Sunday, March 04, 2007

India's imbalance of sexes

A heart-breaking piece in the Washington Times on the practice of female feticide (female infanticide by another name, really) in India, and how the sex ratio has become absurdly warped as a result.
Roughly 6.7 million abortions occur yearly in India, but aborted girls outnumber boys by 500,000 -- or 10 million over the past two decades -- creating a huge imbalance between males and females in the world's largest democracy.
Ratios of men to women are being altered at an unprecedented rate in India and neighboring China, two countries which account for 40 percent of the world's population.
According to UNICEF, India produces 25 million babies a year. China produces 17 million. Together, these are one-third of the world's babies, so how their women choose to regulate births affects the globe.
Female infanticide -- whereby tiny girls were either poisoned, buried alive or strangled -- has existed for thousands of years in India. But its boy-to-girl ratio didn't begin to widen precipitously until the advent of the ultrasound, or sonogram, machine in the 1970s, enabling a woman to tell the sex of her child by the fourth month of her pregnancy.
That coupled with the legalization of abortion in 1971 made it possible to dispose of an unwanted girl without the neighbors even knowing the mother was pregnant. In 2001, 927 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, significantly below the natural birth rate of about 952 girls for every 1,000 boys.
In many regions, however, this imbalance has reached alarming levels and it continues to grow. In 2004, the New Delhi-based magazine Outlook reported, sex ratios in the capital had plummeted to 818 girls for every 1,000 boys, and in 2005 they had slipped to 814.
No, if we're honest (and we rarely are), this isn't just the poor hicks in the dehat. We're talking about prosperous Delhi and Haryana and Punjab. We're talking about the educated elites who pride themselves on their modernity.

Attitudes are changing, though very slowly, painfully slowly. And, fallen human nature abetted by technology, and a "woman's right to choose," don't lead automatically to the glorious future of "progress" ... but these kinds of nightmares.

Just recently a family friend (a career diplomat who retired from the Foreign Service) shared a story about the birth of his twin daughter when they were in Washington in the early 70s. One of the staff had come up indignantly a few weeks after the girls were born, demanding to know why he hadn't distributed sweets around the office. "I'd heard you'd had a child!" But, when he found out it was twins, and twin girls at that, he slunk away. He just assumed that the lack of sweet distribution was because of this calamity that had befallen the family!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seriously Gash, do you really think abortions in India have anything to do with a woman's right to choose? I would think in a male dominated society like ours, it's really everyone else's decision but the mother's.

Gashwin said...

Yo Pram (I'm guessing it's you though you didn't sign it), that was partly sarcastic. A "woman's right to choose" is the trumpetted slogan in the West under which all abortion until birth (or even during birth has been legalized. It's considered a sign of progress, of enlightenment, of liberation, of modernity, of the freedom of women from the limitations of biology and their bodies, or what have you. (Just read the Economist on abortion!)

Well, change the scenario and what does one have? This grotesque phenomenon in India (and China).

No, it's not the mother who is doing this on her own, in some idealized bubble of volition (that is not the case even in the West, despite what one might think.). Yes, it is a male-dominated society that leads to this, with a mindset that devalues women (and yes, attitudes have changed in the West only recently, relatively speaking), and women collude in this (think of the mothers-in-law) as much as the men.

And, this phenomenon, the selective killing of girls, is perceived, oh especially in the West, as a sign of the most crude barbarism.

But why? If a woman has the right to abort her child at any time, why the heck does one care if she does it because the child is inconvenient, or if it interferes with her career, or if her in-laws just don't want to have a granddaughter?

Or is it that only liberated Western women should be allowed to kill the children that come in their way, and poor-third-world-enslaved-in-patriarchy women should not? It's really only an enlightened woman's right to choose?

Or, would it be ok if a lesser number of girls were being killed, say in a proportion that didn't mess with the gender ratio? Proper, balanced culling of the population?

One thing this article doesn't shy away from is calling a spade a spade: all these abortions lead to the killing of human beings, and not the elimination of some undesirable tissue. There's 10 million girls (not fetuses) that are missing in India. There are some estimated 40+ million children missing in the US since 1972.

My point was -- progress is such a joke. Here's some fantastic technology (the ultrasound) combined with one of the seedier aspects of a particular society's worldview ... and see what happens when fallen human nature takes its course?

Anonymous said...

Yeah twas me under that lurker persona. Just kidding, forgot to add my magical name in there.

I'm leaving for the day and got tons of work, but I'm gonna read this and get back to you.

Anonymous said...

For once Gash, I'm at a loss for words. I thought I knew what I thought, but I need to revisit myself a little bit.