That's what's behind India's skewed sex ratio
Over two decades ago, in an Economic and Political Weekly article, the economic historian Dharma Kumar wrote that as numbers of women decrease, there would be a growing demand for them, thereby raising their status in society. Many lauded Kumar, for going against the grain. But she was wrong. A strong preference for sons persists in this country, aided by technology that increasingly allows parents to realise their desires. Amniocentesis and ultrasound can easily identify the sex of a fetus, and the law has had scarce impact on the numerous sex-selective abortion centres in the country.
India's sex ratio is terribly skewed: 933 women for every thousand. In most parts of the world it's women who actually outnumber men: in the UK, US, several countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and even sub-Saharan Africa. Many liberal social scientists do believe that India would reverse its terrible sex ratio with economic growth.Like a lot of other assumptions that prop up optimistic theories of economic growth, this one is also terribly simplistic -- and way off the mark. Punjab's prosperity and the Green Revolution did not ensure that a lot of girls could grow up as respected individuals (see pp 46-49). There are less than 800 girls for 1,000 men in that state.
But why criticise only Punjab? Even Maharashtra, which fares better on other human development indi-cators, had 922 women for 1,000 men in 2002. In 1991, there were 934 women for 1,000 men in the state. The skewed ratio perpetuates a vicious and potentially destabilising cycle. A couple of decades ago, the sociologist Leela Dube warned that declining female population could lead to abduction, sale of girls and polyandry. These were not the apocryphal words of a cynical academic. Today, there are many studies that show a small pool of marriageable women not only increases demand for trafficked women -- both for the purposes of marriage and prostitution -- it also forces many girls to cut short their education in order to wed and bear children.
But a family doesn't imply security. A recent UNIFEM survey on violence against women in India showed that 94 per cent cases involved an offender who was a member of the family. This is one problemeconomic growth, education or family ties have failed to address. We need to rethink ourselves as a society.
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