Death before Birth : Negotiating Reproduction, Female Infanticide and Sex Selective Abortion in Tamil Nadu, South India
Perwez, Mohammad Shahid.
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This thesis deals with the cultural and political underpinnings of female infanticide and sex selective abortion in contemporary South India. Based on a fifteen months' ethnographic fieldwork in western parts of Salem district in Tamil Nadu, I explore the ideas and practices around deaths of (un)born children - particularly in the context of issues of gender-selective child survival, use and control over new reproductive technologies for sex selection, fertility and reproduction. Elucidating further the ethnographic contexts of state and non-state (primarily NGO) interventions in these deaths, the thesis examines the new forms of governance on issues that affect contemporary Tamil women. I discuss three different discourses by the government, by NGOs, and by the communities on the meaning and context of these deaths including the ways in which these meanings and ideas are reconceptualised and re-configured into a changing social and cultural context of birth. My thesis, therefore, contributes to the anthropology of reproduction. The underlying questions of the thesis are: Why has female infanticide, which was claimed to be effectively controlled in nineteenth century colonial India, appeared in post-colonial (South) India - in the form of both sex selective abortion and female infanticide - in communities and regions where it was previously claimed to be unknown? What effects could these social practices have on contemporary women' s positions and their developments and vice-versa? In answering these questions. the thesis makes a significant departure from previous anthropological studies on female infanticide in India in that it does not solely look into one single unit (village/s in this case), but uses a multi-sited approach, covering a wider geographical area, i.e .. parts of Salem, Dharmapuri, and Erode districts of Tamil Nadu. The thesis also shifts from the purely demographic approach to female infanticide in that it does not generate a new data set on female infanticide. Rather, it engages with the institutional responses and their rhetoric on female infanticide and sex selective abortion.