Friday, February 1, 2008

Where Have All The Females Gone?

In most countries the sex ratio is fairly balanced or even tilted in favor of the women. India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females. Is this some genetic phenomenon, one might wonder.

Not genetic for sure, but let’s call it a socio-cultural phenomenon. India has a traditional preference for the male child. In the days before technological advance, the worth of a woman was proportional to her ability to bear a son, an heir. Should a woman bear daughters, she would not only be humiliated and ill-treated but would become a child-bearing machine in the quest for a male child. Cases of infanticide and female child mortality were high.

Then came advances in medical technology. Techniques like amniocentesis and ultrasound scanning were introduced to monitor the growth and health of the child. Sex identification was its by-product – male child… perfect; female child… abort it. What an ingenious twist to the use of medical advances!

Most often, the pregnant woman has no say in the matter. What voice does society allow a girl who grew up as a burden and went on to become a subservient daughter-in-law and dependent wife? In a male dominated society, producing a male is the only ‘right’ thing to do. Rural and middle-class India is vast. The woman here is still oppressed, a girl is still a burden and the man has the final word.

Sex determination is illegal in India. But the practice continues. In shady rooms, under the supervision of quacks, more girl fetuses perish everyday. And many a times, the to-be mother dies too, mishandled by a so-called doctor who didn’t get it right.

This imbalance has increased over time. If the female population continues to slide down at the same rate, where are the surplus Indian men going to find women to marry? Perhaps, this thought hasn’t crossed the minds of those who further the gender bias.

Indian women are becoming more outspoken and independent in sections. Their earning capacity gives them a voice to defy the unreasonable expectations of society. In reciprocation, the society is also becoming more tolerant in sections. But this is largely restricted to urban India.

With more and more Indians traveling the world, there is a segment that has broadened their perspective. However, there’s a long way to go before the female child is welcomed with joy into every Indian home just like a male child is. A long way to go before a woman gets due respect in the Indian society.

-Praveen Sequeira

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