Call it mass murder. Call it female homicide.
In three generations, more than 50 million women have been routinely eliminated from India's population through horrendously annihilating gender-specific infliction of violence in various forms. Female feticide through forced abortions, female infanticides, "doodh-peeti" ( a customary practice of drowning new born girls in milk),dowry deaths, honor killings, hunting are some of the historically rooted crimes against women that have managed to sustain the female genocide in India.They have been targeted because they were born - girls.Still, this country refuses to acknowledge this crisis as a war on women and admit it to be a violation of their basic human right to life.
One woman who refused to capitulate was Rita Banerji.
Rita is a revolutionist, humanist, author, photographer and a World Pulse sister. She started the campaign '50 Million Missing' in December 2006 with the aim of raising public consciousness and moral accountability for the killings, nationally and globally, and for the International recognition of this gender-specific dehumanization of women as "genocide" under the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide Act. She confirms that the word 'missing' is actually euphemism for the term eliminated. In 1986, Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen used the word 'missing' to draw attention to India's vastly lopsided gender ratio and estimated that over 37 million women were missing in India - women who could not be accounted for. The word left her no peace since then. Today, '50 Million Missing' is the largest zero fund worldwide campaign to end female genocide with grassroots support of close to 600,000 people from 200 countries.
Rita was born and raised in 17 towns all over India. Since an early age she refused to conform to the traditional social constructs of Indian society and how they stipulate girls should be. She rejected the gender bias inherent in and outside her home and challenged the socialization process which treated boys and girls differently. Left with a conflicting choice of ensuing her family’s dreams of studying medical science or following her heart to become a conservation biologist, Rita ultimately did what her heart told her to do. She left for Massachusetts, USA, to study Ecology and Conservation Biology. She lived there for 11 years, winning several awards for her academic excellence and work as a conservationist including projects which always had a gender perspective. However at 30 she returned to India. She now wanted to contribute her own visions and beliefs of the world into the work she did. Through her writings and photography she started focusing on the issue of gender disparity in India. She worked with the landmark ‘Chipko’ grassroots movement, aimed at conservation and reclamation of forests throughout India and published several note-worthy articles in magazines and newspapers across the globe.
Her award winning book Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies was published in 2009. This book marked culmination of five years of rigorous in-depth analysis of gender constructs and sexuality in India. While doing research for the book, she realized how deep rooted misogynistic attitudes towards women as a group were, and how important it was to address this issue. The birth of the campaign stemmed from her outrage and compulsion to take action against the ongoing killing of females and the apathetic response of the society. In 2006, she first launched her campaign on Flickr-a photo sharing website and then moved on to various networking sites and information blogs.
According to Rita, the deliberate infliction of violence against women is a phenomena not restricted to India alone. In fact, she says that, "together, India and China, constitute 2/5 of the world's population and in 20 years will have annihilated 20% of women from their countries. It is estimated that this number is more than the people killed in all the genocides in the world in the last century." She dispels the myth that female genocide in India is about poverty and illiteracy. She reiterates that,” misogyny in India acquires more power with education and wealth, and is able to inflict worse violence.”
Through her campaign and blogs, Rita is pushing for a system of accountability from the government and asks for realistic implementation of laws to help stop the genocidal violence based on internalized cultural prejudices against women as a group. She adds: "Systemic violence escalates in an uncontrollable manner where there is no legal and judicial safeguard for human rights." Therefore one of her constant struggles remains is to reach out to International communities to acknowledge this femicide as a crime against humanity.
On November 26th, 2012, Rita represented the '50 Million Missing' at the U.N. Symposium on Femicide in Vienna which marked the International Day for the elimination of violence against women.
Her campaign has successfully contributed more and more over the last two years in spearheading women's rights in India. However, she says: "female genocide in India is not just a statement on India, but it is a statement on how the global community thinks of violence and women."
Her plans for the future include garnering increased public support as a mark of dissent against the massive malfunctioning of India's rule of law. She aims to launch grassroots projects that would challenge the public in taking action to break the cycle of social denial against these murders.
For Rita,violence against women is inexcusable in any context, and must be combated by whatever means women have at their disposal. She believes that only when girls realize and accept they have their own,separate identities that they can become truly independent of the patriarchal system.
As a passionate leader, her fight to make our women count marks the changing trend that finally acknowledges women’s rights as human rights.EVERYWHERE, WITH NO EXCEPTIONS.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Profiles