CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – During a press conference in October, Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat, addressed issues of gender inequality for women in India. Accused by a reporter of negatively representing India in a Vanity Fair interview, Sherawat replied, “So what are you asking me? That as a woman, I should lie about the state of women in our country? I didn’t lie. I said the truth!”
The actress proceeded to defend her opinion that India was oppressive to women, citing female infanticide and frequent rapes as indications of the country’s deleterious conditions for its female populace.
Sherawat’s response highlights India’s embittered history with gender equality. Despite its growing status as a regional and global power, a woman’s status in India remains low.
Female infanticide continues to pose a significant problem for the country. For instance, where male children are valued for their perceived economic and cultural benefits, female children are considered burdens to their families.
In Indian society, men often inherit businesses from their families and provide for them in their old age. Contrarily, women are expected to leave their families and join their husband’s, a costly endeavor because of the additional expectation of a dowry from the woman’s family.
While exact figures for female infanticide rates are difficult to pinpoint because of its illegal status in India, the female population rates indicate selectivity toward male children. In comparison to the sex ratio within the United States, which boasts a populace of .97/1 men to women, India boasts a sex ratio of 1.08/1 male to female.
India’s current population stands at 1.27 billion, with approximately 41.4 million more men than women.
The frequency of abortion and postnatal deaths of female babies possibly explain these unusual figures, although the increasing popularity of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) should not be overlooked as a contributing factor.
As a preferable alternative to abortion, PGD is affordable for both wealthy and middle class Indian families. For the cost of a four-hour trip to Thailand and a $10,000 operation, Indian families can avoid the discomfort of bearing female children and secure a male heir.
For girls who make it to adulthood, the discrimination they faced as children manifests in sexual assaults and honor killings. The Washington Post has , furthermore, criticized India for its “endemic sexual violence problem,” and argued that the low status of women was the main reason for the persistence of sexual violence against women.
Just last year, a 23-year-old medical student died after enduring a gang rape on a bus in New Delhi. Her death brought hundreds to the street in mourning and inspired some sexual violence survivors to report their attacks. Sherawat herself commented on the case and empathized with the victim.
“It was an assault on every women living in India. It could have happened to me… or any woman,” Sherawat told the BBC’s Razia Iqbal.
– Emily Bajet
Sources: R. Dasgupta, Only the best…it has to be a boy. New Internationalist (2013), India Online Pages, Elephant Journal, BBC, Huffington Post, CBS News, Washington Post