Undesired: Violence Against Women in India
Violence against women is not only the most widespread example of a human rights violation, but probably the least evident, going largely unpunished. This is shown by the reports published and research conducted by the United Nations, international human rights agencies and the global women's and feminist movements which have been denouncing this situation for decades.
It takes many forms, from domestic abuse to rape, sexual abuse and harmful cultural practices ranging from genital mutilation and honor crimes to premature marriage. In the context of wars, in which most of the refugees and displaced population are women and children, women are raped, kidnapped, mutilated and used as sex slaves; the systematic rape of women and girls has been used as a weapon in numerous armed conflicts.
The grant allowed me to travel to India to document the effects of the selective abortion of feminine fetuses and the death of women because of complications during abortions carried out in poor hygienic conditions and complications during the pregnancy and giving birth.
The practice of sex-selective abortion is the result of cultural norms that value male children over female children. According to a report of UNICEF, it causes the non-birth of almost 7.000 girls per day in India. The Lancet magazine estimates that in the last 20 years 10 million feminine fetuses have been eliminated in the country.
Likewise, the numbers of pregnant women that die each year in India from preventable causes are close to 80.000.
I used the grant to travel to the northern districts of Punjab and Haryana, where fewer than 800 girls are born to every 1000 boys. Northern Punjab is one of the worst, with just 798 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six.
The project aims at contemplating violence against women as a historic and worldwide phenomenon and my goal is to create awareness about this violence and its consequences in the life of tens of thousands of women and girls.
Walter Astrada, born in Argentina in 1974, is a freelancer based in Kampala, Uganda, and is a stringer for Agence France-Presse. In 1996, he started his career as staff photographer in La Nacion newspaper (Argentina). In 1999 he traveled in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Peru developing a personal project on "Faith."
In September 1999 he joined The Associated Press in Bolivia and later in Argentina. From 2000 to 2002 he worked for the Associated Press in Paraguay. During 2003, he worked as a freelancer in Buenos Aires and Madrid, then at the end of 2003 he rejoined the Associated Press based in the Dominican Republic. From March 2005 until March 2006, he worked as a freelancer for Agence France Presse in the Dominican Republic and was represented and distributed by World Picture News. From March 2006 until December 2007 he was a freelancer in Spain.
BHUTTA, INDIA - NOVEMBER 19, 2009: A man carries his two sons down the street in the village of Bhutta (Fatehgarh Sahib district, Punjab). This district is known for having one of the most disproportionate juvenile sex ratios in India – around 750 girls per 1000 boys. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
PUNJAB, INDIA - NOVEMBER 21, 2009: A group of people dance during a wedding celebration in Ludhiana. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
MORENA, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 24, 2009: Hakem, who is 60 years old and suffers from cancer, rests as his wife Phoolwati takes care of their grandson Ramhiwas in Shukalu Kapura village, Morena. The couple has two daughters and six sons. A survey by Action Aid in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh reports a significant dip in the sex ratio as families move from the first to the second or third child. The biggest drop is in Morena (MP) where first birth statistics show 844 girls for every 1000 boys; by the third child, the ratio plummets to 715 girls. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
VRINDAVAN, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 16, 2009: An emaciated woman rests after lunch with her housemates, inside Guild of Service, a shelter for widows in Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh, northern India). Many conservative Indian families view widows as a liability. Cast out of the family home, they live the rest of their lives in poverty and isolation. Some find shelter in religious homes in the pilgrimage city of Vrindavan. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
VARANASI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 28, 2009: Utma’s burnt feet are seen as she rests on a bed inside the burn unit. She arrived at the hospital with severe burns to 100% of her body as a result of being doused in kerosene and lit on fire – the penalty for her family’s inability to pay the additional dowry demanded by her in-laws. The hospital cannot be named to protect the people who allowed me access to the burn unit. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
ROTHAK, INDIA - NOVEMBER 2, 2009: A woman cares for Namita, 18 years old, inside a protection home in Rothak. Namita was taken from her home in West Bengal to be sold as a wife in Haryana. She is pregnant as a result of being raped by her trafficker and suffers mental problems. The home provides physical protection but offers few other resources to women who are traumatized on many levels – physical, mental, emotional and psychological – by their experiences. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
ROTHAK, INDIA - NOVEMBER 3, 2009: A woman who suffers mental problems crouches in the courtyard of a protection home in Rothak. Most of the residents were rescued after being trafficked to be sold as wives or to work as prostitutes in Haryana and Delhi. The home provides physical protection but offers few other resources to women who are traumatized on many levels – physical, mental, emotional and psychological – by their experiences. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
HARYANA, INDIA - OCTOBER 2, 2009: Suman, 19 years old, eats on the floor while her husband sits above on the charpoy in the village of Madina, (Haryana). Born and raised in Assam, Suman was forcibly brought to Madina by a trafficker and sold to her husband for 40,000 rupees (US$ 842) at the age of 17. Some 20 years after the onset of sex-selective abortion, young men in India now face a shortage of eligible brides and are prepared to take desperate measures. As a result, there has been a sharp increase in trafficking of women from other regions of India or from countries such as Bangladesh or Nepal. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
SALEM, INDIA - FEBRUARY 8, 2010: A nurse takes care of abandoned baby girls in the Life Line Trust Home in Salem (Tamil Nadu). In its latest initiative to wipe out the practice of female foeticide and female infanticide, the government of Tamil Nadu has set up cradle homes where unwanted girls can be abandoned. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation
SALEM, INDIA - FEBRUARY 8, 2010: A group of girls sleep together at the Life Line Trust Home in Salem, (Tamil Nadu). In its latest initiative to wipe out the practice of female foeticide and female infanticide, the Indian government has set up a network of “cradle houses” where parents can leave unwanted baby girls. Walter Astrada/Alexia Foundation