When will this stop?!

Disturbing news broke out to start the week:

Thirty polythene bags stuffed with the body parts of female fetuses and newly born babies have been found in a dry well near a private clinic in the east Indian state of Orissa, police said on Monday.

Police suspect the body parts – mainly skulls and bones – were dumped in the well shortly after birth or abortion at the clinic in Nayagarh district, 90 km (55 miles) southwest of the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The manager of the clinic has been arrested.

“Prima facie seems to indicate female feticide but we can’t be sure until forensic examinations are conducted,” said B.K. Sharma, Orissa’s crime branch inspector-general of police.

Police said they searched the well after seven female fetuses, also packed into polythene bags, were found dumped in a deserted area in a nearby village a week ago.

Officials said they believed the two cases were linked and are part of an organized racket involved in female feticide.

I usually write at least a couple of lines with my opinion of a news item, but I’m just shell-shocked into silence with this one.

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56 thoughts on “When will this stop?!

  1. Mahendra,
    What I am about to say is comparably gruesome:
    This is happening because of Indian political and social policies. Abortion is legal, but sex determination is not. In a primitive social setup like ours, this goes against the grain of the great Indian ethos, where the male baby is welcome, and the female is not. Put crudely, there is a market for male babies and none for female ones. The Government does not recognise this right of individuals to chose the sex of their babies. So what do these people do? Get the sex verified in some illegal clinic, if possible, and go for an abortion. If not possible, they give birth to the babies, and upon discovering that they are not boys, kill them in cold blood, and dump them.
    By its own righteousness and will to control the choices of individuals, the Government is making outlaws of ordinary people, and turning them to become criminals. In trying to ban sex determination, they are encouraging female infanticide and feticide.
    The time when an embryo becomes a fetus is around 3 months. Once the abortion is done (illegally) after this time period, this becomes a murder of an unborn human being. Hence it is evil.
    However, the very attempt to rectify this by banning sex determination is idiotic and problematic. Let people free to decide the sex of their babies, and this will greatly reduce in incidence. This is not a problem of the problem itself. This is a problem of the solution.

  2. Sree,
    If a woman has a right to an abortion, she has the right to choose which one to abort: male or female. Obviously, for any right thinking individual, this is repugnant to want only males, but every individual has the right to be wrong. This is a consequence of economic backwardness engendered by years of socialism. You won’t find this in more modern societies. In most countries in the world, you can check the sex of the embryo freely (hell, you can do it over the internet). You can’t and shouldn’t stop people from deciding how they want their families to be….if they want all male families, the hell with them!

  3. Having gone into that thread with all its comments, I guess I am in a minority of ONE. So the chances of my being correct is infinitesimally higher! 🙂
    Mahendra, what you started out with in that blog was a false premise: once an egg is formed by fertilisation, it does not acquire rights. That right is acquired after 12 weeks of pregnancy, whence it is known as a fetus (and not a zygote or an embryo). Feticide is morally, medically, and legally wrong. Abortion is not.
    For the first time, I find myself surprised to disagree with M!

  4. Ramana…
    Its not a matter of the woman having ‘rights’.
    But its repercussions on the society in the long run.

  5. Sree,
    Oh, come, come!! All this social engineering is a collectivist mindset (where an elite bunch of politicians and bureaucrats with their left-liberal thinkers plot on a graph all our collective lives and how we should live) and, basically, hogwash. We have all been brought up with this brainwashed from school, that the mai-baap sarkar will decide to do all the good and make everyone good. To make others good, the State needs control over its people: don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t go to church, don’t gamble, don’t watch this movie, don’t read that book….Totalitarianism has its roots right here, in this philosophy. ‘Repercussions’: at least babies won’t be slaughtered and stuffed in plastic bags!

  6. Sree: I tend to agree with Ramana – “society” doesn’t override a woman’s right to sex-selective abortion. That would be a classic case of collectivism, where individual rights are obliterated.

    If the “society” believes gender imbalance is bad, it should create the culture that will reverse the trend, not abrogate individual rights to itself (meaning government).

    1. I still disagree with you – though not like on the other blog, but the exact opposite. I do not think a foetus has rights. For an exact definition and discussion of what I believe in this regard: see this ARI article.
    2. So you advocate legalization of sex determination tests in India! You say this will reduce female infanticide. It is a very interesting and contrarian opinion, and you’ve put me into “unquiet” mode again! 🙂

  7. Hi Mahendra and Ram…

    and you’ve put me into “unquiet” mode again! //
    same here . I am not able to agree with Ram but I unable to come up with a good solution either.

    How can we legalise sex determination tests?
    Even if the ethics or lack of it is set aside , what would be the plight of women ?
    Another cruelty metted out by husbands and in-laws !
    undergoing multiple MTPs.
    There are still a lot of ppl who accept ‘fate’ when there is lack of facility. If that becomes freely available there’d be pandemonium .

    Instead of babies going into plastic bags..more women would go into body bags.

  8. Mahendra,

    I was also shocked into silence by this, but I am more concerned by the tacit agreement with the principles that underlie this problem shown by the commentors who believe the answer is to allow sex determination tests. Reproductive rights are intended to allow women control over when and how they become pregnant. They are not a means to make base discrimination against women (even in-vitro) more palatable to a given society. And even if I grant that every individual has the right to be wrong; society has a right and responsibility to stand against those whose actions violate the bounds of reasonably ethical behavior.

