yellamma may have a fighting chance. - India is the world's largest democracy, a nuclear power and at the forefront of the "' revolution. (Georgina Newman CCF NZ Herald 26 June 2004).

Women anti-rape protesters facing police water canon in Delhi

Urban Rape: The Final Desecration

Share this petition to end India's war on women

Dec 2012 A 23-year-old woman is savagely attacked and raped by a group of men inside a moving bus and her male friend is beaten up senselessly. Battered and bleeding profusely, they are dumped near an expressway in Delhi, where they are found by a passer-by. Authorities haven't released the name of the rape victim, but protesters are calling her "Damini," which means "lightning" in Hindi. "Damini" is also a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of a sexual assault. The brutal attack triggered a wave of protests that started in the Raisina Hills area of New Delhi on Saturday, and spread to other areas of the city. Demonstrators marched through the streets waving signs that read, "Hang them till death," and "Stop this shame."

The girl, along with a male friend, had boarded a chartered bus with tinted glass windows from Munirka in South Delhi around 9.45 PM to go to Dwaraka after watching a movie. As soon as the bus started to move, the group of men present inside the bus assaulted them with an iron rod. The woman was beaten up and raped by the men inside the bus. There were seven men in the bus. Both the woman and her male friend, who was also beaten up when he resisted, were thrown off the bus near Mahipalpur. The Delhi Police chief said that the bus was washed after the crime to eliminate evidence. Most of the accused are residents of the slum in Sector three, RK Puram. Later main accused Ram Singh was produced in court where he refused to undergo identification test. A media report quoting Delhi Police officials claimed that the accused have told investigators that they tortured and raped the girl to 'teach her a lesson' after she tried to prevent them from assaulting her friend. On Tuesday, police sources said the driver of the bus had tried to run her over after throwing her out, but she was saved by her friend, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

"She was very strong. She always said one should never bear atrocities but fight against it," her brother tells the India Times. "While she was admitted in hospital, she told me that she fought back as hard as she could. She was defending herself by beating and biting them." 'She thrashed them and kicked them too. They were boiling in anger by her defence so they decided to kill her. She told me that they were murmuring 'maar do ise' (kill her). They threw her considering she was dead. 'The boy was equally courageous like my sister. She told me that he guarded her until he became unconscious.

'Lallji Singh, a man who is reportedly the victim's uncle told The Hindu newspaper that "she had made up her mind very early that she wanted to become a doctor." And as the AFP reports, the woman was reportedly in the midst of planning her wedding: "They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi" for February, said Meena Rai, a close friend and neighbor.

Doctors treating the woman, a paramedic student, then on life support at a crowded city hospital were aghast. They say this is the "most grievous" case of rape they have handled. They also beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into her body resulting in severe organ damage. Both of them were then stripped and thrown off the bus, according to police.

"This was much more than rape ... They were extensive injuries ...
It appears that a blunt object had been used repeatedly [by the attackers]".

Billia her ancestral village was in one of the most undeveloped regions of the country.

Her grief-stricken family and relatives, trying to come to terms with their loss, remember her as a brave girl who dreamed of relieving people's pain. She wanted to build a hospital in her ancestral village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Her father sat cross-legged on a stack of hay spread out thinly across the floor in a crudely-built hall outside the house. "She was brave, had no fear, and was full of life," he said.Born and raised in a lower middle class family, the 23-year old saw education as the passport to improving her family's economic plight. She wanted to be a doctor since "she began playing with dolls", says the father. "I told her repeatedly that I could not fund her education, but she did not budge." But, she was determined and eventually she won. The family sold off a chunk of their village land to fund her education. Her brother,: "She studied day and night. We would not even know when she slept and woke up."

"On that day she rang up around 7pm and I took her call. She said that she would be slightly delayed but when I began calling her after 8pm, I couldn't get through to her." A few hours' later, the family received a call from the Safdarjung hospital where she was taken by the police for treatment informing them that she had "met with an accident".

