“At one point I thought that my daughter had come alive. But the voice was actually coming from the pot.” Those were the words of Hitesh Sirohi, a father who had recently lost his daughter. When he went to bury his child, he made a shocking discovery. His shovel hit a clay pot, buried three feet underground, inside which he found a crying baby girl – an incident which served as a grim and visceral reminder of one of the major issues affecting the wellbeing of India’s girls: sex discrimination
The girl – believed to be one week old – has been hospitalised with hypothermia, hypoglycaemia, septicemia and a low platelet count. Her condition is described as “critical” at the time of writing, although Bareilly chief medical officer has said her “condition has improved.” Doctors believe she may have been buried for as long as three to four days.
Sex discrimination leads to female foetuses being aborted and female girls neglected and even murdered. A probe has been launched into the burial of the girl and whilst authorities have yet to ascertain the rationale behind the act, the likelihood of sex discrimination is patent.
“We are trying to find the parents of the baby and we suspect that this must have happened with their consent,” said Bareilly police chief Abhinandan Singh. The probability can be gauged from the fact that “even after the case has been widely publicised, no-one has come forward to claim her.” A criminal case has been initiated against “unknown persons.”
Sex discrimination in India claims the lives of almost 240,000 girls aged beneath the age of five every year. A societal preference for boys over girls means that, in numerous cases, a family offers their daughters substandard levels of nutrition, education, and healthcare compared to their sons.
Meanwhile, prenatal sex discrimination is prevalent. The practice of sex-selective abortion – despite being illegal in India – is widespread, resulting in 10.6 million missing girls and women between 1970 and 2017. These factors contribute to the country’s imbalanced sex ratio which, as of 2019, stands at 930 females for every thousand males. India ranks at 191st out of 201 countries on sex ratio and 43rd out of 51 among Asian nations.
The tragic case from Bareilly exemplifies these worrying trends. Sex discrimination is an issue India vitally needs to grapple with, for the sake of its development and the wellbeing of its girls and women. Female empowerment is a touchstone of the Centre’s ‘Beti Padao, Beti Bachao’ scheme, including reversing the gender gap. This incident should lend impetus to efforts to reverse these trends.