    It is not o.k. for a family to preference male children, not in any way. I know that policy is tricky. I understand the history which underlies these particular issues. But the only way to stop this kind of behavior is to educate the children. To teach them, by our actions, that everyone has worth. And that the male, solely by virtue of being a male, does not have higher moral value than the female. Not as an adult, not as a child, and not in the womb.

  9. Aikaterine: thanks for visiting. I agree that “society has a right and responsibility to stand against those whose actions violate the bounds of” what it considers “reasonably ethical behavior” – words not in quotes inserted.

    The insertion is the reason I think making a law against it is crossing the line and stepping on individual rights. The definition of what constitutes reasonable ethical behavior has changed and evolved throughout mankind’s history. It has taken us centuries to get to a point where we now understand, value, and respect individual rights (to varied extents). We cannot afford to step backwards. I reiterate my response to Sree in comment #9 above. However, even if I’m against making it a law, I still think society should create the culture that brings about the requisite balance of gender in this situation.

    That’s why I fully and wholeheartedly agree that the way to bring about the balance is through education. Through teaching, through our actions, and so on. Also, the counter response needs to be equally strong: we should “shun” those who indulge in such practices, and ostracize them.

  10. Mahendra,
    No. I don’t think you can bring in education in isolation. It always comes piggy back over economic prosperity. So, you have to create a society where people can become rich, or at the least, escape poverty. Then these things will follow.
    As far as the ARI article is concerned, that is in context to the right of an unborn versus the right of the mother. Here, I made a distinction between an embryo (which is an evolving mass of cells up to 12 weeks of age) and a fetus which now has developing organs. Because it is considered to be akin to a human being (with its head, limbs and other organs) it is considered illegal and immoral to kill it. In those situations where the mother’s life is at stake, its right has to be subsidiary to the mother’s right to life.

  11. Aikaterine,
    Society has no right to govern over family and individual related issues. By what right can a society tell a woman which children to have or not to?
    You said “Reproductive rights are intended to allow women control over when and how they become pregnant. “. There are no special rights called reproductive rights. There are individual rights, which can vary in specific applications, but are essentially the same in principle. You know, I agree with your feel for the issue, but then you CANNOT govern others’ choices. If they want males, let them.
    Social Engineer Sree, if this is allowed to happen, the sex ratio will be distorted (with fewer females), and the market demand will be for females. Then people will kill male fetuses, and then we will all shout that male feticide and sex determination should be banned…..

  12. Mahendrap –

    And thank you, as well, for stopping by mine. I am glad to have stumbled upon your little piece of the web. I like the debate here.

    Talking about individual rights is nice, in theory. It is important to remember the the concept of an individual right only makes sense if there is an ‘autonomous individual’ to whom those rights can be attached. An individual capable of not only making decisions without the influence of anyone or anything else; but also acting on an individual right without outside influence. And that type of autonomy does not exist. Our sense of self is intrinsically tied to others, whether it is family, friends, pets, nature – whatever. We do not exist in a vacuum, we are not autonomous. An ‘Individual Right’ as theory is interesting to debate, but it does not exist.

    You make a very good point about counter response- shunning and ostracizing those who engage in the practice of sex determination. But all laws have their genesis in just such actions. Law is, in a very real way, the tool by which advanced industrial societies shun and ostracize people who violate the norms which a society holds in high regard. As an outsider, one of the ways I can judge what is important to a given society is to look at structure and content of their laws. Law outlines which behaviors a society feel are worthy of disdain.

  13. I hit submit by mistake. I was just going to finish up by saying that:

    You are appalled, rightly, by this type of gender discrimination. As are many of your fellow countrymen. I would think that you would want to bring the full weight of societal pressure to bear on those who discriminate against the female. And your laws are the most effective vehicle through which to accomplish that.

  14. Rambodoc,

    Society, by definition, governs family and individual issues. Everything you do, everything you buy, everything you think is governed in one way or another by the society in which you were raised and now live. Law is just the process of putting the most important moral rules on paper and funding a police force to enforce those rules.

    So, you can argue that this particular moral concern is not worthy of being made law. But you cannot argue that society has no right to govern the individual. Again, by definition, society governs the individual.

  15. Rambodoc: I never said education in isolation will work. I agree that economic prosperity is required. But that by itself, without a cultural change through education, will not help – so the idea was just to emphasize the education aspect, not consider it in isolation. “Hence the most disturbing fact is that the more prosperous states have wider imbalance of sex ratio.” – is another finding.

    I still disagree with you regarding “rights” of a fetus. “Rights, do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born”, to quote Rand herself. The health of the mother is irrelevant. For another illustrative description of what I’m saying see this article.

  16. Aikaterene:

    I think we’ve entered the classic “Individualism vs. Collectivism” debate here, and I am an individualist. An individual does live in a social context, but individual rights exist not just in theory but in practice as well. The extent to which a society is civilized is determined by the extent to which it respects individual rights. While society has every right to morally condemn what it considers immoral, that doesn’t mean it always should be converted into legislation.

    It is another aspect altogether, that in many cases, cultural condemnation works, where legislation doesn’t.

  17. Rambodoc:

    Coming back to the original topic: “if this is allowed to happen, the sex ratio will be distorted (with fewer females), and the market demand will be for females. Then people will kill male fetuses.”

