Although infanticide has been criminalised in India, it remains an under-reported crime due to the lack of reliable data. In 2010, the National Crime Records Bureau reported approximately 100 male and female infanticides, producing an official rate of less than one case of infanticide per million people.
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.
Section 315 of the Indian Penal Code defines infanticide as the killing of an infant in the 0–1 year age group. The Code uses this definition to differentiate between infanticide and numerous other crimes against children, such as foeticide and murder.
Some scholarly publications on infanticide use the legal definition. Others, such as the collaboration of Renu Dube, Reena Dube and Rashmi Bhatnagar, who describe themselves as "postcolonial feminists", adopt a broader scope for infanticide, applying it from foeticide through to femicide at an unspecified age. Barbara Miller, an anthropologist, has "for convenience" used the term to refer to all non-accidental deaths of children up to the age of around 15–16, which is culturally considered to be the age when childhood ends in rural India. She notes that the act of infanticide can be "outright", such as a physical beating, or take a "passive" form through actions such as neglect and starvation. Neonaticide, being the killing of a child within 24 hours of birth, is sometimes considered as a separate study.
British colonists in India first became aware of the practice of female infanticide in 1789, during the period of Company Rule. 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. In the mid-19th century, a magistrate who was stationed in the north-west of the country claimed that for several hundred years no daughter had ever been raised in the strongholds of the Rajahs of Mynpoorie and that only after the intervention of a District Collector in 1845 did the Rajput ruler there keep a daughter alive. The British identified other high-caste communities as practitioners in north, western and central areas of the country; these included the Ahirs, Bedis, Gurjars, Jats, Khatris, Lewa Kanbis, Mohyal Brahmins and Patidars.