Our disappearing daughters cost us

The news that doctors in Punjab are importing 'at-home' sex determination kits can only spell further doom for the girl child. What earlier needed furtive visits to the radiologist can now be accomplished in the privacy of one's own home. This newer and more expensive technology, which involves access to internet, will surely be first utilised by the educated and well-off (the so-called 'moderns') before it is made available by entrepreneurs to larger numbers.

What is even more frightening is that these new technologies are combining with the spread of daughter dis-preference to areas hitherto unaffected. Child sex ratios in several districts have declined in even progressive Kerala. Orissa, Assam and several other states also showed declines in sex ratios at birth and in juvenile sex ratios in the 2001 census. Were a turnaround to occur in the worst offenders Punjab and Haryana it would be more than offset by the rising incidence of female foeticide elsewhere.

Mapping of child sex ratios by demographers shows that the traditional north/south divide is no longer valid. Missing girls now dot almost the entire map, including parts of the Northeast. The few protected areas that remain appear to be tribal belts in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, showing us that it is surely not the 'savages' who need civilising. With further Hinduisation of tribal areas and the spread of the dowry culture as the preferred form of marriage exchange, it is only a matter of time before the so-called 'protected areas' go the way of the rest of the country.

Haryana today provides us with clues to the emerging societal crisis caused by the spreading daughter deficit. Facing a severe female spousal shortage and consequently an excess of desperate bachelors, this state is 'hunting' for brides; it began with poor, illiterate women from poor states like Assam, West Bengal and Bihar and has now included rich states such as Maharashtra and even Kerala, whose women are literate, economically independent and hence expected to be 'empowered'. The women from the poor states were young, from families with several girls and whose parents could not afford 'honourable' dowry marriages. They ended up being married far away from home to men who were much older sometimes widowers with several children. Or they became second wives to men whose wives had not been able to provide the desired male heir. Their tribulations are immense due to the cultural gulf between them and their husbands, sharing not even language. They had no choice. The women from Kerala and Maharashtra appear to be exercising some agency by choosing to marry out those from Kerala are 'overage' and devalued in their own society while women from Maharashtra come hoping to achieve a higher standard of living in a 'rich' state.

... contd.

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