    Many experts argue and it is now generally conceded that this does not happen at all. In fact, there are several dangers that have been actually observed and documented: increase in angry young unmarried men increases overall crime in the society, rape and abuse cases increase, sex trafficking of women increases, and so on. The economist supply-demand theory doesn’t apply in this case. Unfortunately. Sigh.

  18. Mahendra,
    The article says:”Fetuses and embryos are not actual human beings; they are potential human beings. They have no rights until they exist apart from the mother, i.e., at birth. This is not to condone the morality of arbitrarily delaying an abortion until the last months of pregnancy–when the fetus is approaching humanness.”
    I am not sure this contention is biologically rational. A fetus of even 24 weeks, and more likely 28 weeks, is likely to survive on its own. It is not merely a potential human being. It is almost as much a formed human being as a newborn baby. It can, for all we know (and I am not very sure at this point in time), hear sounds, and feel pain (more unsure). It definitely moves like a newborn baby. How can we not give it the status of a newborn baby? It is only when the age of viability is not reached (and that is considered at 28 weeks), that you can say it is only a potential, and not a real human being with its own rights. So I guess I stand at odds with the Objectivist school in this respect.

  19. Mahendra,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    “The extent to which a society is civilized is determined by the extent to which it respects individual rights.”

    I would argue that a better and more realistic measure of the level of civilization in a given society is the well-being of the citizens who make it up. America was founded on the concept of individual rights, and we are just now beginning to see how flawed that theory is. It is a theory which makes sense to men, more than women. Which is interesting in this context.

    “It is another aspect altogether, that in many cases, cultural condemnation works, where legislation doesn’t.”

    You have a very good point here. And; especially if this is very much the case in India, then it might make more sense to keep this out of the law books; until the law becomes just as good – if not better – than cultural condemnation.

    It is easy to say the we have been reduced to the individualism vs. collectivism debate and right that off as irrelevant. However, it really is not. So much social discrimination stems from the male dominated ideal of the individual. In fact, in societies that do not have a concept of the individual, discrimination – of all forms – is unheard of. It is, unfortunately, central to this and many other issues.

    I will leave you guys to continue debating this topic. And I look forward to reading more of your articles. Thank you for the conversation.

  20. Ram..
    I was wondering if the suggesions u were putting forth are practical.
    That an individual should have absolute rights in all aspects of his life and the state’s interference shd be minimal.
    I was thinking what would happen if laws against dowry , harrassment and domestic violence was also striked out. I mean , one can demand dowry and if another wants to give , its their look out.
    But I think these kinds of arguments are based on assumptions that people are capable of taking the right decisions.
    But sadly ,not all are educated or independent. These laws defenitely help the poorer sections of the society. Though I have not come across any infanticide case , I see women complaining about ‘harrassment’ frequently . I am also happy to say that just a small ‘talk’ with the husbands would set things right. That is only because of the threat of criminal charges.
    The rich may circumvent Law , ‘buy’ it or go for an expensive compromise , but atleast for the lower strata , the Law helps.

  21. As far as my knowledge of law goes, I thought it is supposed to protect the rights of individuals, and not effect proactively what a few babus think is good for others. In cases where force is effected in instances of dowry or sati or prevention of widow remarriage, these are justifiably cases where the law should step in.

  22. Hi all

    Lots of debate on the issue. What I find disturbing here is Rambodoc’s argument and the dilemma which he leaves in others mind who have commented here.

    “Abortion is legal, but sex determination is not. In a primitive social setup like ours, this goes against the grain of the great Indian ethos, where the male baby is welcome, and the female is not.” – Rambodoc

    Has he got it totally wrong from the beginning or is it me? If I understand the logic correctly, then abortion is legal, for the purpose of overcoming the unintended pregnancy when it is not convenient for the parents to raise the baby for various reasons irrespective of the sex of the baby. Sex determination is not legal, because it will lead to enormous gender imbalance in the society like India where male baby is more preferred for the reasons which most of us are aware.

    “Society has no right to govern over family and individual related issues. By what right can a society tell a woman which children to have or not to?” – Rambodoc
    But the society has the responsibility to foresee the issues which will crop up if it doesn’t act in time to maintain the gender balance! Just the way society foresees the population crisis and recommends birth control and not to have more than two kids. Next I guess Rambodoc would argue Society/Govt. recommendation on birth control is violation of individual rights! (although its quite a different issue)

    “If they want males, let them.
    Social Engineer Sree, if this is allowed to happen, the sex ratio will be distorted (with fewer females), and the market demand will be for females. Then people will kill male fetuses, and then we will all shout that male feticide and sex determination should be banned…..” -Rambodoc

    this sounds immature to me… this is not a Stock market, RBI takes a measure today and you see its impact in a week or a month. These steps will have its impact on generations to come.

    I really wonder why the debate is not focusing on the gender inequality as its root cause and appropriate measures to be taken in relation to female infanticide?!

    I see nature has designed the sex ratio as 1:1 which has led to the shaping of the society in which we live in. If nature has designed the sex ratio as 1:2orX (be it male of female)then bigamy or polygamy would be legal. I find it strange if one wants to allow sex ratio distortion under the name of individual rights, since as a society we are incapable of rectifying root evil of gender inequality.

    Its like saying I am very much concerned about individual rights and least bothered about gender inequality, it doesn’t even matter if my son/daughter or grandson/granddaughter lives in a society with a significant gender imbalance and associated social issues. (I have just recorded my views here. Thanks)

  23. I didn’t know that a post that ended in shell-shocked silence would lead to a prolific debate. This is the first time I’m getting so many comments on a post, so please forgive me if I’m not handling it well. By the time I’ve thought about what to write and start writing, there’s another comment being posted!

