Another baby girl killed before she
got a chance at life, another father unable to contain his
disappointment at begetting a daughter, another mother mourning
her child and her helplessness. The sickeningly familiar story has
been repeated once again in Bangalore with the death of
three-month-old Afreen from burns and bites allegedly by her
It is the latest chapter in the sorry tale of women in India,
where regressive practices and age-old traditions continue to sit
uneasily with claims of progress and rising economic prowess.
Afreen died of grievous head injuries, a dislocated neck,
cigarette burns and even bite marks, just three days after she was
admitted to hospital. Her mother Reshma, just 19 and as much a
victim, sobbed uncontrollably as she recalled her husband's brutal
assault on the baby because he wanted a male child.
In a continuing chain of exploitation, Reshma, it is reported,
also alleged that her husband, car painter Umar Farooq, tried to
poison her and harassed her for dowry. She did attempt to fight
back and even approached the Bangalore Child Welfare Committee.
But it was clearly a losing battle for the young mother and her
infant daughter. In the end, despite the very best in healthcare,
Afreen died of a cardiac arrest shortly before noon Wednesday.
Less than a month ago, on March 16, another baby died in
horrifically similar circumstances, also in the public gaze. The
subject of countless headlines, two-year-old Falak also had a
cardiac arrest and died after 60 days at New Delhi's All India
Institute of Medical Sciences, unable to recover from the broken
skull, fractured limbs and bite marks inflicted on her.
Falak, like Afreen, was just the smallest link in a chain of
sexual exploitation and gender disparity. Hers was a twisted tale
of human trafficking that revealed a fresh atrocity at each turn.
It started with her biological mother, the victim of an abusive
husband, and ended with a 14-year-old girl, who took the battered
baby to hospital and claimed to be her mother.
She was of course not the mother. Barely a teen, she was just
another oppressed girl who was trafficked herself and given
custody of the baby by her abusive boyfriend.
And this is the proverbial tip of a very deep iceberg in a country
where there are only 914 women for every 1,000 men.
For every Falak and Afreen who become the talking points of an
entire nation thanks to the media - but still don't survive --
there are millions of girls who die in oblivion, or are killed in
the womb itself. Like the two-day-old child in Madhya Pradesh's
Gwalior town who was given nicotine by another father desperate
for a son.
So, where does it end?
It probably doesn't, not even in the India of today that prides
itself on its many achievements, its woman president, its woman
speaker, its woman leader of opposition and woman chair of the
Because it is the same country where one end of the spectrum of
discrimination constitutes Falak and Afreen and the other, the
buyers of the latest fairness cream in the market - a 'clean and
dry intimate wash' that promises fair private parts. It's a wide
arc that takes in dowry victims, foeticide, domestic violence,
rape and so much more.
The woman who buys the wash - the ad promising that it will liven
up your love life - is subject to the same bigotry that the two
babies were. She will use it, hoping to induce greater romance in
her life and succumb a little more to the pressure of looking good
-- even in her most private parts.
The product addresses the insecurities of millions of women - and
rakes in the moolah. The fairness industry is a multimillion rupee
one, just as the foetal sex determination and selective abortion
industry that Unicef estimates is now worth Rs.1,000 crore ($244
It's a brave new world out there, but for Indian women, and
doubtless women elsewhere too, it is a question of many steps
backward and one step forward. The momentum of backwardness stays
unchanged, despite Afreens and Falaks tugging at our conscience
every now and then.
It's the tired cliche, the more things change the more they remain
Minu Jain is a senior journalist. She can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org