Babies' deaths haunt India

THE BADLY decomposed bodies of nine babies have been recovered from an open drain in the city of Hyderabad, central India, in the past eight days - a haunting reminder in India's most rapidly modernising city of the dire imperatives of poverty.

The first five corpses were recovered last Wednesday from a shallow bottleneck in the sewer just behind the city's Viceroy Hotel. The deputy commissioner of police, CR Naidu, said post-mortem examinations failed to reveal whether the children were stillborn or killed, let alone whether, if killed, it was because they were illegitimate or because they were female and the families could not bear the burden of having to provide them with dowries for marriage.

Another infant was found on Saturday, three more on Sunday. Nobody knows how many newborns are killed in India, but one indication of the size of the problem is that, according to the 1991 census, there are only 927 women in the population for every 1,000 men. If the sexes were evenly balanced, the population would contain an extra 40 million women. In 1997, the government launched a scheme to reward the families of the poor with cash on the birth of a daughter. But the solution is not that simple. Of the nine bodies recovered, four were male.

The chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's bold vision of economic and technological revolution has put the city at the forefront of the movement to reform India. The 16 flyovers soaring across the city centre are only the most visible sign of its transformation, made possible by a World Bank loan.

There is no reason to link the city's dead infants with the modernisation process. But they are a grisly reminder of the depth of despair and poverty still to be overcome.

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