I finished a book yesterday called The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal. The main character is a widow in India. She already has a 5-year-old daughter and is pregnant with her second child at the beginning of the book. She knows it’s a girl because her ob-gyn broke the law and used the ultrasound to check the sex of the fetus. He also offered to perform an abortion.
Isha, the main character, doesn’t particularly like her in-laws, and when they forbid her from carrying the pregnancy to term because they want a grandson, things get worse. Isha’s husband is alive, briefly, at the beginning of the book, and he against aborting the fetus. He is killed for trying to report the ob-gyn to the police (performing sex-selective abortion is illegal in India, so is identifying the sex of a fetus to the parents).
The book isn’t what I would call well written. Self-reflection on the part of the characters is often unrealistic. They tend to contradict themselves within the span of three sentences. While still interesting and worth reading (I recommend it as a good book to read), the novel lacks the delicacy and subtlety of really good literature, and that is truly unfortunate because the story is one that needs to be told.
The story, though in need of a little polishing, is an important one. It demonstrates the divide between Indians who believe boys are inherently better than girls and those who view all children as equal. I have no personal experience with India or the sentiments found in that country about male and female children, so I don’t want to act like some sort of expert or even pretend to understand the situation completely. What I do know is what I’ve read (in this book, though fictional, and elsewhere) and what the author discusses.
I cannot put aside the horror of sex-selective abortion. I am pro-choice when it comes to choosing to abort or carry to term. When it comes to sex-selective abortion, though, I am disgusted. I can’t wrap my head around people wanting so badly to only have boys that they would plan a pregnancy and then abort it simply because it was female.
Beyond the stand-alone horror in sex-selective abortion, it can cause serious problems. By aborting female fetuses, the relative balance of the sexes is severely thrown off. As Bantwhal says,
“Besides the moral issues involved in gender-based abortion, the unbalanced female-to-male ratio could lead to severe social repercussions in the future: a disproportionate number of males with no hope of marriage or healthy long-term relationships. Just imagine how that could affect crimes against women!”
Not only will many, many heterosexual men be without healthy relationships, crimes against women will undoubtedly worsen. Just think how sex-selective abortion may turn women into commodities, to be bought and sold for marriage or perhaps just for sex. I have no idea how often women are sold into slavery in India, but I don’t even want to imagine what might happen in that regard in the future.
I don’t know the solution to this problem. I do know that people like Amartya Sen and feminist economists have studied the problem, and some have ideas of what can help. At the very least, it’s important to be aware of this problem.