Female Infanticide in 19th-Century India: A Genocide?


In post-colonial India the female foeticide, a practice evolved from customary female infanticide of pre-colonial and colonial period, committed though in separate incidents, has made it almost a unified wave of mass murder. It does not fulfil the widely accepted existing definition of genocide but the high rate of abortion of legitimate girl-foetus by Indian parents makes their crime a kind of group killing or genocide. The female foeticide in post-colonial India is not a modern phenomenon but was also prevalent in pre-colonial India since antiquity as female infanticide and the custom continued in the 19th century in many communities of colonial India, documentation of which are widely available in various archives. In spite of the Act of 1870 passed by the Colonial Government to suppress the practice, treating it a murder and punishing the perpetrators of the crime with sentence of death or transportation for life, the crime of murdering their girl children did not stop. During a period of five to ten years after the promulgation of the Act around 333 cases of female infanticide were tried and 16 mothers were sentenced to death, 133 to transportation for life and others for various terms of rigorous imprisonment in colonial India excluding British Burma and Assam where no such crime was reported. The present paper, on the basis of unpublished proceedings and files of Judicial and Criminal department of nineteenth century and published documents, presents a critical discussion on consideration of such unified wave of customary criminality as a sexually selective genocide, its concepts and location of female infanticide in selective areas dominated by specific patriarchal ethos of Hinduism alone, the religious and economic causes behind formation of a historically reliant peculiar Indian mind set, its nineteenth century encounter with legislative measures of astounded colonial state still responsible for continuation of such criminality in more sophisticated way with the help of modern technology, and historically reliant patriarchal mind set of post-colonial Indian state.

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Srivastava, P. (2014) Female Infanticide in 19th-Century India: A Genocide?. Advances in Historical Studies, 3, 269-284. doi: 10.4236/ahs.2014.35022.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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