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Infanticide


Infanticide the practice of putting the newborn to death with the consent of the parent, family or community. The practice was prevalent in the Bengal Hindu society until the mid-nineteenth century. As a practice infanticide is traceable in most ancient and medieval societies of the world. Among the Chinese and the Eskimos, it was once common female babies were killed on the ground of scarcity of food. In certain ancient and medieval societies deformed children were killed believing that they were tainted by demons. In Roman law, the patria potestas granted the father the right to sacrifice or kill his offspring. Islam, Christianity and Judaism have rejected this inhuman custom.

But in Hinduism it continued to exist until it came under severe social criticism in the early nineteenth century. In South Asia, infanticide was mostly confined to the Rajputs of Varanasi, Kathiawar and Kachha, Jabbalpur and Sagar. In the Punjab infanticide was quite common. Bengal was at the periphery of the infanticide zones. While male child was not free from being sacrificed, customarily it was the female child, which was the victim of the custom. From secular point of view it indicates the inferior status of women in the society. The Mughal rulers tried to stop infanticide but failed.

As a social evil it increased in the eighteenth century Bengal some minor sects supporting the practice. The first person to speak effectively against the evil was Raja rammohun roy. The Brahma Samaj and the alumni of the hindu college condemned the system and tried to disseminate their anti-infanticide ideas among the people. Encouraged by the rising social awareness against infanticide Governor General william bentinck enacted a law against any murder in guise of sati or infanticide.

The custom, however, did not stop all at once. Throughout the nineteenth century it was found to be practiced but with a trend of gradual decrease. Under the Criminal Procedure Code of 1861 all human sacrifices in the name of religion or otherwise were declared as ordinary murders and hence were subject to trial and punishment for the crime. [Sirajul Islam]