Indian girls are dying. It has been 25 years since Amartya Sen's classic essay "More than 100 million women are missing" was featured in New York Review of Books. Since then thousands of Indian women have been killed in the womb or booted off prematurely from life due to neglect. The issue of sex selection has been around for decades already, but Indians don't seem to care. In the current scenario, it is unlikely that the situation will improve over next decades.
Government would like to claim that it has done its part in curtailing this slaughter. Leading hospitals do not carry out pre-natal sex identification. Yet, people continue to engage in sex selective abortions. Unfortunately, for every billboard that denies sex selection, there are ten clinics elsewhere endorsing it probably with a board that famously says "1,000 rupees now for abortion or ten lakhs for dowry later. Your choice".
There are now only 866 females per 1,000 males in Delhi. In Haryana, it is 847 females for every 1,000 females. Our national average in 2011 was 940 females per 1,000 males. In the light of this data, India must recognise that whatever has been done to correct the gender imbalance has not succeeded. Public policy against sex selection is toothless. The campaigns to save the girl child such as "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" or #selfiewithdaughter are mostly superficial. The efforts have been high on rhetoric but low on action.
There is no liability for late abortions or sudden "miscarriages". There is no clarity for relatives or friends to report on suspicious abortions. There are no investigations in unnatural deaths of young girls unless someone files a FIR. There is no agency to monitor neglect of the girl child. There are no efforts to focus on mental and physical health of young girls who are to be lifelines for our next generation. The programs that exist to reform the situation are either majorly underfunded or lack the roadmap or both. Therefore, the intent to save the girl child comes across as vacuous and insincere.
In recent years, the problem seems unabated as the means to get a son have proliferated while the incentives to not have a girl child remain. Unregulated clinics with ultrasound machines have mushroomed. Illegal market for drugs that induce miscarriage is booming. New techniques have been discovered such as in-vitro fertilisation that allow sex selection even before conception. Designer babies are becoming in vogue. Meanwhile, the lure of good Indian domestic girl remains where families exchange both the goods and the girl through arranged marriages. Indian girls still do not claim their share of property. Alas, in popular conception, women are still no better than their anatomy.
It appears unlikely that the prejudices that go against having a girl child will disappear anytime soon - like lack of property rights, objectification of women, women's diminished presence in the workplace, the subservient role of women in the family. But beyond that there are two main reasons for India's nonchalance towards dismal sex ratio. First is Indians' lack of moral reprehensibility with regards to sex selective abortions. Second is their belief in the merits of a male utopia.
Indians don't believe that they are contributing to the problem of gender imbalance. Since most parents opt for sex selection after their first pregnancy, they feel they have done their duty by already having a girl or two. Parents believe they are entitled to a son so that their family will become "complete". As Mara Hvistendahl points out in her book "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men", all parents who opt for sex selection believe that someone else will "pick up the slack". Thus, while girls continue to get murdered, no one is a murderer.
The second reason for our indifference lies in our scepticism that fewer females will affect Indian life as we know it. Sadistically, we have gone about reinforcing the very ideas that go in favour of sex selection even as we pay lip service to the importance of having a girl child. We are entertained by the images of hundreds of men groping a single woman in our item songs. Our daily sights and sounds do not feature women prominently except through a patriarchal gaze. In fact, so much of our world has been defined through the convenience of men that indeed it is hard to fathom the negative consequences of male utopia in which females will continue in a sort of semi-slavery they have lived in for last hundreds of years.
After all, where are girls in our epics? Mahabharata has two kings with all sons and Ramayana follows suit. Just what is the probability of having so many queens and not a single daughter? Our Gods too seem eager for a son than a daughter. After all, Shiva could have modelled a daughter out of clay, equally intelligent, instead of Ganesha. Our other Gods don't seem to miss having daughters. Tales of our past are replete with legends of the lengths people went to have a son. Thus, our literature and our mythology has depicted the society as all boys club for a really long time without thinking of its repercussions.
No wonder then that India stubbornly continues to perpetuate a fantasy of male utopia even among its children. In Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma, a popular comedy show that India loves, crossdressing is more acceptable than the sight of real women. In an episode of Chhota Bheem, Chutki - the only girl in Chhota Bheem's group - tries to replicate her mom's laddus by memory for Bheem who would then rescue her abducted mother. In Motu-Patlu, another extremely popular cartoon show with Indian children today, women are mere props or damsels in distress. Motu-Patlu and their friends have no need of women in their lives. The message to our children is clear: lack of women is no threat to the Indian society. They are mostly extraneous in the male world of fun and comradery.
Is a skewed female-to-male ratio perilous to Indian culture and lifestyle? Can people visualise any personal loss were there a shortage of females so to speak? Fewer females will simply mean men will have to cooperate with each-other to work around the problem. The women, as is evident already in some parts in India, could be obtained through bargaining, illegal trafficking, or prostitution hubs.
They would be bred forcibly like in a fertility village in Rajasthan where young girls are given oxytocin in foster homes and then shipped. Reproduction will be achieved through technology, force, and economic influence. Polyandry, or Draupadi pratha, could become in vogue. After all, these things have justifications in our past.
Our current prejudices go deeper than we care to acknowledge. And as India progresses we have found ways to evade culpability. Admittedly, well researched books such as that of Mara Hvistendahl have traced current problems to the west: right from colonialism to funding of population control programs by the USA. Feminism, successful in its early years to ban sex selective abortions, is also suffering from a backlash in contemporary India. Perhaps because of certain missteps it may have taken in its effort to find the right balance between creating a positive future and criticisms of male excesses in the past.
Are we serious about the issue of sex selection? If we are, then it is important to take stock where are we now on the issue of sex selection vis-à-vis cultural, political, as well as economical perspective. India needs to frame a comprehensive answer to these interlocking questions. Until it does, Indians are unlikely to care for gender imbalance and our daughters will continue to be mass murdered.