New film highlights India's 'missing' daughters | Asia Pacific

New film highlights India's 'missing' daughters

New film highlights India's 'missing' daughters

Updated 6 January 2012, 9:40 AEDT

They've become known as India's disappearing daughters, or simply 'the missing' - since 1980, an estimated 40 million girls have been killed through abortion, neglect or murder.

Many are killed because of their gender. In Indian society, sons are still seen as a guarantee of status and income. But a new multimedia project called 'Undesired' is fighting to bring the issue into the open.

Presenter: Helene Hofman

Walter Astrada, photojournalist; Ruchira Gupta, president and founder, Apne Aap Worldwide; Shreeya Sinha, associate producer and videographer, 'Undesired'

ASTRADA: I was taking pictures of one girl who was giving birth. Some doctors were saying if she's not having a boy it will be a big problem. The family-in-law is waiting outside. They pass the baby to the sister of the husband. The first reaction was to check the sex of the baby. And it was a girl. Everybody was completely silent. You don't need a language to understand.

HOFMAN: Photojournalist Walter Astrada has covered violence against women in Guatemala and Congo, but he found the situation in India particularly distressing.

ASTRADA: In India, you have the sex based abortion. You have the violence against girls. You have rape. You have burns. You have acid attacks. You have trafficking of women. You have selling of women. Basically you have a lot of violence where usually only one of these [things] happens in every country. Or maybe two. There it's altogether.

Today - and every day - 7,000 foetuses will be aborted in India simply because they are female.

Across the country, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the slums of New Delhi, female child mortality is suspiciously high. In the more affluent communities of Punjab state the rate is 81 per cent higher than it should be. In neighbouring Haryana, it's 135 per cent.

And even for the girls that live, millions are be mistreated by their own families, neglected and less well fed or educated than their brothers.

'Undesired' tells the stories of these mothers and daughters through Walter Astrada's photographs and through interviews with victims and activists like Ruchira Gupta, president and founder of Apne Aap Worldwide, an Indian anti-sex trafficking organisation.

GUPTA: Every image was horrifying but every image rang true, from the little girl, who was sort of curled up like a foetus, to the mother kissing her daughter happy that she was alive, to the woman who was a burn victim from dowry expectations. Every image was chilling and I just wish I didn't have to see those images. Violence against women is very common and it's so normalised. The other reason it's not talked about is because there are these super achieving women in India who are prime ministers and doctors and lawyers and so people tend to see that image of India, not knowing that while there might be a few hundred thousand women achievers there are a few million who are being subjugated and trampled upon who are also girls and women.

HOFMAN: For a Hindu family in India, a son is a status symbol, who will eventually be able to provide for the family.

A daughter, on the other hand, brings pressure to one day provide a dowry.

Dowries were declared illegal back in 1961, but there are frequent reports of women being burned or killed by grooms and their families when the dowry fails to meet their expectations.

Also illegal is gender based abortion.

Shreeya Sinha, the associate producer and videographer for 'Undesired', says she quickly realised both practices are widespread.

SINHA: Since I am in fact Indian I knew that these atrocities were happening, but it was only after I went to India that I realised that the situation was a hundred times worse. I was shocked. It's not at all uncommon to see headlines saying 'dowry deaths', 'honour killings', 'sex selective abortions'. You find female foetuses dumped in backyards and in gutters. What I do hope is that 'Undesired' will start a conversation because it really starts with a mindset and if we can get people talking, hopefully they'll start to question what's going on in India and hopefully Indians themselves because there is a big sense of denial about what's happening to women there.

HOFMAN: 'Undesired' was funded by a grant from the Alexia Foundation, which supports photographers promoting social justice and cultural understanding.

It has been posted on the website of the US based media production company, Media Storm, allowing it to be shared by email and through social networking sites.

The idea is to get the message to as many people as possible.

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