Another of our friends, Asha Hans, has written in this Sunday’s Indian Express, “Above all, though India ‘modernises’ and lets in global market forces converting people to newer branded consumer items, our patriarchal mindsets have not changed.”
Read: Asha Hans, Patriarchal mindsets mar modernisation, Sunday Express, May 22, 2011.
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There are many blessings in India showered on a new bride, such as “may you have seven sons” or “may you be the mother of 100 sons”. Outdated as it may seem in a world increasingly promoting fewer children, the cultural dimension of son preference remains entrenched deep in societal thinking. In a country where women constitutionally have the right to equality, this blessing has become a significant marker of discrimination, as reflected in our declining child sex ratio.
The Census 2011 brought some cheer as the sex ratio showed a seven-point increase from 933 to 940. Kerala remains the state with the highest female sex ratio of 1,084 females vs 1,000 males. In contrast, Haryana reflects the lowest with 877 females. Broken down further, the state-level data shows the ratio in districts going down to as low as 583 in Leh and 533 in Daman.
Unfortunately the 0-6 child sex ratio has shown a drastic decline in India, having fallen by 13 points. There are deep variations, with Jammu and Kashmir falling an unbelievable 82 points and Maharashtra falling below the 913-mark to 883. The northwest states, which have always been in the danger zone, showed overall improvement with Punjab going up from 798 to 846. Eastern and southern India unfortunately demonstrate a widening regional decline.
In general, research on sex ratio has shown that the economies of gender are explicitly reflected in the demand for dowry and income potential of a son. There are also the socio-cultural needs of a male heir to make one’s identity known through one’s name in this world, and help one’s entry into the next. In this demand-driven world, the result is the practice of female infanticide and female foeticide. Though the government passed the PCPNDT legislation banning sex determination, it has made little change to the now disturbing trend of missing girls in India.
China is facing a worse problem due to its one-child policy which is acting as barrier to development. It is, therefore, advocating two children in some regions, but this policy as reported by the media is not paying off. To some extent, this is also reflected in India’s skewed sex ratio where now increasingly parents do not want more than two children. And those two, as observed, are sons.
As society is masculinised, violence against women is increasing, including rape, abduction, trafficking, slavery and polyandry. Muna, a small shopkeeper from Punjab, could not find a wife in the neighbouring countryside and had to pay a broker to get a wife who was a Bangladeshi migrant. Nimmi, a woman who was detected to be carrying a female foetus, had to undergo a DNA test as the priest had predicted she would have a boy.
There is another expected danger we should be aware of. The presence of large numbers of unmarried men in general will create more aggression and violence across the country. If the sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir, for instance, is skewed so much in favour of boys, the state will see even more violence in future because there will be an imbalanced masculinised social structure.
With newer and cheaper sex detection technologies emerging, the state is losing control. It is, therefore, no longer only the context of rich districts with high numbers of sonography centres with sex ratio problems, but also tribal and poor societies which are coming under the sweeping force of cheap technology.
Above all, though India ‘modernises’ and lets in global market forces converting people to newer branded consumer items, our patriarchal mindsets have not changed.
The writer is former director of the School of Women’s Studies, Utkal University.