"She was not scared of anyone. We could never imagine that such a fate would befall her... She must never have imagined it." Her father remembers how she asked for food once she regained consciousness in hospital. "She specifically asked for toffee. The doctor asked, 'will you mind a lollipop,' and she replied, 'yes!'" He dismisses reports that she was about to get married soon: "She said she would not marry till her brothers finished their education." Her brother: "The last time I spoke to her was in the hospital on Christmas. She gestured with her fingers that she was going to heaven". The body of the young woman who was gang-raped and brutally beaten on a bus in India's capital was cremated but her family say she could have survived. 'She could have been saved perhaps, but the decision came late,' her brother said, adding: 'Mount Elizabeth Hospital had very high standards of hygiene. They could have prevented the infection.'

Her friend said the bus had tinted windows, and that he believed the group of men had laid a trap for them. "We tried to resist them. Even my friend fought with them, she tried to save me," he said. "She tried to dial the police control room number 100, but the accused snatched her mobile away." "I tried to fight against the men but later I begged them again and again to leave her." "The attack was so brutal I can't even tell you ... even animals don't behave like that," he said. He confirmed earlier reports that the assailants had thrown them off the bus and tried to run them over. "There were a few people who had gathered round but nobody helped. Before the police came I screamed for help but the auto rickshaws, cars and others passing by did not stop," he said in a studio interview, a blue metal crutch leaning on his chair. And he also criticised the authorities, accusing them of being slow to arrive, then arguing over jurisdiction, and eventually taking them to the wrong hospital. They were left bleeding in the street for 45 minutes before a police van arrived, he said. "My friend was bleeding profusely. But instead of taking us to a nearby hospital, they [police] took us to a hospital that was far away," he said.

Delhi Police on Saturday denied its officers were late in arriving. A statement said the first vehicle had arrived within four minutes of the distress call, left the scene with the victims within another three minutes and reached Safdarjung Hospital within another 24.

The victim's father Badri Singh Pandey

Her father says: "We want the world to know her real name - Jyoti Singh Pandey", although since then he has claimed his release of her name to the media was conditional on her being named after a new proposed law on rape. "My daughter didn't do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter."

"When I first saw her she was in the bed with her eyes closed. I put my hand on her forehead and called her name. She slowly opened her eyes and started crying and said she was in pain. I held my tears. I told her not to worry, have strength and everything will be all right."

"For the first ten days Jyoti was in and out of consciousness and it was hopeful she would survive. Doctors did their best to save her. She spoke a few times but mostly through gestures. She had a feeding pipe in her mouth making it difficult for her to speak. But she did write on some paper that she wanted to live, she wanted to survive and stay with us. But it was fate that had the last say in the end."

"It was just gruesome and I hope no one ever goes through what she had to endure. She cried a lot, she was in a lot of pain. And as soon as she saw her mother and brothers she cried again. But after that she was a courageous girl, even trying to console us and give us hope that everything will be all right." Doctors were forced to remove Jyoti's intestines and as her conditioned worsened, they flew her to Singapore for specialist care on Boxing Day.

Badri said: "I told her everything would be OK and we'll soon be back home. She was excited when we talked about going home and she smiled. I put my hand on her forehead, she asked me if I'd had any dinner and then she gestured for me to go to sleep. I held her hand and kissed it. I told her to take rest and not to worry and she closed her eyes. I so desperately wanted her to survive, even though she would have to live with a memory of that attack and get through her trauma."

"We're so devastated that she's gone. There's a huge void in our lives. She was the centre of our universe. Our lives revolved around her. Her absence is so painful, a future without her is unimaginable."

Badri says: "There was no question of her marrying because we belong to different castes. She never expressed a desire to marry. She was concentrating on her studies and wanted a job first." Badri also revealed that Jyoti often mentioned how much Awindra tried to save her. The people of India have given us strength to cope up with our loss. I feel she's not just my daughter but also India's daughter. We're so thankful to the people who came out to protest against the barbarity."

