‘Devaluation’ of women leading to drop in sex ratio

Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

Even as the overall sex ratio in India increased from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011, as per Census figures, the child sex ratio dropped to 914 females in 2011 from 927 in 2001 – the lowest since Independence. OneWorld South Asia tries to look into the unexplained intricacies leading to a drop in child sex ratio, despite increased media coverage and awareness in the last decade.

Significantly, the North Indian states of Punjab and Haryana with a notorious record of low sex ratio and discrimination against women have recorded an increasing, though marginal, trend in the birth of girls between 0 and 6 years. According to the 2011 Census, Haryana has 830 female children and Punjab 846 against per 1,000 male children.

Ranjana Kumar, director, Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based NGO, feels that the traditional psychology of male child preference, of late, has also been aided and abetted by developments in the medical sciences. Abortions have not just increased due to the easy access of technologies like ultrasound, but also because of other medical technologies which have significantly encouraged sex-selective abortions.

Kumar feels that any medical technology which determines the sex of the child in the womb in the first and second trimester is detrimental to females. “Special focus on the states of Punjab and Haryana has led to marginal improvement in the child sex ratio, but easy access to technology and the misuse of the same in rest of the country has significantly raised the number of sex selective abortions,” Kumar adds.

Indian capital Delhi too does not fare high on the child sex ratio which is considerably lower than the national average of 914 girls per 1,000 boys. A report by the Directorate of Census Operations says that the child sex ratio in Delhi has fallen to 866 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 from 868 in 2001.

Dr Vasanthi Raman, Visiting Fellow of the Delhi-based Centre for Women`s Development Studies (CWDS), says that despite the PC & PNDT (Pre conception & Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994), the practice of sex selection is rampant in some areas. “It is surprising to see that sex ratios are lowest in some of the most developed regions of the country. Unless there is a firm legislative and punitive action, we cannot deter those going for sex selective abortions — a practice which will have a disastrous impact on the society. This paradigm of development, the strange combination of ‘market logic’ and feudal patriarchal outlook towards the girl child is responsible for the sorry attitude of our society towards girl child. More developed a region, worse is the sex ratio,” rues Dr Raman.

Dr Raman says that women bearing more than one girl child are vulnerable to familial violence, and are constantly under pressure to give birth to a baby boy. She says, earlier, the practice of infanticide was restricted to some parts of the country like the north-west. But now, foeticide is not restricted to just one region but is prevalent in most parts of the country. “Girls are constantly being viewed as a burden. The neo-liberal paradigm of development is also responsible for an unhealthy attitude towards a girl child,” Dr Raman elaborates.

She laments that laws are being not implemented in the true spirit. “Doctors engaged in unlawful practices should be punished. The overall culture of devaluing women is also the reason behind the mindset of people who are reluctant to welcome a girl child. Just like the so-called lower castes face violence when they try to assert themselves, similarly women too face backlash when they endeavour to assert themselves by empowering themselves through education or business enterprise,” Dr Raman says.

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