    First, let me sincerely thank you for making this a platform for a wonderful exchange of ideas. I like the fact that my readers are focusing on issues, not personalizing the debate, and engaging in a meaningful conversation. My gratitude to all of you. Thiru – thanks for visiting and contributing – feel free!

    Second, let me try to streamline the debate. Except Rambodoc, everyone else (including me) agrees that society has to do *something* to address the gender imbalance. The suggested mechanisms to do so are under debate (legislation vs. social/cultural, individual rights vs. society, etc.), but we all agree that the gender imbalance needs to be addressed. Rambodoc argues that legalizing sex determination tests may skew the gender imbalance further, but he believes that the situation will reach a tipping point after which the trend will reverse. (And Rambodoc: the foetus/baby differentiation with respect to individual rights is also something I would like to ‘agree to disagree’ with at present and leave it aside.)

    Rambodoc/Others: please correct me if I’m fundamentally wrong in the summary above. If there are minor edits you wish to make, let it aside for the sake of a more focused discussion.

    So with this summary: what will *really* happen if we let the gender imbalance get worse? Unfortunately, no nation has had the courage to experiment. Sex determination tests were legal in South Korea and when the gender imbalance reached alarming levels, they were outlawed. Will a worse gender ratio ever empower women?

    The National Population Stabilization Fund says:

    “No. India remains a highly patriarchal society where women are marginalised and denied development benefits. In some districts with low sex ratios, the adverse impact is already visible with many men not being able to find wives. Practices like polyandry are being reported, as also “bride price” and “bride selling” under which women are “bought”/ “sold” for a price. Thus, in the prevailing social context, a further fall in numbers will only lead to increased violence against women and denial of rights rather than empowerment.”

    A paper “Abnormal sex ratios in human populations: Causes and consequences” has an overall negative view like that I described in comment #21 above, but also lists some surprising positives. However, I am inclined to weight the negatives more than the positives (as do the authors), but again this is all speculation.

    Does anyone know of sex determination tests being legal in a country and what the consequences were? Any other thoughts/ideas on this core topic of debate?

  24. Thiru, Mahendra, Sree and all unsuspecting readers,
    Please get one thing straight:
    The women:men sex ratio in India is one of the LOWEST in the world (meaning there are fewer women than men). AND the reason for this is NOT, repeat NOT, sex determination and female feticide or selective abortion of female fetuses. These are extremely miniscule in percentage as a cause of this phenomenon. So what is the main cause? It is the fact that FEMALE MORTALITY IN INDIA IS MUCH, MUCH HIGHER THAN MALE MORTALITY. (emphasis added, not meant to be construed as shouting). And, that, guys and girls, is the real reason. Females don’t get adequate and timely treatment, you understand?
    The prevention of sex determination Act came out in 1994. Since that time, the sex ratio in children is becoming more and more skewed in favor of males. So what is the purpose of this Act? Forget for a moment the concept of individual rights, just who is benefited by it? Not the oppressed woman, not the tax payers (who are paying for everything, ultimately), and not the female babies who are getting murdered.
    The real beneficiaries are the feminist groups (who can keep shouting about another issue), the shady clinics that participate in this trade, and the police and politicians who profit from the grease involving the illegality of this multi-crore business.
    Sex determination is available, as I said before, via the internet. In all free countries, you can do it. No problem. If you need any proof that all of you are wrong (in that the issue is overall prosperity, health infrastructure building, and modernisation to overcome the stupid gender bias), then consider WHY this sex ratio is going from bad to worse in spite of all your laws. On top of that, female feticide is increasing. Why?

  25. Hi Mr.Ramdoc and readers

    I believe your response still hasn’t changed any facts.

    Of course that is a fact.For statistics one might read this blog post by Kavita N Ramdas (CEO of Global Fund for Women). A short excerpt from the blog…(check here)

    “India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females, an imbalance that has increased over time. The birth of a girl is viewed as a misfortune, and son-preference leads to a frightening pattern of neglect and active discrimination. Ironically, the increased prosperity of the Indian middle class has only deepened the trend as ultrasound technology is used to perform sex-selective abortions. The deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death results specifically from gender discrimination. Of the 15 million girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.” Kavita N Ramdas (CEO of Global Fund for Women)

    Rambodoc says – “And, that, guys and girls, is the real reason. Females don’t get adequate and timely treatment, you understand?”
    I could not follow what he is trying convey…

    Rambodoc continues – ” The prevention of sex determination Act came out in 1994. Since that time, the sex ratio in children is becoming more and more skewed in favor of males. So what is the purpose of this Act?”

    Does he meant to conclude the Act led to skewing of ratio in favor of male or the Act is ineffective? and so we need to get rid of the Act?

    Above all if I am wrong, let us see what the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen had reported on this issue based on his study (check here)

    a short excerpt from his essay in Frontline issue from the past…

    “Natality inequality: Given a preference for boys over girls that many male-dominated societies have, gender inequality can manifest itself in the form of the parents wanting the newborn to be a boy rather than a girl. There was a time when this could be no more than a wish (a daydream or a nightmare, depending on one’s perspective), but with the availability of modern techniques to determine the gender of the foetus, sex-selective abortion has become common in many countries. It is particularly prevalent in East Asia, in China and South Korea in particular, but also in Singapore and Taiwan, and it is beginning to emerge as a statistically significant phenomenon in India and South Asia as well. This is high-tech sexism.” – Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

    I bring here these informations just to get ourself clarified of the prevailing true situation based on facts.
    Thanks to Mahendra for providing the opportunity.

