MOHAN RAO, Times of India, 26 Oct 2006
There has been a steady decline in India's overall sex ratio (SR) over the 20th century. The 1975 Report of the Committee of the Status of Women drew attention to the fact that while the 1901 census showed 972 females per thousand males, this had declined steadily to 946 in 1951, 941 in 1961, and 930 in 1971.
The 1981 census, however, threw up a happy figure of 934 females per thousand males. The 1991 figure however put paid to this optimism — it revealed a further decline to 927.
Demographers now accept that the 1981 figure was caused by significant under-counting of females due to a decline in the quality of the 1971 census.
They are agreed that the 1991 and 2001 censuses are free from this infirmity. This is to say that the 2001 census figures, of 933 females per thousand males, are real and indicative of an improvement in the overall survival of females.
The SR could turn feminine simply because more men than women have migrated. But the juvenile or child sex ratio (CSR) is not subject to this limitation. Despite the slight overall improvement in the SR, CSR in India as a whole has declined significantly — from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001.
The decline in the CSR has been notable in Himachal Pradesh (897), Punjab (793), Chandigarh (845), Haryana (820) and Delhi (865), the classical region of the north and west referred to as the Bermuda triangle for missing females.
In these states the number of female children per thousand male children in the 0-6 age group declined by more than 50 between 1991 and 2001.
Gujarat (929) and Maharashtra (946), the more developed states by all conventional indices, have unfortunately joined this group.
Something entirely new, going beyond the traditional cultural arguments, is afoot, as anti-female attitudes spread to new regions and new communities, armed with technology and aggression.
Sanskritisation does not explain this process. The explanation that Hindus need sons to cremate their fathers runs aground, as substantial sections of Hindus, particularly lower castes, bury their dead, and it is these communities that have seen substantial declines in CSR and masculinisation of sex ratio at birth (SRB).
The decline in CSR and masculinisation of SRB has spread to regions and populations hitherto considered immune, namely states of the south and west and populations of SCs and STs, as these get increasingly neo-Brahminised, or North-Indianised.
In Kerala, SRB has masculinised from 105.5 males for every 100 females in 1981-90 to 107.1 in 1996-98. The decline is marked in more developed regions, and in more literate and better-off social groups.
So much rubbish, then, on education as female empowerment. What we have then is 'karva chauth capitalism' — a conjunction of consumerism, anti-feminism and Hindutva in a time of globalisation.
In India, a figure of 105 male births for 100 female births is considered the norm. How-ever, SRB estimates for 1998 reveal an all-India figure of 111 males per 100 females, indicative of sex-selective abortion (SSA) of females.
Figures above this national average of the SRB are seen in Gujarat (113.9), Haryana (123.3), Punjab (122.8), Rajasthan (114.8) and Uttar Pradesh (118).
Scholars have drawn attention to imbrication of Brahminical marriage patterns among other castes and the spread of dowry.
Increased availability of new technologies, from the relatively rare methods of enrichment of male sperm to selection of male embryos for implantation along with the now ubiquitous ultrasound machines used for sex selection, have provided new and more widespread means to SSA.
General Electric and Wipro, distributors of ultrasounds in India, have sold a disproportionate number in northern and western states, precisely the areas that have revealed a precipitous decline in CSR.
These technologies are often marketed to doctors with loans from GE Capital. All religious fundamentalisms write their writs on the bodies of women.
Since the 1990s we have seen, in India as in many other parts of the globe, a sharp increase in violent crimes against women.
There has been an increase in violence against Dalit women, and a rise in so-called honour killings, especially in the same areas of north and west India that have also seen an increase of SSA.
A sharp increase in dowry deaths has also been documented in these regions. Indeed, new forms of dowry, new forms of crass commercialism, and the disappearance of girl children, appear to go together, as patriarchy and 'karva chauth capitalism' intersect.
Some of these areas have also seen import of women for marriage: Haryanvi men marrying Assamese women, men in UP importing brides from West Bengal, and men in Rajasthan importing brides from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Extreme poverty among groups giving away daughters, along with the low sex ratio in groups importing such brides, are seen as crucial factors explaining the increase of such marriages over the last decade.
In Haryana, where it is reported that girls are brought in from as far away as Orissa and Bangladesh, such girls are apparently referred to as lesser wives.
The lesser wives, it is reported, are sometimes married to more than one lesser husband, who due to relative poverty and lack of brides, cannot obtain a bride of his caste.
Thus, we witness the emergence of new forms of sex slavery, along with polyandry, which apparently claims the sanctity of tradition.
The writer is with Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU.