Who are the killers?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN her poignant collection of poetry, Ojagiyal Akhiyun ja Sapna (‘Dreams of Waking Eyes’), Amar Sindhu, a professor of philosophy at the Sindh University, writes of the ‘Ideal Woman’ (aadarshi aurat) and warns her that to move with society she will have to toss away her dreams and idealism like “gand kichre ain faltoo saamaan” (garbage and waste goods).

It is a sad but true observation for International Women’s Day ( March 8 ) that after decades of struggle for emancipation and empowerment, we still have women in Pakistan who are denied their dreams — especially if they don’t conform to society’s mores. Age is no consideration. Even innocent baby girls if they are unwanted have their lives snuffed out at birth.

Without our realising it, female infanticide has descended on us as a curse. I began investigating this phenomenon when the media reported recently that five foetuses — two preserved in formaldehyde in jars — were found in a garbage dump in Mehmoodabad (Karachi).

My search for answers to the questions that nagged me and caused me sleepless nights led me to the Edhi Foundation which has been collecting these tiny bundles that are like Amar Sindhu’s gand kichre ain faltoo saamaan to be discarded.

The Edhi spokesman, Anwar Kazmi, a gentleman with monumental patience and deep reserves of empathy that he has imbibed from Pakistan’s grand old man of philanthropy, Abdul Sattar Edhi, gave me figures of the bodies his workers have collected from the dumps all over the country. They are beyond belief. The toll reads: 2008 recorded 890 dead infants recovered; 2009 recorded 999; 2010 recorded 1,210 and 2011’s figure dipped to 480. This year, 70 bodies have already been recovered in Karachi alone (the total for the entire year in 2011 was 120). Kazmi insisted that these figures were just the tip of the iceberg as many more are killed and buried secretly. As though that was not shocking enough, the Edhi spokesman dropped another bombshell. “Ninety-nine per cent of the infants killed are girls,” he informed me. These tiny baby girls, who should have been a cuddly bundle of joy, are so unwanted that they are disposed of like garbage. Boys in a similar situation escape this fate.

Strangely, this phenomenon has attracted little public attention. The only exception has been Bilquis Edhi who responded many years ago by initiating her jhoola scheme. She has installed 335 cradles outside her centres all over Pakistan with the plea to parents to leave unwanted infants in them.

No research has been done on this social evil and so it was virtually impossible for me to collect conclusive evidence on this crime against humanity. While giving me the data, Kazmi explained how the Edhi Foundation is left holding these innocent products of our collective guilt.

The story begins when the Edhi Centre’s emergency number is informed by a member of the public or the police about a suspicious-looking package that has been thrown in the garbage. Edhi volunteers recover the dead infant who is kept in the mortuary at Sohrab Goth for a few days before being buried. The police are always informed but are disinterested in investigating this crime.

Dr Sadiqua Jafarey, chairperson of the National Committee on Maternal and Neonatal Health, was initially sceptical when I mentioned this ghastly happening. But unlike other medical professionals she encouraged me to investigate the story and along with Imtiaz Kamal, president of the Midwifery Association of Pakistan, accompanied me to the Edhi Centre.

This is no less than infanticide. Of course no autopsy is done but it is clear even to a layman that the bodies are of fully developed newborn infants who have been strangled or choked.

Who are these infants and why are they disposed of so callously? Conventional wisdom has it that these babies are born out of wedlock and have to be killed to conceal the ‘mothers’ shame’. Bilquis’s cradles are no longer receiving as many infants as before.

Dr Jafarey, who has also been creating awareness about unsafe abortions, challenges this assumption. She wonders why unmarried women would carry an unwanted baby for nine months and then kill it after it is born and if it is a girl? Nevertheless the preponderance of female infants does show the gender bias.

Dr Jafarey also quotes from the Population Council’s survey on unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Its categorical finding is that the preponderant cases of induced abortions are of older married women who have four or five children and do not want any more. This is a clear indictment of the family-planning programme and its failure to meet the unmet need. As for younger women, the report states, “If the woman is young and never married, no time is wasted and the pregnancy is aborted as quickly as possible.”

To me it is clear that these babies are born to mothers who are victims of poverty and rape — including marital rape — and are so poor and have so little control over their own lives that even abortion is not a choice available to them. They give birth without medical intervention and the unwanted baby is tossed away like garbage with no questions asked.

There is need to investigate the huge street populations of Karachi and other urban centres. Many are organised and controlled by mafias with police protection. There are beggars, gypsies and other migratory tribes who are visible but who do not come on the radar of social researchers. Their gender equations and power dynamics work against their women, including female infants thrown on garbage dumps.

Source: Dawn

10 thoughts on “Who are the killers?

  1. This is one of the most shameful comments on our society. Dr. Jafarey has hit the bull's eye when she says that if the child was the result of out of marriage relationship, why would the mother carry it to full term and then kill it? No…other more insidous causes are at play here and certainly poverty is a major factor.
    The ICDP in Cairo raised a profound question: Who owns women's bodies? And the overwhelming answer from the women around the world came: "We do!" But this article points out: not many in this part of the world do.

  2. Your article was a reminder how we are killing our women even before they are born. Its like the jahailia period of history all over again.
    Is there legislation again femicide? How can we change public opinion?
    Maybe this should be the WAF jihad in 2012.
    more power to your pen

  3. Once upon a time –

    Humans were scattered in open countryside!

