STANDING AGAINST FEMALE FOETICIDE
A change maker for gender equality.
Dr Bijayalaxmi Nanda is an Associate Professor of Political Science in Miranda House in Delhi University and has been teaching for past 24 years. Recently, she has also started functioning as the Vice-principal of the College. Being a feminist activist she works with many women groups in India.
She coordinates a self-funded initiative called ‘Campaign Against pre-birth elimination of Females’ (CAPF) from 2002 which works with the youth to raise awareness and advocacy and to support women survivors and victims of gender violence and discrimination. She started this campaign to stop female foeticide, i.e. prebirth elimination of females. She feels that gender discrimination is still prevailing in the 21st century even when women have proved themselves as equal to men in all spheres. People have misconception that only the poor discriminate against the girl-child. However, the census reports tell a different story. It is evident that not the poor but affluent people are using new reproductive technologies to terminate female fetuses. Today the child sex ratio of India stands at only 919 girls per 1000 boys. In the last three decades 30 million girls have been eliminated in the country due to this. As a teacher she has great access to interact with her students and young people about this issue, and thus is able to influence young minds.
A social activist With her deep insights on this issue Bijayalaxmi has authored a book also. In her latest book published in 2018, titled ‘SexSelective Abortion and the State: Policies, Laws and Institutions in India’, published under Shakti Books, an imprint of Har-anand Publication, she has not only studied and researched on the issue with all its ramifications around political and feminist theories, but has also undertaken field surveys in different regions over last decade to buttress her theoretical expositions. She has been working on the issue since 2001 as a social activist and feminist. Her expertise in gender studies has been enriched because of her continuous touch with the ground realities. She is the founder of the campaign against this pernicious issue in Delhi since 2002, and is an internationally acclaimed scholar on this issue and has been invited by institutions in the USA, the UK, France, Belgium, etc. in various symposiums, seminars and workshops on this issue. The UN bodies such as the UN and the WHO have engaged Dr. Nanda to provide them with her expertise on gender issues and various reports drafted by her have been accepted and acted upon by these bodies and various State Governments.
Her book is an incisive analysis of the countering of gender discrimination by the Indian State. Well-documented, with in-depth empirical and qualitative research, a rich theoretical framework and concrete recommendations, this book has significant policy implications.
Her childhood was spent mostly in the state of Odisha and the cities of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri. At a very early age she was alert to inequalities perpetrated in terms of class, caste gender, ethnicity, age and other hierarchies. Her parents with their simple living and high thinking, deeply influenced her thought processes. She wanted to become a bureaucrat like her father and to be able to bring about changes in the lives of people
through creating an enabling policy environment. While growing up she felt that there is a strong need to counter gender discrimination in the form of son preference, dowry practice, denial of property rights, rape , sexual harassment and devaluation of girls and women.
They were three sisters. So her mother had to face the consequences for not giving birth to a boy by society. However, her parents supported all three sisters and made them educated and selfreliant. When they moved to Delhi, her father was then in charge of conducting the 1991 Census. Declining child sex ratio from 1981 to 1991 had appeared as a conundrum to many. She says, “My father was sure this was not due to under enumeration, migration and such other factors. Discussions were initiated by him on intense son preference in India and sexselective abortion leading to declining child sex ratio (number of girls in the 0-6 years age group was lesser than number of boys). These issues became a part of our dining table discourse at home. It touched a chord in my heart due to the insensitive remarks made to us in childhood for not having biological brothers. I started reading on the issue and delving into its complexities.” A new journey
It led her to start a campaign called CAFF (then called the Campaign against Female Foeticide), which was initiated with the support of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). The CWDS fired the feminist in her. Meeting leading women activists like Vina Mazumdar and others, there was a lifechanging experience. With their support the campaign was able to generate awareness and advocacy on the issue of missing girls in India.
The CAFF which is now known as CAPF continues to work on the issue by engaging with the youth in Delhi. Awareness generation, advocacy, research, documentation and support and counseling to women survivors are some of its activities.
Eve Ensler, the writer of Vagina Monologues and Kamla Bhasin, a leading feminist activist from India are also two women who have inspired her journey. She has also written a televised serial on the issue called Atmaja. Being the proud mother of a single daughter, Bijayalaxmi makes a strong appeal to all parents in India to celebrate their daughters and give them wings to fly.
After doing so much for a cause which is disturbing for every human being and the country, she feels she has not reached anywhere in terms of achievements. There is much more to be done. This journey of countering gender discrimination, especially in terms of daughter aversion, is a meaningful one. “My sense of passion, outrage and anguish against gender violence has not diminished with time. And I think that is something I can be proud of.my advice to girls and women, not just in India but all over the world, would be to be alert to patriarchy and concomitant gender discrimination. They should always question it and have zero tolerance for it. Developing a sense of self through reading, learning and engaging on issues of gender is important for both women and men. I would advise women and girls to break their silence on gender violence, to participate in movements and collectives fighting against gender discrimination and violence. They should know that their rights are not dependent on patriarchy but on constitutional laws and the ideas and spirit of human rights. We should all know that what we are asking for is basic and integral to human rights and dignity. If women are self-reliant and conscious then only they will be able to claim their rights”.
Dr.bijayalaxmi Nanda feels that the overall Indian scenario did reveal that the women’s movements are engaged in protests, discussions, debates and seminars on gender issues, but in terms of a radical citizen’smovement to guarantee widespread change on the issue, a lot still requires to be done. She strongly advocates the ‘syncretic feminist perspective’, which in her view is like Sufism, like a Meerabai song.
Her future plans are to work on equality consciousness for the youth including all genders. She sees herself as a moving vehicle to bring about gender equality. We
THE CAFF WHICH IS NOW KNOWN AS CAPF CONTINUES TO WORK ON THE ISSUE BY ENGAGING WITH THE YOUTH IN DELHI. AWARENESS GENERATION, ADVOCACY, RESEARCH, DOCUMENTATION AND SUPPORT AND COUNSELING TO WOMEN SURVIVORS ARE SOME OF ITS ACTIVITIES.
Never have regrets because at one point everything you did in life was exactly what you wanted.