Tension over the cremation

Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan told Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal that DNA tests confirmed by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory had shown that blood stains found on the clothing of all of the accused had matched the blood of the victim. The five accused, aged between 19 and 35, are charged with rape, abduction and murder, and could face the death penalty if convicted. They include the driver of the bus. The prosecutor also said items robbed from the victim had been recovered from the accused. The charge sheet - reportedly 1,000 pages long - will lay out the evidence collected, the most powerful of which is expected to be a statement from the victim after the attack and an account from her boyfriend who was with her at the time.

At a pre-trial hearing on Saturday, a Delhi magistrate asked police to produce the five accused - named as Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur - at court on Monday. A sixth person accused in connection with the attack, a teenager, will be dealt with by a juvenile justice board. Their trial is expected to take place in a newly formed fast-track court in the next few weeks.

"We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused, as it would be immoral to defend the case," Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and member of the Saket District Bar Council.

Who were the perpetrators? Four of the accused in the case - driver Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan, a fruit seller and Vinay Sharma, a junior gym instructor, all live in Ravidas camp in R K Puram in south Delhi, with their families. The case has triggered protests across India and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes. Ravidas camp is like any other slum, only a tad bit cleaner. One of these houses belongs to Ram Singh. On the table is a photo album with pictures of him with his wife who died four years ago. There is uneaten food lying on the floor. The rest of house is in shambles. His half-brother's wife doesn't have anything good to say about Ram Singh. She observes that he used to drink a lot and it was quite normal for him to get into verbal brawls over petty things. "We have nothing to do with Ram Singh," says Asha. "What he has done is very bad and he should be hanged for it. He didn't think of his actions and how it would affect us." While nobody contested that Ram Singh was indeed abusive, the young boys who play in the street refused to believe that Vinay or Pawan were involved in the rape of the girl. "We were playing marbles on the road on the day when Ram Singh called out to Vinay and asked him to join him (on Sunday night)," says one of the boys. Vinay and Pawan were hardly the closest of friends, but Ram Singh started abusing them and almost forced them to join him and his brother Mukesh. Vinay Sharma turns 18 in March next year. "I don't know anything," says Manju, Vinay's sister. She says that Vinay worked hard, as a junior gym instructor from 6 am to 2 pm, and from evening till late in the night as a waiter in a hotel nearby. "He earned about Rs 3,000 a month and used to give all the money to his mother. He seldom had pocket money with him," she says. "He never used to drink," his younger brother Umesh defends, and then asks quietly, "Is it true that he has asked for the death sentence. Will he be given the death sentence?"

The police response was to water cannon, tear gas and beat the rape protesters

Without prejudging the case, it thus looks as if Ram Singh set out to rope the others into a hideous rite of passage by drawing them into committing calculated violence, sealing their fates into his own psychopathic intent and entrapping them all into an ongoing future as a small-time criminal gang.

20 Mar 2020 Four Indian men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi in 2012 have been hanged.
Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh were sentenced to death by a trial court in 2013.
The four were hanged in the capital's high-security Tihar prison in the first executions in India since 2015.

Another day, another rape, another round of outrage. Yet, more than 630 rapes later this year so far, nothing much will really change. Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women. The real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police. Reported rape cases have surged more than tenfold over the past 40 years -- from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures. New Delhi alone reported 572 rapes last year and more than 600 in 2012.

Sunday night's incident in India's "rape capital" was gut-wrenchingly brutal even for a city which has become numb to crimes against women. The mistreatment and abuse of women is a particular problem in Delhi and northern India. A stiflingly patriarchal social mindset, a brazen culture of political power, a general disdain for law, a largely insensitive police force and a rising population of rootless, lawless migrants are only some of the reasons. There must be many others. So if you are a woman - unless you are very rich and privileged - you are more likely to face indignity and humiliation here. In this part of the world where I live and work, people blame rapes on pornography, the influence of foreign cultures and women themselves - for wearing Western dresses and going out with male friends. When another incident happens, the indignant headlines, excited TV talk shows, candlelight vigils, promises by authorities and platitudes by politicians return with familiar gusto.

