By Md Mainuddin
India’s provisional 2011 census was declared a year ago, on 31st March in 2011. According to paper No 1 of the Census of 2011, India’s population was 1210 million, 51.54% were male and 48.46% female. This means India’s sex ratio has increased from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011 census. Population increased by 17.64% between 2001 and 2011 and it led to an annual growth rate of 1.64%.
This census was debated most among sociologists and demographers regarding the inclusion of enumeration of caste. Some argued against inclusion of caste census as they believe it will raise inequality among people. This census has come up with many positive indicators, such as the decline in the rate of population growth, a rise in literacy rate and also of the overall sex ratio of the number of women per 1,000 men.
But the child sex ratio (CSR), which dropped from 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 fell further to an all-time low of 914 in 2011. Incidentally, the national average of 914 is also the worst India has had since Independence.
Additionally, this census reported the more dangerous phenomena of murdering the girl children in the womb before they are born. It also attracts the attention of the civil society, planners, and allied ministries to explore the reasons and to calling for “crusade” to curb crime against the girl children.
Addressing bureaucrats and civil society at a function in New Delhi, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh claimed Indian girls and women “have done us proud in classrooms, in boardrooms and on the sports field. They have broken existing barriers to prove their worth in almost every sphere”. He added, vehemently that “the falling child sex ratio (as shown in the latest census data) is an indictment of our social values”. It would not be wrong if put his words like, it is the social facts (values) are responsible for this social disorder in the society.
Likely, Durkheim, a social positivist put it in his seminal work ‘Suicide’ which published in 1897, that the reasons for suicide lie outside the individual. In other words it is our socio-cultural condition of society that is responsible for the murdering of girl children. Moreover, it is the cultural constrain that acts on the individual to opt for such crime. Therefore, I argue that the very socialization process which constructs the personality and attitude of every individual is dominated by patriarchy sentiments and our cultural ethos and eidos. In this process of socialization we learn to devalue the women in the society, this attitude plays a role that eliminates the girl child from the society.
The people of India are so diverse ethnically, culturally, linguistically, politically and economically that it is impossible to explain the phenomenon with single reasons of declining child sex ratio as it varies across various states and union territories. This essay argues ‘how social condition and cultural belief manifest the murder of girl child in India’.
At national level again the CSR is declining. Only eight states including union territories for Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have reported an increasing trend in CSR, in all other 27 states and Union territories, the child sex ratio shows a decline over 2001 census. Declining CSR in states like Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra has got demographers and Social Scientists thinking.
For example, in Karnataka sex ratio (females per 1,000 male) is highest in 90 years, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) is the lowest (943) in six decades. While Jammu & Kashmir, thought to be India’s paradise on earth, is no more a heavenly place for a girl child. The state has recorded the single largest decline in sex ratio in the country with 82 fewer girls in the state per 1,000 boys.
Also, Maharashtra has recorded a dismal child sex ratio of 883. This led to a gap of 30 girls between 2001 and 2011. It has a lower ratio than states that are traditionally considered backward, like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The situation in all states is same for one reason or the other. In summary, this data reveals that instead of economic and educational development in few states, it reported major decline in CSR. It is difficult to locate the single reasons of this social disorder and we need detailed in depth ethnographic studies to come out with more.
Declining child sex ratios could be attributed to several factors, like migration patterns, girls getting lesser access to healthcare or under-reporting of girl births, and infant mortality.
In addition, in Indian society daughters are thought to be an economic load. The argument that it is better to kill the girl in the womb than see her killed for dowry is outrageous. It seems that since the bias against the girl child is based on economic considerations, the solution too will have to be economic. Economic distress is the basis for having smaller families, and in such a condition, sons are preferred. In the Hindu faith, sons are more preferred due to their role in various ritual ceremonies. People of other religions also prefer sons, for their certain cultural or religious beliefs.
Female foeticide (sex-selective abortions) is a rampant practice in almost all states and union territories and the main reasons of declining CSR.
Contrarily, education no longer plays a positive role to construct positive values against female foeticide in India. As per the 2011 census, there is overall increase in the literacy rate and particularly female literacy tremendously increased from 53.70% in 2001 to 65.46%. Insteed of positive increments in one of the main agents of socialization, the status of women is still low. This implies that the sex determination technology and female foeticide is occurring at a faster rate, as women are also becoming literate. Education has not brought wisdom. It seems that `knowledge’ has played evil by strengthening the patriarchal mindset.
The above discussion shows that more and more people irrespective of caste, income group, education and religion are now practicing female foeticide. Even more disturbing is the fact the ‘girl deficit’ is more prominent among educated families. The use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, sex selection techniques and against their misuse should be brought under the existing law, Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PC & PNDT Act). But Manmohan Singh said this couldn’t be improved by merely strict compliance with the existing laws. “What is more important is how we view and value the girl child in our society,” he said. There is a need to review the policies.
At a social level, religious and civil societies must mobilise their collective energy to raise collective consciousness against this barbaric practice. Also, we need to assure strategies to remove prejudices against girl children. The trend is disturbing and there are urgent needs to undertake quantitative and ethnographic research to find out the root causes of discrimination towards girls towards achieving an egalitarian society.
Md Mainuddin is doctoral candidate in the department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (India). He authored a book entitled ‘Understanding Muslim Situation in West Bengal: Some Reflections on socio-Economic and Political Status’, published in 2011. He has also published research papers in various academic journals and presented more than half dozen of papers in national and international journals. His areas of interests include Anthropology and Islam, Islam in South Asia, Sociology of Religion, Politics of Secularism and Gender Issues. Email: [email protected]