Female infanticide: old reasons, new techniques
By Radha Venkatesan
SALEM, JUNE 23. Even 15 years after the shocking expose of
female infanticide in Tamil Nadu, the practice of killing female babies within
hours of their birth is on a silent rise, particularly in Salem district.
Startling still, female infanticide which was practised by
only a few communities, especially the Vellala Gounders till a decade ago, has
cut through caste lines, and now baby girls are being killed in ``newer and more
cruel methods'' to evade police action.
Last year, 1938 baby girls died in Salem district, the
notorious heartland of female infanticide in the State.
While not all the female infant deaths were due to
infanticide, officials claim at least 500 infants were murdered by their parents
within a day of their birth.
At least 10 districts have recorded adverse juvenile sex ratio
and infant mortality rates, which are crucial indicators of prevalence of female
While in Salem, Dharmapuri, Namakkal and Theni districts,
there are less than 900 girl babies for every 1000 male infants, in six other
districts - Karur, Madurai, Dindigul, Erode, Cuddalore and Vellore - the
juvenile sex ratio is between 920 and 940 female infants per 1000 male babies.
In Salem and Dharmpauri districts, the infant mortality rate (IMR)
has alarmingly hovered around 70 to 85 deaths per 1000 births in the past five
years as against Tamil Nadu's IMR of 40 per 1000 births.
However, as the NGOs and the police get tough with the
infanticide perpetrators in the hinterlands in Salem and Dharmapuri, the
villagers come up with ``newer killing techniques'' to keep the authorities off
In the past, the common method of doing away with baby girls
was feeding poisonous milk of ``irukkam'' and ``kalli'' plants. Or, dropping
crude husks into just-born's throats. But as post-mortem exposes female
infanticide, they now resort to ``more gruesome'' but ``less revealing''
techniques of asphyxiation.
Confesses 37-year-old Indrani of Bodinayakkanpatti in Edappadi
block in Salem district, who killed her third daughter with tobacco juice: ``As
the police hound us, we are now forced to kill babies in novel ways.''
One such ``novel'' method is feeding hot, spicy chicken soup
to the babies. ``They writhe and scream in pain for a few hours, and then die.''
When NGO activists get wind of infanticide, the villagers promptly counter that
``the child was suffering from bloated tummy and had to be given chicken soup.''
Another ruthless elimination method catching up in Salem
villages is to over-feed babies and tightly wrap them in a wet cloth. After an
hour of breathless agony, they die.
In yet another chilling infanticide, the ``umbilical chord''
is let loose, leading to excessive bleeding and eventual death.
But the latest technique of asphyxiating the baby by placing
it beneath a pedestal fan at full blast has stumped the police who have managed
to register just five cases of female infanticide in rural Salem in the past one
While only the killing techniques are new, the reasons for
ending the lives of girl babies are depressingly familiar.
The bottomline is that girls are ``expensive'' to maintain and
And, for the parents who commit infanticide, it is nowhere
near an offence, leave alone a grave crime. ``What do we do when we don't have
money to bring up and marry off girls. Will you bear the expenses?,'' asks Selvi
of Sammundivalavu hamlet in Salem.
She is a mother of three children including two girls, and is
expecting another baby next month. ``If the new one is also a girl, I cannot
save it,''she says. Surely, there is no sense of guilt or anguish in her frail