India: Acknowledging Nation’s patriarchy undermines women’s development, empowerment & well-being Print E-mail
 March 8, 2014

Why Indians Are Failing Their Daughters – International Women’s Day Special

by Mudita Tiwari

Read also "The Political & Social Economies of Femicide in Andhra Pradesh" and scroll down to read "Fighting female foeticide in India"

India – the land of colorful cultural heritage; the land where goddesses are revered as powerful protectors and preservers, is also the land where nearly 44 million women were reported missing as of 2001. Female infanticide (murdering a girl child right after birth), female foeticide (through sex-selective abortion), neglect of a female child, and abandoning female infants at birth are the reasons why the child sex ratio (CSR) in India has dipped from 962 girls for 1000 boys in 1981, to 927 girls for 1000 boys in 2001, to 940 girls for 1000 boys in 2011.

According to the Census data from 2011, the sex ration has improved over 2001 numbers, in part due to rising awareness about issues such as female infanticide and foeticide, sting operations my media and fear of legal crackdown. Kerala, the Southern most state in India has the highest ratio of men to women, with 1,084 women for every 1,000 men. Haryana has abysmally low ratios with 877 women for every 1,000 men. Sates like Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Punjab all have alarming ratios of less than 900 women for every 1,000 men.

What’s the Indian Government’s Stance on the Protection of Girl Child?

It must be noted that the girl child enjoys a special status in India, with countless cash transfer schemes at the national and state level for parents giving birth to a girl. Sex-selective abortions are banned in India. Expecting parents are not legally allowed to know the sex of their unborn child in India.

But where there’s demand, there’s supply! Parents are willing to shell extra bucks to know the sex of their child and doctors are willing to comply. If doctors around town don’t comply, there’s always a foreign country for rich parents to get that sex-selective abortion or sex-selective conception. Doctors have found smart ways to navigate the law; they might not explicitly state the sex of the fetus, but dole out a pink candy for a girl and blue for a boy. As a result neither the criminal parents, nor the corrupt doctors have any fear of the law, constantly finding ways to evade the law.

(Reuters/Vivek Prakash)

But why are Indians so desperate for boys in the first place?

3 regressive and socially disruptive practices are the largest contributors:
Dowry – The evil practice of dowry exists in India, where parents are forced to transfer large amounts of money to the groom’s family when a girl is married off. The idea is for the girl to have her own pot of savings for future. In reality, it’s a price that the parents pay to get their daughter married off to a suitable groom. The more educated, handsome or well-to-do a groom is, higher his price! Most parents consider their daughters a burden as a result because her marriage can economically bankrupt the family.
Gender Roles – In the patriarchal society of India, women have exceptionally low workforce participation rates. Only 29% of women over the age of 15 work in India, and this is lower than any comparable BRICS country (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Men in the household are prepped for employment through education opportunities and vocational trainings, while girls are often trained for household chores. With lack of employment opportunities due to cultural restrictions, women are economically disempowered and at the mercy of their in-laws, parents or husbands. Due to social reasons, parents prefer staying with their sons in old age, rather than their daughters. Parents therefore perceive the son to be an investment for their retirement, and a daughter a burden who is handed over to another household.
Parental Property Rights – According to the 1994 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, both sons and daughters have equal claim to family’s property. Despite the provision of this financial protection, most women still relinquish their rights to property because of existing cultural traditions and family pressures. Implicitly, the sons of the family are regarded the rightful inheritors of parental property.
There’s a common saying in India – “Beti Paraya Dhan”, translation – a daughter is another household’s valuable commodity.

Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+) (World Bank)

Is plummeting sex-ratio really an issue? Why should anyone care?

With cases of despicable abuses in cases of dowry, gang-rapes, and perverse forms gender violence rising in India, we are forced to wonder where things went wrong with India? When we read about villages in Haryana where no women were left to marry, we were shocked! Women were being imported from low-income households from other states. Despite these harsh realities, men in these villages continue their patriarchal ways and insist on having more boys. rather than girls.


Experts have speculated that the worrisome surplus of men may lead to more crime and social disorders. This can be attributed to an increase in the population of frustrated single males and the increase in the level of testosterone in the society. Others have considered that a decrease in the number of women will diminish political power of women, further marginalizing women.

(Amnesty International)

According to TrustLaw’s latest poll, India ranked the worst place for women among the G20 nations. The analysis also reflected the opinions of 370 gender specialists across the world. According to Amnesty International, sex-selective abortions, unequal access to education, perils of child marriage, discriminatory practices against women, sex-trafficking, and widespread illiteracy amongst women pushes India to the lowest ranking among G20 nations.

Today is International Women’s Day (March 8), a day to recognize the contribution of women to the society. Sadly, it’s also a day for recognition that the current state of the Indian society is not optimal for the development, empowerment and well-being of the Indian women. The first step is recognizing that problems exist within the Indian culture, legal systems and policies that disempower women. We wanted to dedicate this day to acknowledging these widespread issues, in hope that someday, Indians will treat their women right!

