"How could fifty million plus women just disappear from a country in a period that spans less than a century? That number is about the size of the entire populations of Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Portugal put together." - Rita Banerji
Hefferon: Are we wrong to assume education and economic growth are the answers to some of our social issues as some in the west argue, or we be better served with a change in paradigm?
Banerji: Yes and no. I think if we take the power paradigm - the female gendercide is happening in context of a social gender hierarchy, which manipulates factors like economics or education or anything else to ensure that this gender paradigm that keeps patriarchies powerful, stays in place. So essentially even if women or girls get an education, the social paradigm ensures that it works against them, and always feeds the existent power structure. Essentially it is the powerful ensuring they retain power, by suppressing or manipulating the 'other' - the female. With street violence it is usually people from the strata that is economically weaker, with less education, poorly paying jobs - and the violence is probably a form of rebellion, a means to take or claim power that they feel they don't have. However, when you look at the hierarchical structure of inner city gangs or the Mafia, there is wealth coming in through drugs and arms etc., and within that structure there is increased violence, to maintain the power structure. So have education and economic empowerment made the Mafia stop violence? Of course not! It's a stupid question and I wonder if anyone actually suggested it? But even in neighborhoods that are poor and poorly educated, there are children who grow up, and find a way out, and don't turn to crime. In fact what they grow up with inspires them to help others. So what explains this difference?
It's the same with sexual abuse of children. Yes, pedophiles have been sexually abused themselves, but many people who work to help children, and are dedicated to protecting children, were themselves survivors too. I think at base level we all know when a wrong is done to us. And we also know when we do a wrong to others. And I think most of us are aware of what we are choosing to do. People who choose to do wrong are not just aware that they are choosing to do wrong by someone else, but I think they choose to do so, largely because they feel they can get away with it. It's the same with female gendercide."
Hefferon: What types of reactions did you receive about your book, both internationally and within India?
Banerji: My book "Sex and Power" [available on Amazon.com] looks at two things: one, how the social perception of sex and sexual morality changed from one period to another in India. And secondly, how this perception effects the position and power of each gender in society in that particular period. What I think is interesting, is that when men have reviewed the book for a magazine or newspaper, they've usually focused on the aspects of sex and sexuality and seem to actually avoid the gender hierarchy issue altogether. Conversely, when women have reviewed it, they seemed to shy away from or seem embarrassed to address the sex and sexuality issues, and focused only on the gendercide issues! I found this very surprising!
Another response that I've encountered from readers is surprise at many of the things discussed in the book. Now the west I can understand. But I was a bit alarmed at how little Indians seemed to know about their own history. Our treatment of history in India, be it in school books, or oral history, is very selective and highly censored particularly in context of sex and sexuality. It is incredible - this social conspiracy that conceals the most fundamental words of our own bodies because they deal with sex! And this separation from our own body and sexuality is particularly so for women. The sense of self begins with the body. It sort of lays the foundation for the cultural conditioning that disassociates women from themselves."
Hefferon: Are you continuing to see a growth in the 50 Million Missing Campaign, in terms of international awareness and support?
Banerji: Yes, there has been a tremendous growth over the last two years. When we first started six years ago, it was interesting how many people first of all couldn't believe the scale of this gendercide (many still are surprised). But most importantly, where the race or religion based extermination or even sporadic killing of individuals would be seen as a violation of human rights, gender-based killings were not seen that way. And I mean even people in the west didn't see it that way. Which just goes to show how internalized lethal violence towards girls and women is in all societies, that as a fundamental level of collective psychology, we've somehow 'normalized' it, in cultures across the world. That is one of the things our campaign has been pushing - that the killing of girls and women because of gender must be recognized as an international human rights crime, which cannot be allowed any excuses of culture, religion or economics. The same as would be true for the killing of people because of race or religion. This second factor has actually been the bigger challenge for our campaign in changing public mind-set. What is also interesting to me though personally, I find far more men (both in India and outside) accepting this view than women! And I'm not sure why. Why do women want to provide societies with excuses for killing them? Why is it not an absolute, non-negotiable human right that they are entitled to?