To Have or not to Have

“It’ll be a boy!” declared my orthodox grandmother authoritatively. After an hour in the Operation Theatre, the nurse came out to announce that my aunt was a mother of a cute girl. My grandmother dropped back in her chair with disbelief. Her dream of an end to the drought of grandsons in her family was just shattered. Observing her reaction and seeing her lips curl to curse at their fate, I felt hurt.

The deep-rooted preference is clearly visible in the 2011 census perturbing report which indicates the disparity between girls and boys below the age of 6. For every 1000 boys, the number of girls is at a dismal 914 compared to the low of 927 a decade ago; thus, qualifying as the lowest ratio since India’s independence. This inequality is very prominent in the northern states of India with Haryana recording a shocking 861 girls for every 1000 boys. In contrast to Haryana, Kerela has the best figures of 1058 girl preschoolers for every 1000 boy counterparts. This situation is in sharp contrast to most countries in the world, where there are roughly 105 female births for every 100 males. On the other hand, the sex-ratio for adults has slightly improved in India from 933 to 940 women, for every 1000 men.

There are a variety of reasons for this imbalance and its augment over the recent years. The continuous upgrading of the ultrasound technique to detect the sex of the unborn child and its pervasive availability and affordability leads to an increase in abortions of female fetuses perpetuating inequality between the sexes, which is a troublesome manifestation of the bias against the fairer sex. Priority is given to boys in the family with regards to better food and clothing as they represent lineage and a source of security and health-care when they are frail and old. The liability of shelling out a fat dowry for a girl’s wedding and other associated expenses seem too much of a burden to them than compared to a son who would fetch dowry upon his marriage; thus, rationalising their preference for a son.

Abortion was legalised in India in 1971 and in order to contain the continually escalating population along with its necessity in cases where a mother’s life was at risk or when a foetus was detected with defects like Down’s Syndrome through Amniocentesis. According to the specifications laid down by the government, abortion should be carried out by medical practitioners with pertinent qualifications. However abortions, primarily female foeticides, are rampant today as doctors act with impunity even though in 1994, employing of ultrasound technique to divulge the gender of the foetus was proscribed. Abortions are seen as a highly lucrative business with minimal risk due to the weak enforcement of penalties for the doctors. The widespread practice of abortion that is reflected by the explosion in such clinics and the skewed female-male ratio not only raises questions on the ethics of scientific advancement but also magnifies issues of right to life for girls.

The Government of India has tried to combat this crisis by providing with incentives for the girl child, criminalisation of gender-selective abortions, economic empowerment of women through their education and a shift in the attitude of the society as a whole and to facilitate a healthy gender ratio in the country. In few states, the government took the responsibility of putting the girls up for adoption with childless parents rather than having them exterminated. “Girl Protection” program initiated by the Tamil Nadu government deposits around Rs. 20,000 in the name of the girl during her childhood to aid the poor parents for her education, marriage and dowry. A number of Non-Governmental Organisations assist women to be trained in various vocations and possess skills to contribute to their families and improve their self-image and worth. “Save the girl child” is a campaign launched by both the government and the NGOs to raise people’s awareness on this issue but needs further promotion for a prominent improvement.
Approach in several villages is changing for the better. Kajampur, a small village in Punjab, attributes education as the reason for the balance between the birth numbers of girls and boys.

The practice of prenatal sex determination is prevalent not only among the poor but also among the rich and the educated. Personally in my opinion, women are as capable and successful as men in the society and the progressive development of the society will depend on an active participation of both. Today’s new age women command a new respect in the society. Their presence can be realised in every vocation; politics, business, entertainment, sports or social work have all seen the versatility of women and their capability to excel, motivation to succeed, multi-tasking skills to manage their home and work with equal dexterity and ease. Sonia Gandhi, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Nandita Das, Saina Nehwal, or Medha Patkar are just some of the renowned examples who have created a niche for themselves in their respective fields.

Radhika Saraf