Harriet D’Sa spoke at the Toronto office of Campaign Life Coalition to bring attention to the issues facing life and family in her native India.

During the July 30 event, D’Sa, a principal at St. Joseph’s High School in Bangalore in southern India, said her nation’s anti-female attitudes are at the root of the problems of abortion and marital breakdown.

D’Sa, who is also involved with the pro-life organization Centre for Research, Education, Service and Training, told CLC staff, volunteers and summer interns that it is difficult to make generalizations about the geographically large and culturally diverse country. Nevertheless, she did speak about the problems faced by women and children within Indian society, including the societal pressures that lead to the view that girl babies are undesirable, which leads to high levels of abortion and infanticide. She said the problem is exacerbated in the north, where there is political and religious upheaval.

She said that traditionally, India has been a male-dominated society where women are marginalized and do not have the same dignity as men.

The Indian movie industry tries to appeal to the masses by reinforcing these harmful tendencies with many Indian films repeatedly portraying women as objects of pleasure. Films often show women being raped or violated in some way. She said this view of women is harmful and has very real consequences in the devaluation of female life.

The problem is made worse by the excruciating poverty and the phenomenon of children unwanted and abandoned by their families. D’Sa said that considering societal views of children and women, it is unsurprising, though regrettable, the plight of girls from before their birth through to marriage; females are viewed as a burden whereas boys are seen as necessary to support families in their retirement. To avoid the perceived problems that girl children bring, girls are often the victims of infanticide and abortion. D’Sa reported that there are communities in India where no girls have been born in many years.

The problem of India’s poverty hits women in an unexpected way. The dowry system, which was a traditional method of the bride’s family giving a gift to the groom, further materially cripples families trying to get by.

Today, according to D’Sa, the dowry system distorts marriage for the purposes of greed. Brides have to be accompanied with payment to the groom – what should be a gift becomes a demand. These demands often have to continue as long as the couple is married. When the payments do not continue or when there is a problem, the bride is simply sent away or, worse, she is burned. Bride burnings, or women dying of “accidental” burns, are reported daily. In Bangalore, there is a large burn centre that treats these women.

Because of the financial burden of providing the dowry, many husbands pressure their wives to abort and abandon their daughters. The government tried to address this with an act prohibiting prenatal gender selection, but no family has ever been convicted under the law.

Another push for abortion comes from the overpopulation myth. D’Sa said there is little reason for the perpetuation of the myth, considering the many resources and the vast size of India. She noted that many economists point to population as being one of India’s key strengths. Still, because of population-control zealotry, women are told to abort their baby or feel pressured to dispose of it in some way. Because society values males over females, many choose to abort girl babies. Many other girls are killed by infanticide or abandonment.

This causes yet another problem: the plunging female-male ratio. In 1991, for every 1,000 males there were 945 girls. D’Sa said that ratio is, in some states, now closer to 750 women for every 1,000 men. This is the real population crisis in India.

In what becomes a vicious circle, these high levels of abortion and infanticide of girls have affected society, reinforcing the negative views toward females. Women suffer high levels of abuse, harassment and assault, both in the home and in society.