Census of India Data

Mohit Sahni NV, D. Narula, Raji Mathew Varghese, V. Sreenivas, Jacob M. Puliyel. Missing Girls in India: Infanticide, Feticide and Made-to-Order Pregnancies? Insights from Hospital-based Sex-Ratio-at-Birth over the Last Century. PLoS ONE 2008;3(5):1-6.

Singh PMM. Prime Minister’s address at the National Meeting on “Save the Girl Child”. In. New Delhi; 2008.
Gentleman A. India still fighting to ‘save the girl child’. In. Global Edition of New York Times ed. New Delhi: International Herald Tribune; 2005.
BBC, India’s Unwanted Girls
Goodkind D. Should prenatal sex selection be restricted? Ethical questions and their implications for research and policy. Population Studies 1999;53(1):49-61.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Now Blog
 02 December 2013

Fighting female foeticide in India

Rajen Choudhary of Rajasthan is known as the "Friend of the Unborn" for raiding clinics carrying out illegal abortions.

By Shahnawaz Akhtar

Choudhary faces constant threats as he campaigns against foeticide [Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

The plan is simple but the results always startling: walking into a diagnostic centre posing as a couple and seeking to determine the sex of the baby in the womb.

Once the foetus is determined to be a girl, ask the doctor in attendance if the pregnancy could be aborted. And if the doctor agrees to carry out the procedure, call the police and get the medical practitioner arrested.

For more than a decade now, the decoy couples have struck terror in the hearts of doctors on the lookout for making quick bucks by carrying out female foeticide – the illegal procedure of thwarting the birth of girl child, considered still by many Indian families to be a curse.

As fear of the entrapment has grown, so has the fame of Rajen Choudhary, the 49-year-old crusader from the western Indian state of Rajasthan, earning him the epithet "Friend of the Unborn".

The stings carried out against doctors have been his brainchild. In doing so, he has won praise and awards and constantly braved threats to his life alongside.

"To save the girl child is my mission," insists Choudhary. Agrees Lad Kumari Jain, the chairperson of the Rajasthan State Commission for Women: "He has been an asset in the fight against female foeticide. Whenever we need him, he is there to help."

With one of the most skewed sex ratios in the country, it had been apparent for some years now that Rajasthan had become a haven for sex-selective abortions.

The practice is illegal in India, but it continues to thrive nevertheless.

Choudhary woke up to the menace in 2001 after the official census report threw up alarming facts: the ratio of girls in Rajasthan had dropped from 916 in 1991 to just 909 per 1000 boys.

"It was then I decided to fight for the right of the girl child," says Choudhary.

Difficult battle
It has been an arduous battle since then, with his adversaries including greedy medical practitioners and a slew of ultrasonography centres run by influential people.

The cause for his campaign remains dire: Some 1,800 ultrasonography machines are reported to be in operation across the state, and the male-female sex ratio is ever widening.

It has fallen further and the 2011 census figure puts the ratio of girls at 8.8, against the national average of 914 girls per 1000 boys.

The declining ratio of girls is attributed to illegal abortions: Reports suggest that out of one million foetuses aborted annually in India, some one-hundred thousand are in Rajasthan alone.

Alarmed by deteriorating situation, Choudhury has been resorting to desperate measures.

He set up the Shikshit Rojgar Kendra Prabhandhak Samitti (SRKPS), an NGO dedicated to save the girl child, with his team raiding doctor's chambers at regular intervals.

"He provides us specific information regarding sex determination being done in clinics. When we need, he also provides us with a team comprising a pregnant lady and other important members to conduct the decoy operation," confirms sub-divisional magistrate of (SDM), Jaipur, Alka Bisnoi.

School girls pose with placards during a protest march against female foeticide [AFP]

Among those Choudhary's team has ensnared so far include an important office-bearer of the local chapter of the Indian Medical Association. The doctor caught in the illegal act had ironically lent his support to the campaign against sex-determination tests.

The Rajasthan government has a policy of giving cash rewards (up to $1500) to informers who help in uncovering such malpractice. Choudhary has been rewarded by several district administrations within the province so far.

But together with rewards have come quick retribution from those who find themselves at the receiving end.

The owner of a nursing home in the town of Sikar has filed a court case against him, accusing Choudhary of "fixing" him after his extortion attempts failed.

Another doctor, whose wife's clinic was raided, is also unsparing in his criticism of Choudhary. "He had first demanded Rs 21,000 ($332) as a bribe and when we did not fulfil his demands, he implicated us in a false case," the doctor claimed.

Choudhary's mission is undoubtedly lined with dangers and his wife, Durga, often is forced to spend sleepless nights.

"We often live in fear, as he keeps getting death threats. We have sleepless nights when he is on the mission of conducting a decoy operation, we do not sleep till he returns home," she says.

But unmindful of the threats to his life, Choudhary carries on with his fight to save life in the womb.

Even his daughter Jyoti has made up her mind to join the fight.

"As soon as I complete my education, I will devote my time to save the girl child," she says.

After all, any help is not too small when the fight is against illegal abortions born out of social prejudices against the girl child.

Follow Shahnawaz Akhtar on Twitter: @ScribeShah