There seems to be a trend for putting females in the garbage. One is utterly sickened and heartbroken at how disposable a female life is, particularly in this country. As if it weren’t enough to rape them, beat them, marry them off before puberty to men old enough to be their fathers, keep them out of school and out of a monetarily rewarded workplace—must you throw their corpses in the trash? It is so telling that instead of fishing dead females out of rivers or canals, now we are finding them where people evidently think they belong: in the garbage, among other unwanted things, among the refuse. Data from the Edhi Foundation and the Chhipa Welfare Organization shows that from January of 2017 to April 2018, 345 dead babies have been recovered from dumpsters and trash heaps in Karachi. 99% of them are girls. One baby had her throat slit. Someone took a knife to a newborn’s throat, and then threw her away.

This is, naturally, only a fraction of what probably really transpires. These are numbers from only two organizations, from only one city, and of bodies they happened to find. The actual number of female infanticide is guaranteed to be much higher. A report by The News featured in interview with an employee of the Edhi Foundation, who was of the opinion that most abandoned children are illegitimate, and mentioned how the Edhi cradle—an actual cradle that is placed outside Edhi centres for people to put unwanted infants in—has attracted the wrath of various religious organisations, who see the option of letting a baby live as a gateway to promiscuity. It’s no surprise then that one has read of how the cleric of one mosque had a baby abandoned at the steps of his mosque stoned to death. He assumed the baby was illegitimate, and thus deserved to die in the most brutal way possible for something it had no control over. One wonders what kind of monsters would carry out that stoning too, but the answer is quite clear: the same kind of person who would slit a baby’s throat, or strangle one, and chuck a small lifeless body into a dumpster like she were yesterday’s old kitchen waste. It’s also not a long shot to assume these people are men. The cleric certainly was, and since our mosques aren’t really women-friendly spaces, it’s safe to presume the stoning parties were male. What a surprise.

That a charitable organisation offers a chance for a child’s survival, no questions asked, in a country like ours, is nothing short of a miracle. Thousands of children have lived because of it. Is it within our jurisdiction to wonder what the pedigree of a child is? Whether legitimacy determines the right to life? One is beginning to suspect that our national and religious squeamish obsession with reproduction has much less to do with morality and far more to do with control. Men are “allowed”, when men sow their wild oats people look the other way. But the thing is, you can’t clap with one hand, and sowing of said oats requires a partner, who is more often than not a woman. Where does she go if she becomes pregnant? To Edhi, if that baby is lucky. Or maybe to a backdoor Safia Clinic for a termination, most likely, where she could easily die of complications, septic shock and a whole laundry list of other awful things. But again, the dumpster looms large in one’s imagination. All women are ultimately dumpsters. They are seen as dispensable, as extra, an additional burden. Why is there a distinct preference for boy children in Asian cultures? Because women are irrelevant and annoying, with their emotions and their menstruation and the fact that they are the springboard for your masculinity, and thus must be controlled and “protected”. It’s exhausting having to marry them and pay for them and then pay for the girls they produce further. Somehow doing that for boys is different, and doesn’t count.

Whether an infant or an adult, women just can’t get a break. To make birth control widely available, no questions asked, no nikahnamas required, no stigmatisation, would mean that women could take control back of their bodies. Because of course men and women are “interacting”. One could avoid illegitimate anyone quite easily and safely. Societies all over the world have understood that couples will be couples regardless of what you officially do or do not allow; the best one can do is guarantee safety and awareness of safe practices. But we can’t, because it is haram and unmentionable, especially because it also makes no difference to men. It seems that what this all really boils down to is a deep loathing of women, and a colossal fear of them taking back control over what is done to them. It is such an entrenched dread that one would rather murder a baby than give an adult a condom and a pill. Any situation in which infanticide seems the better option is a bleak one indeed.

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com