India'stotal population on March 1, 2001 stood 1.03 billion. With this, India became the second country in the world, after China, to cross the one billion mark. The population of the country rose by 21.34 per cent between 1991 and 2001. What did not rose, but rather declined shockingly, was the child sex ratio.
The sex ratio at birth is slightly favourable to boys. This means that more boys are born as compared to girls. This is a natural phenomenon. The sex ratio at birth is usually 950 girls per 1,000 boys. The child sex ratio is calculated as number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group. In India, however, the 1991 census reported a child sex ratio of 945 girls per 1,000 boys, which further declined to 927 during 2001 census. Over the years, this ratio has fallen from 976 in 1961, to 964 in 1971, and 962 in 1981. Experts feel that a stage may soon come when it would become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make up for the ?missing girls?. Society needs to recognise this gravity of gender discrimination. Girls have a right to live just as boys do. Moreover, missing numbers of either sex, and the resulting imbalance, can destroy the social and human fabric as we know it.
The north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigargh and Delhi, as well as Gujarat, surpassing in wealth with the rest of India, were shown to be the worst offenders.
In states such as Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Gujarat, this ratio has declined to less than 900 girls per 1,000 boys. There are 70 districts in 16 states and Union Territories that have recorded more than 50 point decline in the child sex ratio during the decade 1991-2001. Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, with 754 females per 1,000 males, had the lowest ratio. Kuruskshetra in Haryana was almost as bad, where young females numbering 770 only.
The overall sex ratio in Delhi is 868 females per 1,000 males. Gender ratios in some affluent colonies indicate the continuing preference for sons and bias against girl child. And this bias is most pronounced in the urban areas than in rural areas. To cite a few examples, in the south of the city, urban Defence Colony'ssex ratio is 883 females to 1,000 males, whereas the rural area fares better with 987 females. Similarly, it is 856 to 1,000 in Vasant Vihar, as against 887 to 1,000 in its rural zone. In West Delhi'saffluent Patel Nagar, the urban ratio is 866:1,000, and the rural is 937:1,000. Punjabi Bagh'sratio is a dismal 840 girls. It is the second worst. Across Yamuna, East Delhi'sPreet Vihar, reaches the nadir with 780 girls.
There is preference for sons. This preference is influenced by many socio-economic and cultural factors, such as the son being responsible for carrying forward the family name and occupation and performing religious rites at the time of cremation. The practice of dowry and daughters being viewed as paraya dhan is the biggest reason why sons are preferred to daughters.
In Punjab, the most culpable with a ratio of 793 to 1000, Sikh granthis were directed to caution their flock against the practice of female foeticide. Jain community is also worried by falling sex ratio and Jain religious leaders have been repeatedly asking to put a restrain in Jain families and self discipline their ?demand for son?. Sadhvi Ritambhara and Ashram Bapu have also taken the cause in big way in north.
It is a known cause of concern that shortage of brides is felt in Haryana and Punjab. To counter the consequent short fall in the brides in these northern states, human traffickers are supplying girls from poorer states, such as Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and even the south.
It is important to know that the families who get sex determination done are equal offenders like doctors. They can also be punished under the PNDT Act i.e Rs 10,000 fine and three years jail.
However, until social attitudes do not change, the threat of penal action is unlikely to boost the female status. Educated and affluent Indians are equally if not more averse to the girl child and consider them economic liability. It is a fact that the rising classes in particular, are the biggest victims in this phenomenon, as weddings become more lavish and demands for dowry untenable. This has had the unfortunate effect of turning females into a greater liability than before.
Indian Medical Association is concerned that no amount of legislation, penal action or social awareness and religious leaders appeal has been able to eliminate the practice of female foeticide in India . On the contrary, the aggressive consumerism, integral to free market economics, has merely boosted it.
Nexus of society, doctors (trained and quacks) and modern technology have made it easier to get rid of the girl child. Whereas earlier, infanticide was rampant, as it still is in remote areas of Rajasthan, Bihar and Tamil Nadu where pre-natal diagnostic techniques are unknown, now female foeticide is common in most places. This is because of the easy availability of ultrasound machines for determining the gender of the foetus, which, if female, can be aborted in the early stages of pregnancy. The mushrooming of sex determination clinics was initially seen in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat, where the mania of consumerism has spread like a plague, testifies to the trend on those states. Infact no State is free of female foeticide today, including Kerala. Previously Muslims were not indulging in this heinous crime, but now they have also joined the rat race.
Even the amendment to the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994, making sex selection, at the pre-conception stage, a cognizable offence, has had little impact. The Rs 10,000 fine or prison sentence up to three years for first conviction and later one lac and or five years jail are probably not a sufficient deterrent. Moreover it is pathetic to know that one case has been so punished so far in Haryana and that too also took five years of legal proceedings.
If the Hindu, Jain and Sikh community seriously wish to address this problem, they need to strike at its root cause by doing away with dowry, that weighs heavily against girl child preference. They should invest on girl child and make her economically independent. Given opportunity she can do better than boys.
(The writer is Chairperson, Women Wing of Indian Medical Association.)