  26. You know, I said I would not post again. But here I am.

    First, Keep talking Thiru.You are making very valid points that need to me be made.


    “The suggested mechanisms to do so are under debate (legislation vs. social/cultural, individual rights vs. society, etc.),”

    Individualism vs. collectivism is not a mechanism for change, it is a belief system which underlies the way you view everything relating to the society in which you live. The words ‘individual rights vs. society’ are very dangerous to use. You can believe that humans are not autonomous, and still use the imaginary concept of individual rights to help rationalize ethical values – which is not bad – as long as you remember that they are ideals and should not trump all other views (i.e. collectivism).

    So, the only suggested mechanisms up for argument are legislation vs. social/cultural.

  27. Thanks for the article, Thiru.
    Your extracts were very selective. The figures in your quote are about child mortality, not female feticide. There are an estimated 35/37 million women dead (1986 figures of Amartya Sen). How many female feticide cases are recorded every year?
    Overall, I think you can come to the conclusion you want, but my argument against sex determination prevention is fundamentally philosophical. And bolstered by reality. I think any further explanation from me wouldn’t really benefit you as you seem to have a problem understanding my language.

  28. Thanks for the response, Rambodoc.

    Yes the figures were indeed on child mortality (dissecting female child mortality, which is relevant to the point you brought up here and in relation to gender imbalance) and of course not on FEMALE FETICIDE which is like asking for a statistics on the number of premarital sex in a conserved society like India (bear with me for the strong analogy).
    “I think any further explanation from me wouldn’t really benefit you as you seem to have a problem understanding my language.” – Rambodoc

    Yes indeed I do have problems in understanding your language. At the most I can respect your fundamentally philosophical argument, but agree to disagree with it. Thanks Mr. Rambodoc.

    Thanks Mahendra, aikaterine and all, had a good exploration on the issue!

  29. Rambodoc –

    I will say this, and then leave you guys alone to continue the debate. Largely because I do not think that I have more to add. It is clear to an outside reader that Thiru did not have a problem understanding your language. Please do not write off the important points that they had as some sort of language issue. Your arguments are flawed, not your language.

  30. If child mortality is largely responsible for the gender imbalance, and female foeticide is not, then are sex determination tests really that detrimental to society? I do not find anyone answering this point of Rambodoc either.

    We’re not the only ones engaged in this debate, as this Indian Express column more than a year ago shows:

    “What if aware, literate Indian women, who are not necessarily influenced by their families, consciously seek to give birth to male children by exercising their right to abortion? Here we confront one of the biggest conundrums in this debate: a woman’s right to abortion — a crucial right that has been the centerpiece of many a feminist struggle the world over — militates against the right of the girl child to exist, which is again a crucial social and feminist concern. How do we reconcile these two rights? Or, more to the point, is it possible to reconcile these two rights? Incidentally, the question was raised by feminist scholar, Zarina Bhatta, during a public conversation between Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum last month. Both the Nobel laureate and internationally renowned professor of ethics found it difficult to come up with a neat answer to it.

    Since the socially desirable does not translate seamlessly into the personally desirable we would, at some point, have to grapple with the issue of personal choice. Obviously change cannot be forced at the personal level, and laws can only go so far. All we can do is attempt to change the factors that dictate such a choice by working to improve the social status accorded to our daughters, through assured schooling, healthcare, employment oppportunities, and substantive legal equality.”

  31. Mahendra…

    The solution Ram suggests is more like jumping from the frying pan to the fire. We may not have female infanticide , but we will have more numbers of women undergoing multiple MTPs. I think I am repeating myself 😦

    //All we can do is attempt to change the factors that dictate such a choice by working to improve the social status accorded to our daughters, through assured schooling, healthcare, employment oppportunities, and substantive legal equality.” //
    Now that would be a step in the right direction.

  32. mahendrap wrote:

    … the question was raised by feminist scholar, Zarina Bhatta, during a public conversation between Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum last month. Both the Nobel laureate and internationally renowned professor of ethics found it difficult to come up with a neat answer to it.

    Too bad that the question was put to two persons who are committed to engineer self’s to create societies as they think ought to be. The answer is quite simple. A woman’s right to abortion does not conflict with “the right of the girl child to exist”. A woman’t right to abort the fetus, male or female, that she carries, is absolute and inalienable. It is her prerogative, and hers alone, to carry and nourish it to full term or not. A girl child’s right to exist is absolute, too, just as that of a male child. No one, except her/himself, has the right to kill or maim her/him.

    “What if aware, literate Indian women, who are not necessarily influenced by their families, consciously seek to give birth to male children by exercising their right to abortion?”

    What if aware, literate Indian women, who are not necessarily influenced forced by their friends, consciously seek to pierce their tongues, lips, and more? Of course, they can!

  33. Dear Rational Fool,
    Your comment boxes are not working for me. There is a question mark in place of a verification code. But you have a great thought-blog going, I must say!

  34. The Rational Fool & Rambodoc: it is clear that you’re advocating the right of Indian women to have access to sex determination tests. What you seem to be unconcerned about (to others, not to me) is what will happen as a result – the gender imbalance.

