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Female infanticide in India has a history spanning centuries.

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Some British Christian missionaries of the late 19th century, states Daniel Grey, wrongly believed that female infanticide was sanctioned by the scriptures of Hinduism and Islam, and against which Christianity had "centuries after centuries come into victorious conflict".According to Marvin Harris, another anthropologist and among the first proponents of cultural materialism, these killings of legitimate children occurred only among the Rajputs and other elite land-owning and warrior groups.The rationale was mainly economic, lying in a desire not to split land and wealth among too many heirs and in avoiding the payment of dowries.Thus, Harris and others, such as William Divale, see female infanticide as a way to restrict population growth, while sociobiologists such as Mildred Dickemann view the same practice as a means of expanding it.Another anthropologist, Kristen Hawkes, has criticised both of these theories.It was noted among members of a Rajput clan by Jonathan Duncan, then the British Resident in Jaunpur district of what is now the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Later, in 1817, officials noted that the practice was so entrenched that there were entire taluks of the Jadeja Rajputs in Gujarat where no female children of the clan existed.

These historical records have been questioned by modern scholars.

The British made their observations from a distance and never mixed with their Indian subjects to understand their poverty, frustrations, life or culture at close hand.

Although this did change in the 1830s, the reluctance reappeared following the cathartic events of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused government by the East India Company to be supplanted by the British Raj.

In 1857, John Cave Browne, a chaplain serving in Bengal Presidency, reported a Major Goldney speculating that the practice of female infanticide among the Jats in the Punjab Province originated from "Malthusian motives".

The Indian practice of female infanticide and of sex-selective abortion have been cited to explain in part a gender imbalance that has been reported as being increasingly distorted since the 1991 Census of India, although there are also other influences that might affect the trend.