Matrubhoomi—A Nation Without Women

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Matrubhoomi—A Nation Without Women


By: Adnan Abidi

Date: July 13, 2005

Source: Corbis Corporation

About the Photographer: This photograph was taken by photographer Adnan Abidi, a photographer who specializes in covering events in India for Reuters, a worldwide news organization based in London.


In 2003, Manish Jha released the film "Matrubhoomi," which translated means "motherland" at the Venice Film Festival where it won the International Critics Prize. The movie tells the story of a fictional village in India in the future. After generations of female infanticide and dowry deaths, the village is populated completely by men. Society in the village is unstable due to the physical, emotional, and psychological absence of women on the men. The men of the village become debased and brutish, turning to pornography, homosexuality, and bestial violence to release their sexual frustrations.

The village chief, Ramcharan, discovers Kalki, a young girl from a nearby village. Kalki's father enters into a negotiation with Ramcharan to marry his daughter to all five of Ramcharan's sons. As a result of the polyandrous marriage, all five of the sons and Ramcharan engage Kalki in conjugal relations with the girl. The youngest of the sons, Sooraj, treats Kalki with kindness and the two become close. In a fit of jealousy, the oldest son kills his brother. After turning to her father for help and being refused, Kalki attempts to escape with Raghu, a low caste family servant. Raghu is killed and Kalki is shackled with iron chains in a cow shed where she is repeatedly raped by her married family and townspeople. When she becomes pregnant, everyone claims paternity and a caste war destroys the village.



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A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) report estimates that 50 million women are missing from India's population due to gender discrimination. Jha asserted that he wrote the movie to address the universal theme of the exploitation of women and the phenomenon of missing women in India. He suggests that some women run away to escape oppression, while others have been murdered, many before their first birthday. India's patriarchal society perceives sons as a source of economic security and preservation. Daughters, on the other hand, are often viewed as a burden to the family due to the lack of educational and employment opportunities for women and the dowry system (the dowry tradition involves women bringing money or property into a marriage). Although the dowry system is prohibited by law, it continues to be practiced.

The first reported cases of female infanticide date back to reports from the British during the nineteenth century, who reported its occurrence in the region of Tamil Nadu. However, India's government denied the practice occurred until 1985. In 1985, the news magazine India Today reported the existence of female infanticide in the Usilampatti, Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. The report asserted that the practice was prevalent primarily among Kallars, the dominant caste. Between 1994 and 1997, almost three thousand girls died immediately after birth in the Tamil Nadu districts of Dindigul and Madurai. A Christian Science Monitor report found that in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu, sixty percent of girls are killed within three days of birth. Mothers refuse to nurse the newborns and the midwives or mothers-in-law administer oleander sap which poisons the girl.

A review of demographic data by the British medical journal The Lancet reveals that the number of women in India is, in fact, decreasing. The number of girls to boys over the last three decades has particularly diminished. In 1981, there were 962 girls to every one thousand boys. That number decreased by 1991 to 945 girls to every one thousand boys. And by 2001, the number of girls continued to fall to 927 girls to every one thousand boys. In a 1995 study of 1320 newly delivered babies, the number of girls who died during the neo-natal period was three times that of the boys. The country's 2000 National Family Health survey revealed that between the ages of one and five, a female child has a forty-three percent higher risk of dying than a boy.

In recent years, the practice of sex determination during pregnancy in India has led to an increase in abortions of girl fetuses. Although the gender determination is illegal, it is rarely enforced and a law that would ban ultrasound and other genetic testing lack the support of India's medical community. However, one gynecologist, Puneet Bedi at the Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi asserts that "Abortions are a low-risk, high-profit business. As a specialist in fetal medicine, I can tell you that no pregnant woman would suffer if the ultrasound test were banned. Right now, it is used to save one out of 20,000 fetuses and kill twenty out of every one hundred because [it reveals that the baby] is the wrong gender." Approximately 11.2 million illegal abortions are performed every year in India. One advertisement reads, "Pay five hundred rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later," suggesting that aborting a female fetus would save in future wedding expenses.

Although infanticide is illegal, it is rarely prosecuted. Similarly, prenatal gender determination is also illegal, but it is also rarely prosecuted. As a result, the population of girls in India is declining. In addition to government actions, nongovernmental organizations are working to curb these practices. The Community Service Guild has been working to discourage female infanticide for at least twenty years. The group teaches mothers and daughters skills that can contribute to their families' income in an attempt to shift the cultural view that girls are a burden to the family.



Sabu, George, M. "Female Infanticide in Tamil Nadu, India—From recognition back to denial." Reproductive Health (November 1, 1997).

Jha, Prabhat; Kumar, Rajesh; Vasa, Priya; Dhingra, Neeraj, et al. "Low male-to-female sex ratio of children born in India: A national survey of 1.1 million households." The Lancet (January 21, 2006).

Web sites

Christian Science Monitor. "For India's daughters a dark birthday." 〈〉 (Accessed March 25, 2006). "I was scared to see so many Indian's get upset with Matrubhoomi." 〈〉 (Accessed March 25, 2006).

Webster Universtiy. "Female Infanticide." 〈∼woolflm/femaleinfanticide.html〉 (Accessed March 25, 2006).