The sex-ratio of females and males in India has taken a nose-dive due to rampant female foeticide and utter failure of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Act, which bans pre-determination of sex of an unborn child.
Recently a very interesting panel discussion on A nation without women was organised at FICCI to express concern at the decline of sex ratio with its serious demographic and social consequences. I wish to draw attention of the civil society by comparing India and China on falling sex ratio.
Both India and China are home to a sizeable chunk of the world population and have one thing in common: their traditional bias against women. How shameful India'streatment of the girl child may be, China, after its stringent one-child norm, has worse record. It has the world'smost imbalanced gender ratio.
China'scensus in 2000 shows there are 20 per cent more boys than girls in the group zero to four. The imbalance is even more extraordinary in seven provinces of China, which have 28 to 36 per cent more boys than girls in this age group. Against the previous record of 100-107 boys, the sex ratio has presently fallen to 107-120 boys per 100 girls. This serious imbalance has worsened during the last two decades, says Judith Banister, a demography specialist working in China.
One of the major causes of the low count of girls in China is the one-child norm, combined with the bias against girls. This results in unchecked abortion of the female fetuses and the death of girls from health and nutrition neglect. Isn'tthis a familiar story in India?
The social consequences of the ?missing girl syndrome? have not yet been felt, in its entire enormity in India. Valerie Hudson from Young University, United States, has made very interesting predictions about these two great nations where there would, in due course, emerge a large surplus of men. In 2000, China'ssex ratio was 944 and India'sin 2001 was 933 (compared with 1,029 in the US).
The reason for this abnormal demographic phenomenon is apparently simple. When couples were free to have half a dozen children as in past, there was a natural mix of boys and girls. When they were restricted by the state or by economic compulsions to one or two, they made sure they produce only sons. In China, sex selection test centres are available easily and without taboo, as in the Punjab and Haryana, inspite of government regulation (PNDT Act) and ban on sex selection centres.
The experts say that the societies with a large number of men tend to experience more crime, unrest and violence.
Very soon, China will have an estimated 30 million ?unhappy, unmarried? men; but their unhappiness would be of a different kind than that of unhappy married men. It is predicted that these unhappy, unmarried men could create a political revolution at home. In China, this large-scale unrest could well have an impact outside China. It is also possible that the Chinese government may decide to use these surplus men without women for military activism in the neighbourhood.
In India the diminishing number of women will lower their status further. Polyandry and the Draupadi syndrome would again become a modern-day reality.
It is very clear from the declining sex ratio among the zero to six age group, as found in the 2001 census, the economic and social development of states has not reduced but actually added to the worsening anti-daughter discrimination in India.
There is now no escaping from the fact that the negative sex ratio in states and districts with higher literacy and economic levels is a reality. It destroys our theory that education is the panacea for all social evils particularly those against women. But ground reality speaks something different. In China too education levels and economic prosperity are found to be a determinant factor for anti-girl attitudes.
India has seen the dramatic increase in dowry practices i.e., in the nature of dowries given and demanded, as well as in its dramatic rise in almost all communities. This has been mainly responsible for the phenomenal increase of female foeticide and process of atrocities against women in Indian families.
Now, of course, dowry has spread to all classes?rich and poor, including those societies where not long ago, brides, not grooms, commanded a price. The other reason for practice of dowry to continue is a woman'sright to inherit her share of paternal property remains elusive, inspite of changed laws of the country and hence dowry remains the main vehicle to women'seconomic security. Not to mention the new age craze of consumer goods, which is silently feeding mass greed.
In short, inheritance laws in Hindu community should be made similar for both sons and daughters and practical shape need to be given at home front by elders and community leaders and girls should not be pressurised to just sign property papers in favour of their brothers. Second, implement and provide social security system for the elderly in rural and urban areas too so that parents do not have to depend on sons. Third, creating publicity, propaganda and consciousness that women are at par with men, can take care of elders in old age it made economically independent before marriage. Lastly, anti dowry campaign, is the need of hour and needs to be done on a war-footing. Students leaders, NGOs and religious leaders need to get into the protest-dowry mode in large numbers and promote group marriages where 15-20 marriages are performed at one place. Only then perhaps would the sex ratio will stabilise and the population of girls would not skew of further in India.
(The writer is Chairperson, Women Wing of IMA.)