The index of inequality
First the good news: the overall sex ratio improved from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011. There are more women in the Indian population than there were ten years ago. The bad news: there are even fewer girls in the 0-6 age group then there were in 2010. The number went down from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011 — a decline of 13 points.
While the perennial question — why don't Indians want daughters — continues to stare us in the face, we need to dissect the provisional child sex ratio figures released by the census commissioner a little carefully to understand the implications.
One positive trend that may go unnoticed in the swirling sea of declines in 24 out of our 35 states/UTs is the improvement in many of the forever guilty northern states — especially Punjab and Haryana. Chandigarh and Delhi, the two much maligned cities, have also shown improvement even though Delhi's — by only one point — hardly calls for celebration. But there is improvement in Himachal Pradesh as also in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu; the latter two are in many ways similar to the northern states. Haryana and Punjab at 830 and 846 still remain states with the worst sex ratios and with J&K joining them, continue to contribute a large share of the country's female deficit; but their upward movement finally should make us take heart.
How about the rest of the country? It seems that while the north may be improving, the rest of the country is resolutely marching on the path of daughter elimination, continuing trends that began as early as 1971 in some states. It is difficult to explain why north-eastern (and largely tribal) states such as Nagaland, Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura should be showing further and large declines from 1991 and 2001 figures. Other eastern states, Assam and Meghalaya, also show smaller but definite declines. States in this part of the country are generally taken to be more female friendly than the rest of India. And even though most of them continue to have above normal sex ratios (higher than 950) the declines need to be taken as warning signals. West Bengal and Orissa have also continued their 2001 downward trend. Another shocker is the continuing dips in the central Indian tribal states — Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have declined and so has the hill state of Uttarakhand. STs, as a social group, have had robust sex ratios even though there was a decline between 1991-2001, from 985 to 973. The declines in both the north-eastern and central Indian states, states with tribal populations, means that ST ratios are likely to fall further. Then there are the outliers: A huge drop of 78 points in J&K? And small UTs like Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu have dived by 66 and 16 points respectively.