    It has been commented time and again, that access to sex determination will result in a gender imbalance. It also has been promoted by Rambodoc and supported by myself that sex determination is not the real reason that is contributing to the gender imbalance.

    So what is the debate all about?

  35. Mahendra,

    What is the optimal sex ratio? Towards what objective? Zero population growth? +1%? -1%? What about couples who choose not to have any baby or 27 babies? What about men and women who decide not to marry or delay marriage? Are you going to let a bunch of bureaucrats, sitting in Delhi meddle with these very personal choices?

    If the idea is to deter sex discrimination and restore some balance in the sex-ratio in the short-term, there are other less intrusive methods available , for example, tax-credits or tax-breaks for having female babies. I am not advocating these, for I have not thought through their implications; just using them for illustrative purpose. Besides, I am a zero or bare minimal tax advocate 🙂

  36. The optimal sex ratio is 1:1. The objective is not related to population growth, but to gender equality. It is seen everywhere that an adversely low female:male ratio leads to disempowerment of women. And no, I’m not for letting bureaucrats decide anything related to personal choices. You can see in all the comments above that I’ve vigorously defended individual rights and opposed any kind of legislation in this regard!

    In fact, I don’t know if I’m for any kind of government interference in the matter, as I believe this is primarily a cultural and social issue, that will not be solved without a change in the mindset of people. Therefore, I think I may be opposed to any ‘less intrusive’ method too – since government encroachment on individual rights is very dangerous.

    The other commentators in this forum are advocating strong government involvement, including legislation, without which they think nothing much can be achieved. Also, they’re opposed to legalizing sex determination tests as they think this will worsen the problem.

    So overall, I’m very much with you, as I said before. Now, I’ll turn it over to the others.

  37. I took the time to read all of the above comments. There are several confused perspectives being thrown around.

    First, Thiru and Aikaterine’s views are utterly invalid–not just false. Individualism is a not a concocted social construct; it is a philosophical identification of the ontological order of things: one can have no society or speak of any as such without first identifying the existence of individual human beings.

    Regarding Aikaterine’s mystical references to how we are all inextricably (somehow) connected to one another, there is a confusion of the metaphysically given versus the man-made. Identities such as father, mother, brother, husband, wife, etc. (examples Aikaterine cited) are *man-made* constructs of psychological identity–they are not the essential defining characteristics of individual men. You can either assume such an identity or shrug it off; but you cannot deny your metaphysically given identity (i.e., essential nature) as an individual conceptual (i.e., thinking) human being. You have no choice about the fact that you have a conceptual consciousness, but you have the choice whether to think or not.

    Anyway, I won’t go into all of that more.

    Regarding the issue of this post: I agree that governments have no business legislating on the sex ratio or the right to choose abortion. Further, every parent has the right to have babies of whatever gender. To that end, I do advocate planned pregnancies, including allowing parents to choose the sex and other genetic traits of the fetus. All of these actions have no criminal element in them, since a crime is a violation of rights. Now, infanticide–which is killing a baby who is born–is a crime, and it is at this point that the government should step in and prosecute/punish the criminals; this requires no new and unique legislation pertaining to pregnancies or infanticide.

    And no, I don’t believe education is not the key to resolving this matter.

  38. Ergo –

    What is a “metaphysically given identity”. That terminology does not make any sense, unless you are equating metaphysics with a god or god-like object and not the philosophical study of metaphysics. Are you meaning to say something like “God given identity”? If that is the case, and ignoring any arguments relating to God or Gods being a human construct, your statement is still nonsensical.

    We are talking about the ideal of an autonomous individual self vs. a self tied to others. I will grant you that we are physically individual beings, but that is not the argument we are referencing. And I can assure you that both views are valid in their own way. My references are not “mystical”, they are held by many philosophers and are seriously debated within the academic community – as are Rambodoc and Mahendra’s. Further, we can talk about and have societies in which we do not identify an autonomous individual self. In point of fact, there are cultures in the world right now who do not have a concept or a word for “I”. Their only concept of self is a “we”.

    Both ideals (the ‘autonomous individual self’ and the ‘self tied to others’) are constructs of the human psyche. They are models that we use to elucidate our ‘selves’. The question is not whether one is right or wrong, valid or invalid, those are irrelevant terms in this context. The question is which one describes the ‘self’ best.

  39. Aikaterine,

    Although this is not the thread to pursue this line of argument, I’ll offer my response.

    “Metaphysically given” refers to necessary facts of reality (as opposed to contingent or created facts of reality) For example, that we are conceptual beings is a metaphysically given fact (i.e., essence of man qua man); that we build skyscrapers is a contingent or created (i.e., man-made) fact of reality.

    Regaring “autonomous individual self” versus “self tied to others,” for reasons given in my previous comment, the “self tied to others” is a contingent/created fact of reality, that can be either accepted or shrugged off and whose moral status needs to be evaluated and subsequently rejected or accepted.

    Further, metaphysically, there is no other “self” other than and prior to the individual self. This is one of the many self-evidencies that bear the magnitude of an axiom (although it is not an axiom proper). The opposite of individual self is the collective self; however, the collective self is a contradiction because the concept “self” is hierarchically dependant on the conceptual differentiation of individual entities, in this case, conscious entities, i.e., human beings.

    Therefore, for you to even make the hypothetical argument that there are non-individual selves or “self tied with others”, you would have to postulate the existence of a collective consciousness that has the awareness of collective selves–i.e., a consciousness of itself that is different from the individual consciousness of itself.

