While researching the attitudes behind arranged marriages and choice marriages in India and the U.S., I stumbled upon the issue of female foeticide and infanticide in India. According to this Huffington Post article, “2.8 million girls in India have gone missing in the last 20 years.” Some other articles report even larger numbers. Millions of baby girls are killed, sometimes before birth via sex-selective abortions and sometimes after birth via God knows what method. The main reason for this is very much related to my project: dowry.
I was dimly aware of this issue, but I didn’t realize it was so widespread. Perhaps that’s partially because I have in mind the example of my dad’s parents, who were very poor but still raised eight children, including five daughters.
But marriage is a very important part of Indian culture, and even though dowry has technically been illegal for fifty years, it still plays a big role in securing good matches. This is why sons, who carry on the family name and bring money into the house, are valued, while daughters, who leave the house when they marry into another family, carrying all of their moveable wealth with them, are considered economic burdens.
I have no interest in perpetuating the commonly held view of India as a (culturally, if not economically) backwards country. In many ways, it’s not backwards at all. However, I do believe that the country is failing its women in many ways, and I think it’s important to expose issues like this and examine how they affect the day-to-day choices that people make. After all, part of my interest in my project topic stems from an interest in gender and a commitment to feminism. Issues of starting a family, pregnancy, and abortion play a big role both in considerations before marriage and in the daily experience of marriage. Abortion in particular is a big issue to consider, because in the context of American politics, I am very much pro-choice. I’m not, however, in favor of gender screening and sex-selective abortions. At the same time, I can’t imagine that even those who make that kind of decision make it without difficulty. I’m curious to see how this issue will work into my research.