Contrary to popularly held opinion, the female to male ratio is on decline despite continuous economic growth in India. Curiously, the backward regions with poor education seem to be doing better on child sex ratio in comparison to the better-off areas.
Despite numerous campaigns and schemes, the number of girls is on decline
The provisional Census figures released recently brought relief to experts as they saw the marginal decline in the rate of population growth. This euphoria is short lived as the dissection of the census data revealed a shocking feature of declining child sex ratios (CSR). Though there was marginal improvement in the adult sex ratio, it was obvious that the girls were missing from the populations not only in the northern regions, but also in new areas including in the prosperous urban regions of the country.
The manifestation of masculine sex ratio in the country is a continuing phenomenon that was revealed since the census in 1901. The number of females for 1000 males declined from 970 in 1901 to 914 in 2011. This national average hides the contagious nature of declining CSR in those states, which had positive CSR during the past decades. In 27 states and Union Territories the CSR has declined, except in the states like Mizoram (973), Meghalaya (971) and Chhattisgarh (964).
Experts are rationalizing the fact that the sex ratio of adult population has increased form 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011. It is claimed to reflect the improvement in female mortality during the decade. However, we need to look into the feeder population of the child sex ratio to understand how the society deals with the female child in the early years from 0 to 6 years.
A research article in the famous medical journal The Lancet, pointed out the selective abortions of female foetuses, especially if the first child is a girl, has increased substantially during 1990-2005.
In fact the higher per capita income and higher education have made it easier for people to access the technology to terminate the female foetus.
The same study has demolished the myth that the increasing prosperity as well as higher female literacy would lead to a better CSR. In fact the higher per capita income and higher education have made it easier for people to access the technology to terminate the female foetus. The study estimates that about 30 to 60 lakh female foetuses were selectively aborted in the country in the last three decades.
Studies other than the Census based on income in rural and urban areas have decisively concluded the rise in masculine sex ratios among the prosperous groups in all states and the intensification of this negative trend since the advent of economic liberalization.
Act has no impact
Alarmed by the increasing masculinity of sex ratio in 1991 census, the government enacted the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT) in 1994, and amended it in 2003 to control the sex determination. Though a positive step, the zero percent conviction rate exposes the tardy implementation of this Act. The nexus between the medical fraternity and the implementing agencies, the dubious ways of bypassing the Act clearly indicates the failure of the legal tool to control sex determination during pregnancy.
After passing the Act the government has become passive, and has not taken measures to implement the Act. The Central Supervisory Board, under Health ministry is supposed to meet twice a year to assess the sex ratio. This Board has not met for three years! Continuous lack of initiative by policy makers at the national level is obvious from the outcome of the Census figures.
Both India and China have the dubious distinction of having masculine sex ratios and both seem to be competing to have the worst CSR. The studies show that the major cause for discrimination against the female child in these two countries is the preference for son and low status of women. In China the policy of one child per family may be the contributing factor. But in India the economically better off sections of the society are voluntarily adopting this policy, opting to have sons instead of daughters.
In the tribal regions of both central as well as north-eastern India, the culture is still ‘primitive’, giving equal opportunities for women in daily life, with last remains of matriarchal rooting.
India also has the largest number of anemic people, with more than half our women and children suffer form malnourishment, a condition worse than sub Saharan Africa. This is a clear indicator of how we treat our women and children despite having achieved economic progress. The increase in violence and rape cases in the country is a clear indicator of the constant threats a girl faces in her life.
The numerous campaigns and government schemes in favour of girl child have had little impact in arresting the declining sex ratio in the country. Nevertheless, there are regions where it is getting better despite being tagged as backward by social indicators. The tribal population dominated backward state of Chhatisharh has registered positive trend. Similarly, Mewat region in Haryana with lowest women’s literacy rate of 37.6 percent has the highest CSR (903) in the state.
These intriguing facts indicate a definitive feature of those cultures that we consider as backward. In the tribal regions of both central as well as north-eastern India, the culture is still ‘primitive’, giving equal opportunities for women in daily life, with last remains of matriarchal rooting. The mainstream paternalistic culture is yet to take roots in these regions. May be, with the ongoing ‘development efforts’ and the mainstreaming of these regions, they too would adopt the patriarchal ways of masculine gender ratio.
We claim to be an ancient civilization that worships the feminine and teaches to respect our mother and sisters. However, the recent trends of worsening sex ratio, increasing violence against women and female foeticide raise serious questions about the path we have chosen post modernisation. The economic liberalization did bring prosperity to the middle class, but it has also brought a deep-rooted streak of violent attitude within the family. This violent attitude, based on negative financial implications is revealed in worsening CSR, wherein the educated family members are willing to use the terminator technology to stop the female child from taking birth.
The prevailing situation needs to be tackled at societal level. Legal tools, even if implemented properly will have limited impact. The country has to wake up to the call of disappearing girl child. Unless the patriarchal society initiates change in its attitude to make way for the survival of the girl child, the survival of society itself will become difficult.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are
personal and do not necessarily reflect the
views of d-sector editorial team.
Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.
This is happening because dowry demands are higher for the daughter of a prosperous family. Upper middle-class homes dread the prospect of having more than one daughter. This is also the reason behind the rise in love marriages in recent times, since it precludes dowry. Posted By: Rina Mukherji
Dated: Monday, July 04, 2011