    If you argue that there is collective consciousness, then you must answer: 1) how many collective consciousnesses are there? 2) what number of individuals does it take to constitute a collective consciousnesss? 3) if individuals constitute collective consciousness, then do the constituting individuals themselves have consciousness? 4) if constituting individuals do not have consciousness (a contradiction of an axiomatic premise), then how and from where does consciousness arise at the collective level? 5) if constituting individuals *do* have consciousness (an axiomatic premise), then it must be an attribute of individuals not collectives; in which case, where is the consciousness of collectives located?–In some supernatural firmament in ether?

    Therefore, the individual self is the only type of self there is/there can be–by logical necessity, i.e., it is a metaphysically given fact.

    Now, I’d like to point out a weakness in the method of your argument. You point to something that *is* and argue that therefore it *ought* to be.

    You point to real cultures that exist “right now who do not have a concept or a word for “I”. Their only concept of the self is a “we.” And this your basis to doubt (or reject) to metaphysically necessary concept of the individual self, i.e. “I”.

    Just because there exists people who are irrational, who refuse to be rational, does not mean that their actions are justified or that their irrational beliefs are valid.

    Another weakness in your method of argument is the appeal to authority; in this case, you state philosophers who are apparently “wrestling” or “grappling” with the issues of individual self versus collective self. Firstly, philosophers can (and most predominantly are) wrong. Second, this particular notion of the “collective self” has been largely discarded by contemporary philosophers. Third, what a philosopher says or does does not make a fact a fact.

    Mahendrap, sorry for this massive detour! 🙂

  40. Aikaterine, nice to see you back from your trip, and Ergo, welcome to this post!

    Regarding the dispute in the above two comments, I have absolutely no doubts. I am completely with Ergo. And no need for any apologies – feel free to continue the debate as long as it is delineated from the main topic.

    Ergo: Thanks for taking the time to go through all the comments. However, there are some issues or questions left unanswered in my mind and thus possibly still unaddressed. They are as follows:

    1. Morality of Feticide: Rambodoc and I disagree about feticide. While he says: Feticide is morally, medically, and legally wrong”, I say it is not.

    2. You did comment on the morality of sex determination tests, by saying you do advocate them, and that they do not constitute a criminal act, but did not comment on the possible repercussions it may have, especially in a country like India.

    3. By saying something is not the key to resolving the matter, you’re implicitly acknowledging that there is an issue that needs resolution. But you do not offer any alternative keys. You have written on your blog:

    “Irrational ideas and destructive premises such as altruism, collectivism, and mysticism–that are the causes of evils such as female infanticide and corruption in the state–cannot be fought at the concrete level or countered by brute force. It has to be invalidated, uprooted, and eliminated at the core, i.e., at the level of each individual’s mind and philosophy.”

    Now, if education is not the way to invalidate, uproot, and eliminate at the core each individual’s mind and philosophy, what is the way? By education, I do not mean it in the literal sense of academic education via schools and colleges, but in the true meaning of it: An instructive or enlightening experience that can happen in a multitude of ways.

    I’ve also responded in my comments above that education is not the only way, but one of the important ones, even if it’s not the only one (as I think this issue needs to be tackled on several different levels). If education is not one of the ways to resolve this issue, what is?

  41. Mahendrap,

    This issue is terribly complex and requires the understanding of a great body of underlying interconnected principles. I’ll try as briefly as I can to give a decent framework.

    1) To say that an entity has no rights is not to say that the entity should be slaughtered, killed, or disposed off recklessly or wantonly.

    2) Rights are moral principles that pertain *only* to action–specifically, to freedom of action. Life is a process of self-generated action; thus, right to life is the right to *act* towards self-preservation and self-sustenance.

    3) Rights are moral principles that are applicable to only human beings since only humans are moral beings; further, “individual right” is a redundancy (albeit a necessary redundancy) because only individuals can have rights; groups have no rights other than and beyond those of its constituting individuals.

    3) One man’s rights imposes only a negative obligation on others to not violate his rights. No one’s rights can ever conflict with each other. Thus, one entity’s right to life cannot conflict with another entity’s right to life.

    4) Rights cannot exist where force exists. Thus, criminals have limited to no rights; for example, I can kill a criminal in self-defense if he threatens my life.

    5) Since rights pertain to actions, and some actions are beyond the abilities of young infants and children, the voluntary parent (who chose to have children) or voluntary legal guardians are entrusted with the responsibility of administering the rightful actions of their children.

    Given the above, a fetus has no rights because it is not an individual but a part of its host; it lives not as an individual entity but as a part of an entity; parts of entities have no rights (e.g., hands, livers, kidneys, etc.)

    If a fetus were granted the right to life, it would conflict with the existing and actual rights of an actual, individual, independent, moral, entity, i.e., mother. Remember that Rights among individuals do not conflict. In the face of a contradiction, one of the premises is wrong. Since it is false to deny that the mother has the right to life, the premise that the fetus has a right to life must be false.

    If a fetus had the right to life, then it would create an *active* obligation on the mother to sustain the life of the fetus inside her and administer legal obligations on behalf of the fetus *against* her own wishes, i.e., by force and not voluntarily. Rights cannot exist under force and do not create *active* or positive obligations or duties on people. This is another conflict arising due to faulty premises.

