Friday, September 25, 2009

Petals in the Dust: India's Missing Girls

From today's California Catholic Daily:

"Petals in the Dust
Why Are Ten Million Women Missing from India’s Population?

The practice of sex-selection abortion and female infanticide in India has resulted in the deaths of an estimated ten million women and girls over the past two decades. That astounding figure is the impetus behind a new documentary co-produced by a husband and wife team of California Catholic filmmakers.

Petals in the Dust is produced and directed by Nyna Pais-Caputi, an Indian native who now lives in the Bay Area. Her husband Gino Caputi, a native San Franciscan, is the associate producer and director of photography. Other projects by the Caputis include film coverage of the Walk For Life West Coast.

A personal experience led the pair to produce Petals in the Dust. Nyna Pais-Caputi describes it: ”Growing up in India, I was aware of the issue of female foeticide and infanticide. However, it was only when my husband and I started looking into adopting a baby girl from India, that we realized the scope of the problem. We were surprised to learn that there were very few female infants available for adoption. When we dug deeper, we found statistics that seemed to explain these missing baby girls - one out of every six girls does not live to see her 15th birthday, one-third of these deaths take place at birth, every sixth girl child's death is due to gender discrimination.”

The film will explore the attitudes underlying the devaluing of women in Indian culture. Although sex-selection abortion is illegal in India, it is widely practiced, apparently at all levels of society. To combat sex-selection abortion, Indian law prohibits the use of ultrasound to determine the sex of the baby, but the law is widely ignored. According to Donna Fernandes, co-founder of the Vimochana women’s rights organization, ultrasound clinicians have told her that even the daughters-in-law of judges have come for sex-determination ultrasound tests. Perhaps the most disturbing sequence in the film’s trailer is of a woman who, after an ultrasound revealed that her child was a girl, had an abortion. She has so internalized the Indian devaluation of women that she justifies this: “Girl baby means for 18 years I have to look for some boys to get married. I have to make some property. That’s why I doesn’t like girl’s life.” In the United States, it is generally agreed that ultrasound imagery of the living child in the womb has furthered the pro-life cause. But in India the same technological advance is apparently having the opposite effect.

If abortion is unavailable, infanticide may be practiced. Dr. Marie-Mignon Mascarehnas, who represents the Indian chapter of International Right To Life, says “Today it is very clear that infanticide is practiced where they cannot afford a sex detection test.” She notes that for the mother “the attachment to the child begins at conception“ and that often the mother “cannot go through with it (the infanticide).” But the natural maternal love can be overwhelmed by the ingrained cultural attitudes of the extended family.

The trailer includes a heartbreaking sequence in which a mother describes how her husband took her newborn girl away from her. The husband killed their baby girl: “My husband and his family wanted me to give the baby girl poison…and kill her. I went crazy with grief. I said ‘No, I will not let that happen to my baby daughter.’ In spite of that, they took her to my friend’s house without my knowledge, and fed her rice husks. (Rice husks will slit the baby girl’s throat from the inside.) I asked my husband ‘Where is my baby?’ He said, ‘She is dead.’”

The documentary will explore the extraordinary demographic damage these practices are causing to Indian society: “The average ratio of women to men is 927 to 1000 based on the last census in 2001, and in some parts of North India it is as low as 845 women to a 1000 men. The district of Daman in Daman and Diu has the lowest sex ratio of 591 women to a 1000 men.”

By highlighting these attitudes and the practices they engender, the filmmakers hope “… to create an awareness both in India and globally and bring people together to help protect India's girl children and the women who face atrocities because of the sex ratio....”

Petals in the Dust is in pre-production and the filmmakers are still raising funds. To learn more, or to donate to this worthy project, please visit the website:

No comments: