Mumbai ~ Volume 28 - Issue 10 :: May. 07-20, 2011
By T.K. RAJALAKSHMI
Haryana records the lowest adult sex ratio in the country, and its Jhajjar district has the worst adult and child sex ratios.
IN BARHANA VILLAGE in Jhajjar district of Haryana, a strong preference for the male child prevails (T.K. RAJALAKSHMI)
THE results of the provisional Census revealed that Haryana as a whole registered the lowest adult sex ratio in the country and also had the lowest child sex ratio (CSR). Among the State's districts, Jhajjar recorded the lowest adult as well as child sex ratio, and within the district, Barhana and Dimana villages recorded the worst CSRs. Jhajjar, which has a high literacy rate of 80.8 per cent (71 per cent for females and 89.4 per cent for males), has the worst CSR – 774 female children for every 1,000 male children.
While Barhana had a CSR of 378 (at birth) in 2010, Dimana was not much better, at 444. The figures were computed by the State Health Department. Residents of these villages denied that the sex ratios were low but Frontline found among them a quiet but firm preference for the male child. District Civil Surgeon Dr Bharat Singh, who is also the designated Appropriate Authority under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, or PCPNDT, is in the spotlight for the dismal performance of the district. He does not feel that the non-implementation of the Act alone is to blame.
Bharat Singh said that he had ordered the closure of four ultrasound centres in Bahadurgarh in March as they were operating without trained personnel. He said warnings had been issued to these centres not to employ untrained personnel, but since they did not heed his counsel, he had to order their closure. Bharat Singh said the Act needed to be amended to make only doctors culpable and not the relatives of the woman undergoing abortion. He said he had written to the Prime Minister in 2007 regarding amendments to the Act and had suggested that permission to operate mobile ultrasound clinics be withheld.
“No one comes forward if family members are also made culpable. No one wants to risk enmity,” he explained. He said that when he was the Civil Surgeon in Narnaul district he had announced an award of Rs.1 lakh in order to encourage complaints under the PCPNDT Act but there were none. Bharat Singh took over as Civil Surgeon of Jhajjar last April by which time only two ultrasound machines had been sealed. When he was Deputy Civil Surgeon in Rohtak district in early 2002, he filed a police complaint against an offender doctor, but when the matter went to court, the accused was acquitted on some technical grounds, he said. He wants sex determination to be made a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code. Rather than the Appropriate Authority approaching the courts for orders, the police should be able to swing into action and register cases.
The Civil Surgeon also believes that sex determination tests are not the only reason for the declining CSR. The small family norm, coupled with economic constraints (marriage expenditure) and the preference for the male child were important factors responsible for the low preference for the girl child. “I did not know that Jhajjar would feature as the worst in CSR and adult sex ratio,” he said, adding that the rate of decline was less sharp compared with Narnaund tehsil. He, however, confirmed that there were many single-child families in the region, the child most definitely being male. Technological advancements had complicated the problem, he explained. He said that with ultrasound machines giving 3D images “doctors do not have to spell out the sex of the foetus”. Mobile ultrasound clinics acted as a hindrance to the implementation of the Act.
Frontline spoke to a cross section of people who believed that no amount of government motivation to have girl children or campaigning about the adverse sex ratio would have any impact on the deeply ingrained customs and traditions of the region. “Here, drinking water at a daughter's house is considered unthinkable. Dining and staying over is unimaginable. People sympathise with those who have only daughters. Rather than make a daughter the heir to the property, a man would adopt his nephew as his own in order to gain social acceptance,” said Preet Singh, a leader of the All India Kisan Sabha.
He explained how daughters were not welcome in their natal homes at the time of confinement. “They say that it is an antisocial practice, or samaaj virodh,” explained Preet Singh. He pointed out how women were not allowed even to sit on the chaupals, the platform reserved for public meetings. But the anganwadi workers in some parts of the State had challenged and changed that tradition, he said.
Shortage of brides
Dimana village is not as large as Barhana, which has two panchayats and, therefore, two sarpanchs. There are around 150 homes in Dimana and the village is dominated by members of the Brahmin and Jat communities. Here, there is a complete denial of the declining sex ratio and CSR figures. “There must be a mistake as I can tell you that there are girl children in almost every family. The surveyors must have got it wrong. We are a religious community, we wouldn't resort to female foeticide,” said Om Dutt Sharma, a senior citizen of Dimana. He said that if there were more boys in the village, it was a “gift from nature”. The village elders, however, accepted that there was a shortage of brides and that there were many families who had got young women from other States as brides. “We don't bring these issues up. It is irrelevant which caste they belong to. Young men have to get married,” said one elder.
Daughters cannot be considered heirs in any manner. One elder gave an example of a villager who had adopted his daughter's son as his heir as he had no sons of his own. “His own brothers were furious. It is unheard of to make a daughter's offspring the heir to the property,” said Om Dutt. Women have equal rights to property but it is seldom exercised. Women often gifted their share to their brothers, asking them to manage it for them. “A girl is of no use to her parents once she is married – she cannot give precedence to her natal family over her married family,” said an elder. “My daughters are well educated. I am also a graduate, but I will never dream of staying with them or asking them to stay with me after their marriage,” said Om Dutt, whose daughter-in-law had given birth to a son and now wanted no more offspring.
Some young men in the village said that sex determination facilities were available in Jhajjar town, in the neighbourhood of Sampla and Bahadurgarh, and even in Rohtak.