    Finally, to say that a fetus has no rights is not to permit wanton and reckless slaughter of fetuses–that would be immoral albeit not illegal. It should not be illegal to kill and eat animals or conduct animal fights as a sport, although it is immoral and pathologically depraved to find pleasure in wanton killing of animals or enjoying the bloody sport. All criminal acts must be legally punished; all immoral acts must be vociferously condemned and not tolerated. Aborting a fetus is not a criminal act (although, if done wantonly, recklessly, and repeatedly, it becomes grounds for moral condemnation); killing a female infant child (infanticide) is a criminal act that should be punishable by law.

    Regarding education: Thanks for raising my quote from my blog. Notice I said that infanticide is not the cause but one of the effects of bad ideas. When I said that education is not the key to resolving this matter, I referred to this matter of female infanticide. Trying to educate people on the matter of not committing this crime (of killing a female infant) is the same thing as trying to educate people on the matter of not committing any other crime–it’s not particularly effective and crimes will continue to be perpetrated. The reason is that education deals with ideas; it advocates certain ideas and combats other ideas. You can use good ideas to combat bad ideas, but not good ideas to combat a crime. Education is not a concrete tool to deal with immediate, concrete issues.

    The response to crime (this crime or any other crime) is not education but swift, concrete, and real punishment. Education, insofar as it happens, should be a supplementary approach to a strong rights-protecting system of law enforcement.

    In terms of uprooting the causal ideas that lie at the root of infanticide and other such acts, here education is key to combating those causal bad ideas. Since ideas have real consequences, combating bad ideas will have positive consequences over time in that context. Thus, just as one should not combat altruism or collectivism with a prison sentence but with the ideas of rational egoism and individualism, one should not combat crime with ideological reorientation (education) but with swift and concrete punishment.

    Regarding leaving Indian free to choose the sex of their children, freedom of choice does not guarantee rational choices; but the lack of this guarantee does not justify violation of that freedom, because that would ironically albeit logically make rational choice, leading to more disastrous consequences like unwanted pregnancies, infanticide, criminalization of innocent citizens, etc.

  42. It’s really late at night, my mind’s slightly foggy, and I’m making some silly typographical errors. My last paragraph should read:

    Regarding leaving Indians free to choose the sex of their children, freedom of choice does not guarantee rational choices; but the lack of this guarantee does not justify violation of that freedom, because that would ironically–albeit logically–make rational choice impossible, leading to more disastrous consequences like unwanted pregnancies, unwanted children, female/male infanticide, criminalization and incarceration of innocent citizens, etc.

  43. Ergo:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond and explain. There are no more doubts in my mind.

    I was referring to education not in the context of infanticide but in the context of the irrational overwhelming preference of Indians for a male child. For infanticide, swift punishment should be the only response! But thanks for making the distinction explicitly clear – that I think was lacking in the above comment thread.

    Lastly, I must admit that you and Rambodoc have convinced me that sex determination tests should be made legal. If we understand that it is the right of parents to choose the sex of their child, then whether it is a rational or irrational choice is immaterial. If we negate this freedom of parents, like we do today, it makes rational choice impossible, and leads to greater undesirable effects, as we’re seeing today. This is a major shift in thinking for me, a paradigm change if you will, hence it still has to sink in. Thank you both!

  44. Mahendrap, I’m very glad to see that you are rationally evaluating the facts and logic of the matter for yourself and arriving at an honest conclusion. Notice how some people maintain a predisposition to a belief and then seek to defend it in every convoluted way possible, as opposed to arriving at (or discarding) a belief after honest evaluation.

    I forgot to add another point about the legal ban on sex determination tests. Allowing the government to step in and replace individuals as the agent of choice in the sex of their child retards the individual’s ability to make rational and moral decisions in the matter, in which case, imparting education is pointless: the reason is, if the government assumes the role of making moral decisions, then why bother getting oneself educated in the matter of deciding what are right and wrong choices? Why bother trying to figure out with your own mind the rational and moral course of action? Thus, the effect of education is undercut by the introduction of enforced morality: education is ideological reorientation, but where there is no available choices of ideologies (because of legal restrictions in moral actions) there can be no reorientation from one ideology to another.

    Some time ago, I wrote a post explaining how the legal enforcement of morality (even if the morality is objectively valid, valuable, and utterly necessary) counteracts the intention of law and is in itself an immoral act:

    “If an individual has no reason to hold a value other than because it is mandated by law, then he will also have little or no knowledge of how to pursue and maintain that value nor any incentive to discover the reasons; in other words, he will not know what is a virtuous life and how to lead it nor will he care to learn of it. He will seek further mandated guidance in the realm of virtues, thoughts, and actions. This breeding of intellectual laziness entrusts the job of thinking to others; thus, man comes to believe that philosophy and ethics are removed from and unconnected to his life because he is only concerned with the mundane concretes of his daily life.”

    Read it entirely at: http://ergosum.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/enforcing-moral-values/

  45. Ergo:

    Hat’s off! I had completely missed that “effect of education is undercut by the introduction of enforced morality”.

    I have studied and observed the ill-effects of the attempts to outlaw prostitution, euthanasia, and suicide. All such attempts have only aggravated the problem in the first place. These are very real examples I knew, but I did not apply it in this case.

    Has making suicide illegal helped us save lives? No. People will still try to kill themselves, irrespective of the law. Now I can see where Rambodoc was coming from all along, when he was pointing out that sex determination will not stop by making it illegal.

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