27 Dec 2012 18-year-old girl raped and strangulated by her boyfriend. When she arrived in hospital, her neck had been broken and the fliud had drained down into her lungs. She was placed on life support. Meanwhile a sex worker was raped by 12 men in Gujarat and a 2-year old raped by a relative died. Times of India

31 Dec 2012 A 16-year-old girl has allegedly been raped on a Delhi bus on the same day the 23-year-old woman died after being gang-raped on one of the capital's buses. Victim endured 45-minute attack while driven around Delhi. She was running away from home after being raped by her brother. Off-duty conductor, 32, arrested. The 16-year-old girl claims she was raped by an off-duty bus conductor while an on-duty conductor and driver looked on. The attack is believed to have stopped only when the driver became disorientated by police barricades set up as a result of protests in support of the 23-year-old gang-rape victim, and stopped to ask police directions. Police spotted the traumatised girl in the back and came to her rescue. Mail Online

31 Dec 2012 18 year old girl commits suicide after rape. Indian police have arrested three suspects named in a suicide note left by a teenager who claimed she had been gang raped, as anger in the country grows over the rising number of violent crimes committed against women. The 17-year-old girl died Wednesday after ingesting poison, according to Paramjit Singh Gill, the inspector-general of police in the Patiala district of Punjab in the country's north. In her suicide note, the girl blamed her alleged rapists for causing her death. Three of the suspects, including a female accomplice, have since been arrested, Gill said. The unnamed girl claimed she was gang-raped during the Hindu festival of Diwali on November 13. However, a formal case wasn't registered by police until 14 days later. Two police officers involved in the case have been fired and another has been suspended for their handling of the rape complaint. Gill said an investigation was underway into allegations made by the girl's family that the officers pressured her to withdraw her complaint. The teenager's death comes after days of mass protests over the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16. The victim in that case died early Saturday. The victim's sister told Indian television network, NDTV: "The police started pressuring her to either reach a financial settlement with her attackers or marry one of them." Indian police have since arrested three suspects - including one female accomplice - who were allegedly named in a suicide note left by a teenager.

Jan 6 Another Delhi Rape Murder: At the same time as the court hearing for the previous rape murder four policemen have been suspended and a fifth transferred over the handling of a suspected new rape and murder case close to the Indian capital, Delhi. The father of the alleged 21-year-old victim has told the BBC she was gang-raped. Her body was found on Saturday. Two men have been arrested and a third suspect is reported to have fled.

One of the most painful and lingering cases is that of the Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug. Sodomised by a cleaner in the hospital where she worked, the 25-year-old was strangled with metal chains and left to die by her attacker, Sohanlal Bharta Walmiki, on 27 November 1973. She was saved and survives, but barely so. For the past 39 years she has been lying in a hospital bed in a vegetative state, brain dead, unable to recognise anyone, unable to speak, unable to perform even the most basic of tasks. "He was not even charged for raping her," says journalist and author Pinki Virani, who wrote Aruna's Story, a book on the nurse's plight. So Walmiki was given a light seven-year-sentence for robbery and attempted murder. In what can be described as a real travesty of justice, while a brain dead Aruna remains confined to a hospital room, her attacker roams free - out of jail and able to rebuild his life.

