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India's Woman Recession

India's Woman Recession

March 08, 2010

Bad news for women in India as we mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

The 100th International Women’s Day anniversary brings some very happy, but a whole load of rather grim news for women in India. First the good – after years of being stuck on hold the Women’s Reservation Bill, which would reserve 33% seats for women in parliament, looks like it will finally be passed today, giving the much-needed boost for those wanting to join mainstream politics We are anyway among the few nations in the world who’ve had a woman Prime Minister in the past and currently have a woman as President along with a woman speaker, a woman leader of the opposition and a woman at the helm of India’s ruling coalition. This would only be the icing on the cake!

Added to this, six of India’s top banks have women CEOs, along with two Deputy Governors at the Reserve Bank of India. The 3rd most powerful woman in the world, Indra Nooyi, is an Indian and guess what, ALL of Forbes’ top philanthropists from India this year are women, not a single man there. Whew! On the whole it seems Indian women are shattering that glass ceiling and marching along with men in every sphere of life. Yes, there are large disparities in pay scales and not as many as desired are at the top level in corporate India. But year after year there is a marked improvement in the ratio of women to men in managerial or leadership positions and that is encouraging.

Sadly, though, that’s pretty much where the good news ends. For every one of these women making headway in corporate boardrooms and parliamentary committees, there are hundreds and thousands of others retreating many steps backwards. I vividly remember a shocking incident 3 years ago when I went to Gujarat, apparently India’s fastest developing state, to visit my brother in Baroda. His landlord’s wife, who had been 3 months pregnant, came back from the hospital one fine day and told us she had aborted the pregnancy the third time over because the unborn baby was a girl. Horror-struck as we were, her story it seems isn’t all that shocking or rare for most of India despite the fact that prenatal selection has long been banned by the government.

So as economies the world over fight fiscal deficits, India it seems will be soon fighting a chronic girl deficit. Reports from the studies carried out by the Britain based medical journal Lancet suggests 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls in parts of Northern India and 1 out of every 25 female fetuses are being aborted. That is a staggering half million girls being murdered every year! In parts of India such as the North East, Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana the sex ratio is so skewed that there are less than 900 (in some cases less than 850) girls born for every 1000 boys. What’s worse, and in fact more worrying, is that this imbalance is rapidly increasing, augmented by the proliferation of ultrasound machines, and not decreasing as would be expected with affluence or education! In fact, in the posh parts of South Delhi, where rents are comparable to any European city, the girl-to-boy ratio is a shameful 845 to 1000.

I don’t know what to say, really, except that perhaps it is time we stop patting ourselves on the backs for the great headways we are making on the world stage. It would probably be more fitting to hang our heads in shame and not say a word more until we get this sorted. A double digit growth rate would mean absolutely nothing when we are faced with the prospect of large scale social anarchy where squads of single and frustrated young men would unleash their might on the few remaining women available in our great country.

Not yet perhaps time to say ‘Happy Women’s day’ after all!