    Cities were small blended side by side –

    Maintaining charm, art, and cultural pride

    Everyone enjoyed fresh air and sunshine!

    Grandparents knew all about food-health needs

    Parents learnt to care for a family big!

    Neighbour helped delivering babies without notice

    Raising child was community events not expensive worries!

    Food was always organic without pesticides!

    Everyone was safe not knowing homicide!

    News was more than advertisement, felony, and crimes!

    Commons knew moderation meant healthy life!

    Police were peacekeepers without gun

    High rise buildings didn’t block sun!

    People confessed to priests and nuns

    For sincere corrections without jail terms!

    Gasoline, processed snacks, and carbonated drinks

    Were not the main economic engine!

    Military, health care, prison, porn industry

    Were not in perception even as alien mystery!

    People used to greet each other way to market

    Where they met local farmers displaying baskets

    Fresh flowers, produce, grains, and animals

    Exchanged hands from their loving children!

    Fruits and vegetables were sold in dozens or basket

    Price didn’t weigh inedible stems or branches!

    People could eat vegetable skins for nourishment

    Fresh fruits without smell of chemical and waxes!

    Children used to look beautiful in school uniform

    School yard was not meant for display of fashion!

    Innocence and adolescence enjoyed learning with fun

    No one could think ever a student with a gun!

    War among countries had laws even scheduled time

    Forbidding barbaric attack on civilians at night!

    Politicians knew the meaning of speaking under oath

    Without competing for lies or holding truth for votes!

    Military meant for defending own country

    Not to hurt others beyond border for Supremacy!

    Patriot meant one’s love and respect for the land

    Not who sent soldiers beyond border for invasion!

    Jesus meant love, neighbourly, and friendliness

    Not deadly Cross – a symbol of dominance!

  4. The horror, the horror
    Women’s Day

    Boys will be boys,
    but girls must not be girls;
    girls must extinguish themselves,
    knowing that boys are churls.
    Nature meant such things to be,
    nature is a male;
    nature is always sentient,
    it is girls who always fail.
    Archives of revealed wisdom
    god handed down to men;
    girls must thus be told
    what to do, and when.
    When men kill in millions,
    and devastate the earth,
    women must pick up the pieces,
    and get down to giving birth
    to new armies of machos
    who never do any wrong;
    who rape the womb they came from,
    who plunder with a song
    upon their conquering lip,
    and anthem in their heart,
    while woman ploughs the ground
    to sustain the murdering lot.
    Yes, there are sensible men as well,
    and women who are not;
    which must mean that all of us
    together right the rot.

  5. A responsible post at right time and by a responsible female. Tomorrow the 8th March will be International Women Day. And by chance tomorrow is HOLI (festival of colors popularly known as festival of harmony) day.

    No doubt much have been achieved and still more to achieve to set the dignity of female in a right frame. Just go back around 100 years and compare the situation with present age. Earlier women was considered only for kitchen and sex.

    Now all of us have accepted that without a housewife it is only MAKAN and with housewife it is GHAR. Family is a complete family with a girl child.

    Much has been done by women themselves, civic societies, Govt legislation and much remains to do. Killing girls before birth, rape of minor girls, home violence, eve teasing though are there but we have good examples also. At international level too many women (Golda Meir, Marie Curie, Nightingale, Jahanara, Merkel, Elizabeth, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Aang Sui, Sonia Gandhi etc. etc.) have proved that WOMEN is not a feeble but a STRONG and even STRONGER than males.

  6. Your article' is thought provoking. I also tweeted it and am really impressed the way you are highlight social issues with a focus on child rights.

  7. Who are the killer?
    When I did peruse the write up I turned extremely shocked that innocent babies have to bear the brunt of the sin committed by their mothers. To hush up the birth of those tiny souls born out of wedlock is truly an act of callous nature, which is to be condemned in possible strongest terms.Some parents used to dispose of the baby girls in the hunch that girls are not so important in comparison of baby boys, which runs counter to Islamic tenets as in Islam both boys and girls are equal in terms of human rights. Infanticide is a heinous crime which is to be stamped out at all cost. In Islamic mores women enjoy a highly respectable status as far as human rights are concerned.
    It is the responsibility of the incumbent Government to enact and enforce stringent laws to curb this inhuman tendency.

    1. It is a sad state of affairs. But please don't assume who these infants are. What is quite clear is that they are not infants "born out of wedlock" in the commonly understood sense of the term. In that case nearly half of the bodies would have been of boys. There is something more to it that needs to be investigated. And they are in such large numbers. Please read about the survey done on unwanted pregnancies. No woman carrying a baby conceived out of wedlock of her free will would wait for nine months. How would she hide her "shame" from family and neighbours. Don't reach hasty conclusions. Think more about it.

  8. With the post that you have here, many people will be remembering something about violence and discrimination. I hope many will know the relevance of this post. VZ 58

  9. Today's TOI carries a news which is related to 'domestic violence' as well as crime by a ,female on female'. Some TV channels also flashed this news. Read at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigar….

    16 Year old girl killed her widow mother with the help of lover to marry him. Really on reading it a true man's head will go down in between two legs and tears will roll down on earth.

    Widow mother gave her single daughter good education and life simply to get killed by her?

    Ms Zubeida it is not only the mothers who are killing their daughters but reverse is also happening. Hope your next 'write up' covers all such elements also.

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