According to official figures, a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours

But nothing really changes for Delhi's women. "It is as if there is a silent conspiracy in this city," a woman friend says, "to keep the women scared." They say they are not safe anywhere, at home, on the streets, on a bus, on the new metro system, nowhere really. A friend, who works in the media, tells me about life as a Delhi woman. It is infinitely worse for those who are less privileged than her. When she was living as a paying guest in an upscale south Delhi neighbourhood a few years ago, a drunk male cook barged into her room at night, yanked at her bed sheet and tried to attack her. The man fled after she screamed. "My landlord, a perfectly respectable person on the outside, came up and said I must have been dreaming, that there could not have been an attack. His mother had heard my screams so she believed me. I left the place, and they said they had sacked the cook. When I checked later, I found that the cook had returned and was working," she remembers.

Sonam, 14, (in orange) was raped and murdered in a police station.

After she joined salsa classes a few years later, her friends arrived to pick her up for a competition. They were waiting for a taxi when a policeman walked up and challenged the boys. "You are hanging out with a loose woman," the policeman grunted. "Give me your parents' numbers, we will tell them." When her friends protested, the policeman went up to the landlady and extracted a bribe. "They told her they would file cases against her saying she had rented her place to a suspicious woman without a proper rent agreement." One evening, a few years ago, she was walking home from work when a young man sidled up to her and said something very obscene. She asked him to shut up and walked on. The man ran after her, stopped her in her tracks, and told her bluntly: "I will pour acid on your face next time you say that." Then he vanished. "I came home and began crying. I was scared of going out for the next few days," she says.

It doesn't help much if a woman is accompanied by a male friend or spouse. Another woman friend travelling with a male friend in an auto-rickshaw was waylaid by a group of young boys in a posh neighbourhood a few years ago. They blocked the auto-rickshaw at a crossing, pointed a gun at her friend and shouted abuse at him. "They wanted to instigate him, they said he was going out with a prostitute. My friend kept quiet and apologised. They let us go after robbing us," she remembers.

When my journalist friend travels alone in an auto-rickshaw on the city's mean streets, she keeps having real and imaginary conversations on the phone with friends and relatives. She doesn't take an auto-rickshaw if she finds the driver overfriendly. If she takes a taxi, she texts the registration number to a friend. She keeps phone numbers for a handful of "reliable" drivers whom she can count on to take her home. Delhi's disdain for its women possibly mirrors the city itself, says a cynical friend and long-time resident. A city largely, he says, made up of a deracinated generation of migrants, rich and poor, living in their own worlds in gated neighbourhoods and grimy slums which all make genuine collective action difficult. An ineffective police and a broken justice system make matters worse.

Too little too late: It took nearly a week of protests for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear on TV pleading for calm and promising to make India safer for women. Many thought it was ironical that India's most powerful woman, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, met a group of outraged students only after massive public demonstrations had been widely televised. Many believe that the violence could have been prevented if either Mr Singh or Mrs Gandhi, or even one of the young ministers, had gone to meet the protesters and promised stern action against wrongdoers and reform of India's broken criminal justice system. That was not all. The city police commissioner told a news channel that even men were unsafe in Delhi as "their pockets were picked" - a shocking gaffe that appeared to equate rape with pick-pocketing. Federal Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told another channel that ministers could not be expected to personally meet every group of protestors, "like political party workers or Maoists", appearing again to equate ultra-left rebels with angry students, justly upset over the rising tide of crimes against women. Many attribute such attitudes to the sheer hubris of India's ruling class - "they are our rulers, not representatives", was an angry refrain during the protests last week - in what many cynics describe as a modern-day "feudal democracy". Others argue it points to the increasing disconnect between India's rulers and its people, the perpetuation of what many call a paternalistic ruling class which talks to its citizens rather than listening to them. Many politicians and bureaucrats appear to lack communication skills to engage with a young, increasingly empowered and aspirational citizenry, who are demanding more from their rulers. (Soutik Biswas)

Misogyny: Misogyny is so deeply rooted in India's collective psychology that even the president's son -- in this case, Congress Parliament member Abhijit Mukherjee -- could entangle himself with a remark against women protesting gang rape. He called them "dented and painted women" who go to discos, have little connection with ground realities and are making candlelight vigils fashionable. After an enormous backlash, he apologized and retracted his comments, but many are not satisfied and want his resignation. Misogyny has long permeated our textbooks, our pedagogy and our parenting. In fact, it runs so deep that it reflects itself even in our linguistics. The Hindi phrase most commonly used to describe sexual violence or rape against women is "izzat lootna," which means "to steal the honor of." Another Hindi word used for rape, "balatkar" (or "bad act"), is considered so erudite and technical that it's barely ever used. (Its English equivalent would be "coitus" instead of "sex.") So, for the most part, we're stuck with "izzat lootna" - and the necessary question: Why should a rapist be given so much credit? Rape is a criminal act of force and perverse subjugation. When a woman is raped, her most fundamental rights as a human being are violated. Yet, she is just as honorable as she ever was. Honor cannot be stolen. It can only be surrendered. Surely in the act of rape, it is the perpetrator, not the victim, who surrenders honor. The brave girl from Delhi died with her honor intact. Her rapists will live in ignominy. Unfortunately, in India rape is inextricably linked by men - and women - to shame: the ultimate desecration. Many victims are murdered by their rapists or choose to commit suicide. It is also not uncommon for the parents of rape victims to kill themselves. Thus, most victims don't speak up about what happened to them, lest their families be ostracized, lest they never find a husband or be shunned by their friends. (Leeza Mangaldas)

Two weeks before the notorious Delhi rape case, a group of influential local elders, all of them men, came together in a Haryana village to discuss what they called the most pressing issues their communities face - rape, illegal abortions and marriage laws. One speaker addressed what he called an "alarming" increase in rape cases. "Have you seen the suggestive ways that girls ride scooters?" he said. "There is no modesty in the way women dress or act any more." Another man spoke about the roots of female foeticide. "These days the society has become very educated and the girls from this educated society have started eloping. When girls bring shame on their own parents and behave like that - who would want a girl?" he asked.

An Indian spiritual leader Asaram Bapu has sparked outrage in the country after remarking that Delhi gang-rape victim Jyoti Singh Pandey was equally responsible for her rape as she should have begged the rapists for her life, calling them brothers. "She (Pandey) should have taken God's name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said I consider you my brother and should have said to the other two 'Brother I am helpless, you are my brother, my religious brother'," Asaram said while addressing his supporters at Tonk town, some 100 km from Jaipur. "She should have taken God's name and held their hands and feet…then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened." "The accused were drunk. If the girl had chanted hymns to Goddess Saraswati and to Guru Diksha then she wouldn't have entered the bus…," he added. Legal experts say that the self-proclaimed spiritual leader can be booked for defamation, criminal contempt of court and violation of constitutional norms under the Indian Penal Code, which any lay person could sue him over. Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, condemned the remarks. "For him to make the statement in relation to a crime which has shocked the conscience of the country is not only unfortunate, but deeply regrettable," he said.

It is, however, going to be one very long haul because misogyny is deep-rooted in us, both men and women. Even while the protests have "gone viral", Indian political figures continue to make callous, offensive statements like Abhijit Mukherjee's comment about protestors being dented and painted, and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar's pronouncement that a prostitute can't be raped. The dialogue that a vast section of the country is engaged in seems to have eluded people like Ghosh Dastidar and Mukherjee entirely. If this is how leaders with access to media and education react, and if these are the ones setting examples, then how can we hope for the less privileged to think differently? (Deepanjana Pal).

On Wednesday, thousands of women marched through the streets of Delhi, heading for Rajghat - the memorial of India's independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Many held up placards calling for an end to sexual assaults on women. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was among the protesters who called for stringent anti-rape laws. "We are marching to create awareness among people that women should be respected. Because a woman is a mother, a woman is a sister, she is a wife and she is a daughter," Juhi Khan, a member of the National Commission for Women said. Protests have been taking place every day since the brutal gang rape with protesters expressing anger over attitudes to women in India and calling for changes to the laws on violence against women.