  • Asma
    20.07.12 04:11 PM
    As a girl born to a hindu mother and a muslim father I grew up in Mumbai most of my friends were and still are hindu. Unfortunately each religion dislikes the girl child equally.
    While I think that your article and the comments below have done a great job analyzing the roots and sources of the problem I think its high time to start doing some thing about it.
    A woman's education and career should give them the power to think that what is going on now is wrong but no one wants to take that risk or lead and say anything or do anything about it. There is a big fear of being judged.
    I have girl friends that are highly educated & married and at the same time horrified by the fact that if they have a girl child their families (in laws) will treat them differently.
    My comments are entirely based on my experience in Mumbai. I am aware of the fact that there are a lot of women trying to make a difference and change this mentality - and have been very sucessfull. If the fear of being judged wasn't this strong in our society more educated women would have the courage to stand up and speak for themselves.
  • Deepa
    03.07.12 09:27 AM
    So rightly said Nikhil. The whole female foeticide now has got nothing to do with class or education. Some of the worst stories come out of educated families - doctors, engineers, professors. It is a sad state of affairs - more to do with mentality and acceptance than anything else. The very idea that 'lineage' only passes down through a son is sickening to say the least. Add to that age-old traditions of property which can only be passed on to the son (which is now better due to the laws being passed but people still have to live by them!). Apart from that, our social makeup dictates that men be the primary bread earners, its OK to educate women but when the time comes to choose between family and career, they have to choose family (9 times out of 10, thats what you see happening), what happens then to the money spent on her education? An educated man can dictate more dowry. Why? Didn't the girl's parents spend enough too to educate their daughter? I know men who have stated in their 'requirements' that the prospective wife should be highly educated but she should not work after marriage. Why would such a girl's parents not wish for a boy then? In an age where nuclear families are thriving and more and more sons move abroad or away from their parents leaving them to be tended to by their sisters, its surprising that more parents still want sons! A child is a child regardless of the sex, until and unless that mindset changes - you're right, we are fit only to hang our heads in shame. I had written a similar article on Women's day - a skeptical take on it. Please do read if you get a chance. Here's the" rel="nofollow">link.
    18.10.11 09:48 PM
    I not saying perpetrators are all born of a women, This also happens to boys as well in west . What i'm saying is woman can decide to keep the baby or not . The final choice is hers, because us guys don't know what to feel, but they know from early stage. I always talk from personal experience.
  • tys
    18.10.11 10:46 AM
    to think that the perpetrators are all born of a woman..
    17.10.11 11:33 PM
    I think left wing righty's will disagree with my solution saying women have evrey right to do what she want but then I don't give shit about their rights and hurt feelings . People also do this in west but has a way to justify it but it is still WRONG.
    17.10.11 11:25 PM
    This is down right dirty and disgusting way to end human life and we call our self champion of preservation of all life. This practice of killing girls is been going on since last 500+ years in gujrat and other parts of india, and i think it will not stop in our near future.

    This is not about educating people, because we all know right from wrong and diffrence between good and bad and it's nothing to do with race ,caste and class. This is just simple murder which people have got away with all this time.

    I am father of 1 girl and 2 boys .
    I have loved them all same . When my wife was expecting first time i didn't have any feelings, but When i held my daughter first time every thing changed. My daughter is pain in the neck and drives me mad but i can't stop loving her .

    I don't think they need educating , instead they bloody need to be jail and keys thrown away. This is the only solution i think needs to be implemented to cure this .
    21.08.10 06:28 AM
    Well the actual numbers of girls in states like Haryana are even lower, probably something like 600-700 girls for 1000 boys. Recently a family of four brothers tried to get married to elder brother's wife , as there is acute shortage of marriage age girls in this state. This leads to the conclusion that marriage-able grown girls are more like 250 available for 1500 boys...its a shame. GOD BLESS THE GIRLS AND GOD BLESS INDIA.
  • LG
    30.07.10 04:37 PM
    I can't believe that female-infanticide is still happening...and when finding out the sex of your unborn child is a criminal offense in India, how do people find out?

    I doubt dowry is the only reason, as so many women are already in well-paying jobs by the time they get married.
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    19.03.10 09:19 AM
    The film Matrubhoomi ( actually hypothesized what the future could be like with one woman for seven (or more) husbands. It's a horrible prospect.
  • nikhil
    09.03.10 06:02 PM
    Class doesn't matter here Nalini. Like I said...the poshest parts of South Delhi where the so called educated people live has one of the lowest girl to boy ratios. That is proof enough that the prejudice against the girl child hasn't gone with education or affluence. The problem lies in the dowry system which cripples families and dissuades them from having a girl child...
  • TineMina
    09.03.10 05:57 PM
    The attitude towards the girl child is instated at birth in many Indian families - many Indians grow up with the subliminal message well entrenched that boys are better than girls!We need to reverse the whole attitude towards girls before we can get a meaningful change in adult behavior - this is a lesson to the current generation - do not pass on this type of ghisa-pita old fashioned boys are better than girls attitude to the next generation!!!!
  • Nalini Hebbar
    Nalini Hebbar
    09.03.10 05:18 PM
    but are the educated willing to go back into the countryside and work for change? NO
    For the world there is one country called India, but within India, there are 2 made up of the uppercaste educated middle and upperclass and the other, the lowercaste uneducated poor...the two worlds never meet!
  • Taz
    08.03.10 07:37 PM
    Indeed shocking!

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