Depressing gender census data in India and tackling the problem


by Rumbold
26th May, 2011 at 10:33 am    

The latest figures from India’s national census make for grim reading. Between 2001 and 2011 the gender ratio (number of girls compared to number of boys per thousand) worsened, with only 914 girls for every 1000 boys being recorded, down from a ratio of 974:1000 in 1961. Some of the worst offending states, especially Haryana, did see slight improvements, but this was more than offset by the decline in Southern India, which traditionally has been less anti-female than the north. Much of the gap is due female foetuses being aborted. But infanticide (the killing of babies/infants) is also widespread, with young girls being murdered all over India.

What though can be done about it? Lifting people out of poverty is often the answer to many issues, but not this one. In the last twenty years, India has got richer, yet the gender imbalance is worse. It is often richer families who abort female foetuses, as they have access to ultrasounds and the money to pay for an abortion. As Rita Banerji’s article last week showed, such attitudes still exist in the (comparatively) wealthy Indian diasporas in the West, and this is only likely to worsen, as more Indians get access to affordable ultrasound machines.

A lack of females should make baby girls more valuable, as parents of men compete for the right for their son to marry, but sadly, this is not the case either. What is happening is that girls are being kidnapped from other areas, or else bought as slave brides, as has been happening in China, another imbalanced area, for the last few years. It is dowry which lies at the heart of this system, as the huge cost of marriage for daughters makes them less attractive then sons. Despite being illegal, dowry combines with other anti-female attitudes to create a toxic environment for girls.

Indian activists have long battled against these problems, but have received little help from the state. In Bihar, this is changing though. Bihar, an Indian state, used to be the worst-run state in India, Under the excellent Nitish Kumar though, it is becoming a model for development and progress. In 2007 the state set up a scheme to make having daughters more attractive in poor families:

Under the scheme, the state invests 2,000 rupees ($44; $27) in a fund in the name of the girl. The money grows along with the child – once she reaches 18, officials say it will be worth about 10 times that amount, and could be used to pay for her wedding or to fund a college education.

The scheme is available only to those living below the poverty line and a family can enrol just two daughters.

Bihar also gives money to families when their girls continue in school. Clearly this alone cannot solve the massive gender imbalances, but it is a good start in a country where activists and well-meaning but ignored laws often form the only barriers to massive economic and cultural pressures.


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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,Sex equality






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  1. douglas clark — on 26th May, 2011 at 10:46 am  

    Rumbold,

    I don’t want to sound like a libertarian economist, but it must be the case that supply and demand will eventually reverse the dowry? It will eventually be men that will have to pay it.

    The idea that shortages of a product – women – would lead to them having to pay a premium for marriage, is frankly ludicrous. What are these crazy Indians all about?

    It sounds all a bit like Victorian England.

  2. Rumbold — on 26th May, 2011 at 10:53 am  

    Douglas:

    The problem is that in this case a shortage of supply means they go and find women from elsewhere.

  3. douglas clark — on 26th May, 2011 at 11:55 am  

    Rumbold,

    But that can only be a short term solution?

    I know, I am sounding like a libertarian economist. But no imbalance in the male female ratio can, in the longer term, not favour one or the other paying a dowry.

    And that is obvious, although well hidden elsewhere, more men less benefit, more women less assets transferred or none or the complete reverse. What would be the incentive for another culture to produce a surplus of women if there was no economic advantage?

    It is hard to see how India is able to sustain this policy / practice.

    I know I am missing the obvious humanitarian argument, and I accept that that is the real argument, but really? It just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

  4. Optimist — on 26th May, 2011 at 1:54 pm  

    “Despite being illegal, dowry…”, from what I understand its only ‘illegal’ to give the dowry to bride-groom’s parents. They get around it by demanding that the help (dowry) be given to the bride & bride-groom, including massive ‘presents’ for rest of the bride-groom’s family.

    Was invited to the wedding of a govt. minister’s son (distant relative), while visiting the Punjab a few years ago. The bride’s family spared no expanse, enough to bankrupt any middle-class family, let alone a poor one. The said minister turned around to me and said, we have not asked for a ‘rupee’ but they are free to give whatever they want to their own daughter and their new ‘son’!

    Yes, indeed!. Without that there would have been no marriage, I thought. Until the govt. ministers set the example and stop this menace, it would carry on.