Meanwhile, her family has said they would have no objection if a new anti-rape law is named after her. Earlier, India's Junior Education Minister Shashi Tharoor called on the authorities to reveal the name of the gang-rape victim so that the new anti-rape law could be named after her. But some critics called the suggestion "deplorable" and India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party vowed to "oppose any such move".

Varanasi February 2000 (Chris King)

Widows in Charnel Houses

India's invisible widows, divorcees and single women 2014

In "Fire" Deepa Mehta had done a searing portrayal of a wife burning. In February 2000 agitated Hindu extremists, threatening violence, forced the authorities in a northern Indian state to halt her from shooting her subsequent feature film "Water" after a Hindu activist tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Ganges in protest. The film was to be about impoverished Hindu widows and their inter-caste love affairs in the holy Hindu town of Varanasi on the banks of the holy Ganges River - Mehta was requested to leave Varanasi as the authorities feared more trouble from extremists objecting to the Indian-born Canadian director ‘sullying’ their culture by portraying penurious Hindu widows in sexually exploitative situations (Feb 2000 NZ Herald).

Varanasi Feb 2000 (Chris King)

The subject of countless tragic Indian novels and stories, the hapless widows of Varanasi, mainly from eastern Bengal state have for centuries been banished by their children to this filthy and overcrowded city. Over 6000 widows live wretched lives in Varanasi today, cast aside by their sons or other male relatives within weeks of their bereavement. Many are beggars while others are forced into prostitution. Some even belong to rich Bengali families, whose sons were successful overseas businessmen. "To live and die in Varanasi can no longer be the end-all for widows today," said former Justice Dalip Basu of Bengal's High Court, who recently upheld the rights of banished Bengali widows to sue their children for depriving them of a "decent and honourable life." The widows, he declared, must be recognised as "helpless victims of family tragedies and a degenerate value system" (India’s neglected widows BBC 2 Feb 2002 Jill McGivering).

India alone has almost 40 million widows. Traditionally Hinduism frowns on widows remarrying and many have their social and economic power eroded too - although in recent years many widows have benefited from moves to enhance their status. Vrindavan is a pilgrimage town now home to thousands of destitute widows. Ashtabala Mundo is one of thousands of widows who have been driven by poverty to the holy town. She was married off when she was still a baby and widowed when she was still a child. "We have to come and sing here morning, noon and night and for all that I only get is $10 a month," she said. "By the time I’ve paid the rent, I can’t afford to buy cooking oil. So I often go all day without a The women line up, after singing for several hours, to receive a cup of rice and a few teaspoons of lentils. It isn't much. In India, widows are an invisible community. Meera Khanna, one of the conference organisers, says although many widows are treated less harshly nowadays, they still face discrimination and neglect. "We treat widowhood not as a natural stage in the life cycle of a woman, we treat it as some kind of an aberration. We accept death but we don't accept widowhood," she said. "Because somewhere in the Indian psyche, the woman's identity is with the man and the minute he’s not there, it's something that cannot be accepted."

Varanasi Feb 2000 (Chris King)

Mr Madhav of Vrindavan's Shri Bhagwan Bhajan Ashram temple society says more than a thousand widows a day come to his temple alone. "Most are very poor and once their husbands die, they have to come here. We can at least give them food and clothes". Outside, loudspeakers play songs honouring Lord Krishna, in the town associated with the Hindu God. Many of the widows who flock here have nowhere else to go. Hindu widows are not supposed to remarry. With little social or economic status, many become destitute. We met Nirmala Dasi, a frail 85-year-old, begging at the temple gate. When she spoke, she dissolved into tears. "I've been too ill to sing at the temple for the last three days so I haven't had a thing to eat. You don't get anything unless you go there." We were soon surrounded by widows with sad stories to tell. "I spend almost everything I get on a room I share with four others. I've no relatives, or I wouldn't be here," said Mithila. "It's so cold here, I'm always freezing." Widows have been a marginalised and deprived group for generations.

