03/28/2015 02:04 EDT | Updated 05/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Silent Suffering in India

Close-up of a young woman resting her head on her hand
Medioimages/Photodisc via Getty Images
Close-up of a young woman resting her head on her hand

A friend recently asked me how can a patriarchal country that abuses its women, and destroys girls even before they are born treat its animals compassionately? The question inspired me to delve into this conundrum and I found some parallel realities between the mistreatment of women and elephants in India.

Cultural misinterpretations and confirmation biases fueled by greed and status-quo are destroying human and elephant societies. While elephants are being killed for ivory and exploited for profit, in the name of culture and religion, women are being exploited for dowry, defined as "the money, goods, or estate that a wife brings to her husband at marriage."

In the 20th century expectations for dowries soared, causing dowry-related harassment, violence, torture and even murder became a widespread problem, especially among India's lower classes that refused or could not afford the sums demanded. According to the National Crime Records Bureau India, there were 8,391 reported dowry-related murders or suicides in 2010. A popular Indian medical journal says,

"The practice of dowry is widely prevalent even in communities and castes in which it had never been known before. As a result, daughters are considered to be an economic liability."

This is one of the key factors driving families to destroy female fetuses. It is called feticide and it has insidiously crept into the Indian society over the past four decades, ripping apart the rich social and cultural fabrics of that sacred land. Female feticide is the deliberate act of aborting a fetus solely because it is a female.

In the past 30-40 years millions of girls have gone missing, with India's 2011 census showing a serious decline in the number of girls under age seven. Activists are fearing that eight-million female fetuses may have been aborted in the past decade, and Global Girl Power is claiming, over the last century as many as 50-million girls have died because of female feticide.

It all began in the 1990s when ultrasound came to India. Medical professionals discovered a goldmine, and they began to destroy female fetuses at an unprecedented rate. The technologies were quickly appropriated by medical entrepreneurs, who found sex selection to be an extremely lucrative business, with an infamous ad in the 1980s offering the chance to save a potential daughter's dowry payment when she married, "Pay 5,000 rupees today [to have an abortion] and save 50,000 rupees [in dowry payments tomorrow]."

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) says,

"The proliferation and abuse of advanced technologies coupled with social factors contributing to the low status of women such as dowry, concerns with family name and looking up to the son as a breadwinner has made the evil practice of female feticide to become common in the middle and higher socioeconomic households, especially in the northern states."

This brings us to the second thread that weaves together the sad plight of Indian women and Asian elephants. The ramifications of destroying males for ivory, and capturing them to be used as performance animals has caused drastic decline of elephant population in the wild, with male female sex ratio at 1:100 in some areas according to a world renowned elephant expert Dr. Raman Sukumar, interviewed for my film, Gods in Shackles.

Meantime the number of women have declined dramatically due to feticide, and this is having serious ramifications on the sex ratio with only 943 females available for every 1,000 males as of March 2015. Indeed India is now sitting on a ticking demographic time bomb with 37 million more men than women in India, and most of them in their marriageable age given the relatively young population. Hopefully they'll so learn that without a woman, no man can be born.

Once upon a time India was a sacred land where women were treated like goddesses with utmost reverence. In fact according to scholars, women in ancient India enjoyed equal status and freedom during the Vedic period. But their status in society began to deteriorate as of 500 BC. With Islamic invasion and Mughal Empire demanding women to wear burka (veil) their status declined further more. And Christianity drove the nail in the coffin, thwarting women's freedom and rights.

Fast forward to 2010. Rajya Sabha passes the Women's Reservation Bill setting aside 33 per cent of seats in India's Parliament and state legislative bodies for women. But even the significant number of seats for women has done little to protect them. Actually, India is considered to be the fourth most dangerous country in the world.

But it doesn't have to be this way, India is a progressive nation in many areas, including IT and alternative energy sources. Now, it's time to evolve consciously and embrace the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi who said,

"To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?"