  5. KJB — on 26th May, 2011 at 4:52 pm  

    That’s just it, Douglas – these attitudes are apparent even among the diasporan Indians, where there is a much smaller community to choose spouses from. That doesn’t exactly bode well for Indian women – it suggests that the situation is going to get absolutely to crisis point before anything changes. :-(

    It drives me crazy how Asians claim they are holier-than-thou when it comes to white people – ‘We care about family, we respect tradition, religion etc.’ but all the dowry nonsense is about GREED, pure and simple.

    I must just quote a commenter on IBTP:

    India: women must cough up dough, so let’s kill women
    China: men must cough up dough, so let’s kill women.
    Logical, right?

  6. jamal — on 26th May, 2011 at 5:04 pm  

    kjb

    agree with your comments a lot of hypocrisy going on. 8 million female foetuses they saying have been killed in past 10 years, What kind of country or society allows that to carry on? because i don’t see much movement from the ones in power to change these backward ideas.

  7. damon — on 26th May, 2011 at 7:22 pm  

    So does this make India a ”sick society”?

    I saw a Newsnight report last week, where the poor young bachelors of China were required to be property owners if they were to have any chance in finding a wife.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9491365.stm

  8. douglas clark — on 26th May, 2011 at 10:05 pm  

    KJB @ 5,

    Hi again. Yes, this makes no sense whatsoever. Rumbold is absolutely right to highlight it. I am, as you probably know, against men getting involved in reproductive decisions. It is, after all, the woman that has to bring the child to birth.

    I believe and I would assume almost everyone else does too, that women have as much merit as men. So a social decision to terminate pregnancies that have a female fetus is simply unacceptable.

    Just so’s you know, I have a daughter and as far as I’m concerned she’s the equal of either of my two sons.

    Contrary thinking just does my head in. It reminds me, somewhat, of the concept of male primogeniture. Which, I think, still applies to Royalty.

    Somewhere I have an amusing SF story about rich Indian men trying to attract equally rich Indian women. If I can find it, I’ll send it to you…

  9. Rita Banerji — on 27th May, 2011 at 8:09 am  

    @Rumbold — The colonial British Administration had actually tried a similar dowry fund program, in the late 1800s, to stop female infanticide, but they scrapped it because it did not work long term. The government of India, too tried something like this in I think Rajasthan and they have have strange ways of getting around it — but they realized at some point that they were taking the money out but still killing the girls.

    Also in line with what @Douglas Clark is saying about treating women like “resource” and applying an economic logic (the supply-demand thing) — the problem is when a woman is just a resource, then there are always ways around that. They are buying “brides” already — but for less then the cost of a cow or milk buffalo! And all the brothers in a family “share” her! In many cases they sell her to another family after using her. The supply-demand approach actually perpetuates the perspective of women as sexual and reproductive commodities, which is the cause of the problem.

    You have to see the film “Matrubhoomi” (available on amazon.com or .co.uk) — where an entire village shared this one woman. She is tied to a post in the cow shed, and anyone drops in and uses her any time! I think that illustrates the issue of women as sexual resource.

    @KJB — is right. Dowry is outright Greed! Actually is it criminal extortion that is generously tolerated and accommodated by all parties. I often say if a family is torturing your daughter — and blackmailing you for money (you are giving way to criminality on two counts!) What kind of logic is that?

    Already there are about 50 million more men than women in India, so why are the families of women in India so desperate to give in to dowry blackmailers is what is incomprehensible to me?

  10. douglas clark — on 27th May, 2011 at 9:47 am  

    Rita Banerji @ 9,

    Already there are about 50 million more men than women in India, so why are the families of women in India so desperate to give in to dowry blackmailers is what is incomprehensible to me?

    Exactly. It makes no sense whatsoever.

  11. persephone — on 29th May, 2011 at 11:51 am  

    ” we have not asked for a ‘rupee’ but they are free to give whatever they want to their own daughter and their new ‘son’! ”

    Perhaps a response to the Minister would have been – why are the girls family paying for the wedding? What did you contribute – if not why not?

    If you look at the types of indian media that cover such weddings they are flattering – there should be a less unflattering website/blog that lists such high profile weddings, especially ministers who ‘talk’ about improving inequalities, with details of whom hosted/paid for the wedding and the various gifts etc

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