Suttee: Ultimate Immolation

Ram Mohun Ray fought against and brought down the barbaric custom of suttee (‘voluntary’ immolation of the widow along with her dead husband -- in most cases, she would be coerced to die -- again, the custom was practised upon distortion of Hindu scriptures where the covert purpose was to surreptitiously gobble up the property of the deceased). Ram Mohun Ray, using his sharp progressive mind, thorough knowledge of the Hindu scripture, and social status as a rich landlord with connections with a few compassionate British officers and civilians, openly challenged and defeated Hindu orthodox pundits in scholarly debates on the issue of ‘sutee’. At the same time, on the streets of Calcutta, he fought thugs and criminals hired by the zealots.

Sati, Shiva’s wife is said to have immolated herself in shame at her lord’s exclusion from the Vedic sacrificial rites of her father Daksha. She is reincarnated as Parvati Shiva’s long-suffering wife who tries to introduce the wrathful and ascetic god of death and destruction to family life. In his wrath at the sacrifice, Shiva dropped a bead of sweat which became disease. The gods begged Shiva to limit the damage so he divided disease into its many forms. Like the celibate man, sati the chaste ‘virtuous woman’ became worthy of worship. She was equated to a goddess. The Ramayana drives the concept of female chastity to an extreme, where a slur against a woman’s reputation becomes unforgivable. In keeping with her wifely duty Sita followed her husband Rama to the forest and endured hardships for fourteen years. In the final year of her exile she was abducted by the rakshasa king Ravana. Rama rescued her, but before accepting her back he demanded proof of her chastity. Sita jumped onto a pile of burning wood. The flames did not touch her, so pure was she. But despite this the people of Ayodhya were unwilling to accept a woman associated with another man as their queen. So Rama abandoned his wife, despite knowing that she was virtuous; he did not want his family name to be soiled in any way.

Left: Memorial stellae on a former widow-burning ground at Kiken near Mysore, India. The rosette and lifted hand carry motifs originally associated with Inanna and her descent into the underworld. They are also echoed in the Royal Tombs at Ur where whole kingly courts were buried alive (Campbell R105) Center: Roop Kanwar the 18 year old bride who in 1988 was reputedly forced to burn with her husband in the presence of several thousand people. Immolations have occurred as recently as 2006. Right: Suttee: A widow is led to her husbands funeral pyre.

Devutt Pattanaik (R530 177) notes widows who chose not to follow their dead husbands were not allowed to remarry and were forced to live a life of extreme austerity. They were prevented from wearing colored clothes, cosmetics, and ornaments and had to shave their heads. While the living widow was considered inauspicious, the widow who leapt onto her husband's funeral pyre was deified. Her love and chastity, according to popular belief, prevented the flames from hurting her. Such fidelity was not demanded of husbands":

"Even today during marriage ceremonies the bride is reminded of women who obeyed their husbands no matter what: Sita, who followed her husband to the forest; Mandodari, who remained faithful even though her husband, Ravana, was a rapist; Kunti, who, instructed by her husband, slept with gods to bear him children; Gandhari, who blindfolded herself to share her blind husband's handicap; Draupadi, who obeyed her husband, Arjuna, and married his brothers; Anasuya and Arundhati, who even the gods could not seduce. Strategic narratives that glorify female chastity have contributed in many ways to the internment of Hindu women within the household, bound by marriage and maternity. In medieval India the idea of the sati, a chaste wife sharing the death of her husband, became immensely popular, a practice that aroused, and continues to arouse, outrage among Hindu social reformers. The practice had roots in the Brahmanical idea of absolute submission of female personality to that of her husband. Some scholars argue that the reason was economic - a way to prevent a childless widow from claiming her late husband's property."

Laws of Manu, Yajnavalkya and Vijnaneshwar on Widowhood