The Cost of Being a Female: CAMD Scholar Harshita Gaba Examines Effects of Gendercide in India

As a child, Harshita Gaba ’14 and her family would crowd around the television to witness the bright colors and catchy songs of Bollywood movies or sit at the kitchen table to savor Indian samosas and curries.

Gaba was born in India and moved to the United States at the age of two. In December 2012, when international media outlets displayed headlines announcing the rape of a female medical student in New Delhi, India, Gaba, whose Indian heritage still plays a large role in her life, was immediately intrigued.

“After hearing of her death, I started looking into the forces and mentalities behind these sort of rapes. In that search I found gendercide, and as I learned more about gendercide, I was torn between love and frustration for my country,” said Gaba in an interview with The Phillipian.

In her Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar project last Friday, Gaba addressed the topic of gendercide, the systematic killing of a particular sex, in her presentation titled, “Gendercide in India: A Mother’s Worst Nightmare.”

“I couldn’t forget the rich customs [of India]: the peaceful ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, the delicious food and, of course, Bollywood… I realized, however, that the India I saw on my computer screen was far different from the perfect picture I had in my head. And I wanted to learn more about this India where thousands of fetuses and newborns are being killed simply because they were girls,” said Gaba.

In India, the bride’s family must pay an expensive dowry to the husband’s family at the time of marriage. With females unable to carry on the family name and legacy by Indian tradition, many families view raising a daughter as a financial burden and turn to aborting fetuses or killing newborns when they are identified as female, said Gaba.

Because of this selective abortion or gendercide, an estimated one million girls will be “missing” in India alone in ten years, according to Gaba.

Describing the deep-rooted historical beliefs that have led to the modern-day problem of gendercide, Gaba said that the power of a woman in Indian society has fluctuated over time. In the ancient Indian culture, women symbolized the source of life and had the power to control life cycles.

This power to control life cycles has been serving as a justification for mothers to kill their baby girls, as women are thought to have the right to both give life and take it away, said Gaba.

“I want people to understand how historically grounded this is and how difficult it is to reverse history and that mindset. Just telling these women that it’s wrong or giving them the supplies to raise their baby girls is not going to fix the problem or help them. To help them, we need a good understanding of the perspective that they’re looking at this with,” said Gaba in the interview.

Gaba consulted articles, books and documentaries for her research. She also interviewed an Indian college professor, Indian maids and her parents to obtain their perspectives on gendercide and gender-based bias in India.

“My dad and my mom are Indian, and I asked them a lot of questions to get the general atmosphere of a topic before delving into it deeper. And if I didn’t have their perspective before researching, there would have been too much for me to take in,” said Gaba.

Gaba said she hopes the presentation will contribute to the larger feminist cause. “There is feminism in our school community and within the U.S., but there is also this other completely different endeavor and journey that people are on to eliminate gendercide in India. It’s a very different take on the universal topic of gender and women’s equality,” said Gaba.