A young medical practitioner Frontline spoke to said pregnancy-testing kits and abortion pills were freely available over the counter. Advertisements in the print and electronic media have made almost every family aware of the availability of pregnancy-testing strips, which are the most convenient method of detecting pregnancies. With anonymity guaranteed, the next step is to get the sex of the foetus tested. The MTP kit costs around Rs.400 and is far cheaper than getting a full-fledged abortion at a clinic, which would cost a few thousand rupees. Women often resort to abortion pills to get rid of unwanted foetuses. The young medico said he knew of cases where abortion pills were taken by women every three months.
“After having a male child, they avoid having more children. Abortion pills are taken more often. Women can bleed for up to 15 days after taking these pills,” he said. The various methods of controlling women's fertility have little to do with having a smaller family. It is all about ensuring the birth of a male child and eliminating the female child. “I have one son. I am not going to have any more children,” the young doctor said.
Dismissing doubts about the accuracy of the survey, a farmer, Sheel Shastri, said that the main culprit was the free availability of sex determination tests. “Just because a scheme is there for the girl child, it is not necessary that people will start preferring girls. The government offers some pension to parents if they have two or more girls, which in any case will be realised only after they reach the age of 50,” he said, adding that the decline of the CSR was a non-issue in Dimana. “The government says that education is free for girls up to class 12. But there isn't any school here for girls beyond class 5. No one is prepared to send them far for school education,” he said.
Preet Singh said it was a common practice to get girls married when they turned 16 for fear of something untoward happening in view of the rising crime rate in the area. “The amount that the government gives as kanyadaan to a girl when she turns 18 is Rs.25,000. This is a fraction of what will have to be spent on the wedding. The poorest are given Rs.51,000 and the yellow card holders get Rs.31,000. With most families marrying off their girls at an earlier age, they do not avail themselves of this entitlement,” he said.
R.S. Dahiya, professor of surgery at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Rohtak, told Frontline that the PCPNDT Act had had little effect. In his opinion, most of the government schemes too operated with a feudal construct. Giving women equal rights to property was not implemented, and the CSR was the lowest among the upper castes and the landed communities. He said that a survey conducted between 1995 and 2000 found that in five villages, where pregnancies were tracked over a period of five years, female foeticide was prevalent. “When we took the survey results to the women, they said that their value would go up now as they were fewer in number. They spoke as if they were commodities,” he said. The diet of the mother, post-partum, depended on whether she gave birth to a girl child or a male child. The sixth day after the birth of a boy child was celebrated, but there was no such celebration for a girl child; women were given 10 kilograms of clarified butter (ghee) for a boy's birth and five kilograms on a girl's birth. “Maybe this kind of an overt discrimination no longer exists,” he said.
The village faces another problem – owing to a shortage of girls and few opportunities for employment, young men are finding it difficult to get brides. The value of girls has indeed gone up; no one is willing to give his daughter to a family which has no proper source of income. Women Frontline spoke to said that they would rather have sons than have daughters, only to get them married off to families where they suffered abuse and violence. Is the increasing crime graph against women a reason not to have girl children? It is clearly a vicious circle with many contributing factors.
At Barhana too, villagers confided that there were several families that who had got brides from other States. There was denial here as well about the adverse CSR. One respected elder, a former Army man, said people had suppressed details about the number of children from the Census officials as they felt that telling the truth might result in some reprisal from the government. “If villagers say that they have more girls, then there are automatically more claimants to property, and the Census is a record of that so families avoided giving complete details of their girl children,” he said, presenting a weak defence.
PCPNDT Act ineffective
Kuldeep Kumar, the brother of one of the two sarpanchs, has two children, one boy and one girl, the girl being older. He admitted that getting sex determination tests done was hardly a problem. “Everyone knows where it is done. No one will complain to the government for fear of causing enmity. In any case, everyone wants one boy child in the family,” he said, adding that the PCPNDT Act was not effective. At least 20 families in the village brought girls from other States. “The shortage is more among the Jat families,” he said. The panchayat, he said, tried to organise a meeting after Barhana's name figured in the media. “No one turned up. We asked the anganwadi workers to gather women but none came,” he said. As in Dimana, female foeticide is not an issue here. He said men decided on the size of the families. “No law works here. The lowliest of government employees takes a bribe. The foeticide prevention Act will not work in such conditions,” he said.
A property dealer, Joginder, said there was literally a competition between families to have male children. “Today, even six-year-olds are not spared. Having a girl child means living in perpetual fear and insecurity,” his mother said.
The Chief Medical Officer of Jhajjar said the one-child norm would help curb female foeticide. He said martial races – the upper castes – were more prone to have male children compared with poorer families and socially backward communities where the sex ratio was favourable to the girl child. “Now the poor also want small families,” he said. He claimed that he found from a survey he did in Barhana that the Y chromosome was more prevalent there. He referred to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to argue that men outnumbered women in the dominant families in the epics.
That the poor have more girl children is a thesis that needs to be verified scientifically. The genetic determinism of martial races producing more male children will not stand the test of scientific scrutiny.
Perhaps both the State and the Central governments should to take up the issue of low CSR with the seriousness that it deserves. The tragedy is that the consequences of a skewed sex ratio has not sunk enough into the minds of policymakers, who still believe that incentives can make people have more girl children. Barhana and Dimana prove that this understanding is flawed.