Socially, India has multiple issues. While Indians may be right in seeking to preserve many structures of Indian society, there are others that need addressing. But addressing problems can hardly be achieved by mining for data to produce statistics and then launching into a bitter caterwaul of criticism of the statistics. This in fact seems to be a favored Indian technique that occurs in the media. The fact that non Indians do it does not matter because other are supposed to do that. It makes everyone else feel good to be ahead of someone else.
But when there is statistical evidence that something needs to be addressed in India, a loud rant is less useful than looking at what has been done and what can be done.
Yesterday's newspapers had a loud caterwaul about ho India is the least safe place in the world for women. That headline, along with the associated statistics, makes it impossible to do anything but humbly accept the label that India is the most unsafe place in the world for women. Touche. What strikes me is the inability of the chatterati elite to go beyond the label and the pathetic statistic to see
1. If anything is being done
2. What is being done
3. Why it is not working
4. What can be doe further to make it work
What I have found is that most "analyses" of human development statistics in india are done by statisticians and economists who concentrate on expenditure, consumption, production, distribution etc. Very very few studies take the trouble to do a detailed local micro analysis of social factors that lead to gender inequality in India. Perhaps this is a reflection of the Indian education system that produces more accountants and statisticians than sociologists and psychologists. There is a medical subject that deals with this - but among medical students it is an unpopular speciality to take up as there is no money in it. Better to get an ultrasound machine and charge Rs 10,000 per scan to illegally detect female foetuses for selective abortion as a friend of mine as caught doing not far from here in Bangalore.
Here is some information about gender inequality in India
gender discrimination is most pronounced in the states of Punjab and Haryana, two of the most
prosperous states of India. In fact, one of the most disturbing developments in the 1990s was the decline
in the female-male ratios in the relatively prosperous states of India. The female-male ratio among children
declined from 945 girls per 1,000 boys (in the 0-6 years age group) in 1991, to 927 girls per 1,000 boys in
2001. This decline was mainly driven by a combination of social discrimination against female children and
the spread of prenatal sex-determination technology and sex-selective abortion. Since the largest declines in
the female-male ratios have occurred in the more prosperous states of Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh,
Punjab and Delhi, it appears that economic growth may have facilitated the spread of sex-selective abortion
by making sex-determination technology and sex-selective abortion more affordable. Though prenatal sex
determination has subsequently been banned by the government, given the social stigma, corruption and
availability of technology, it is difficult to say how effective the ban will be.
If you look at a typical rural Indian family (not yours, you eliteman) from 1950 you would probably find that the wife would keep on having children. Even if she knew about birth control, she would probably have more children to give birth to at least one boy in case her first one, two or three children were girls. Even among wealthy (eliteman) Indians in from the 1980s and 1990s I have seen a remarkable number of families with three daughters. It appears that these families have tried to have at least one son and failed. In the days before birth control and gender detection, you could find families with more girls and fewer boys as if the older children were girls.
Now why does an Indian family want a boy?
1. In the traditional joint family the eldest son takes over the role of the father/patriarch. He "inherits" the empire.
2. Because the above fact is true, the eldest daughter in law (the wife of the eldest son) is under pressure to produce a son, because her son, if the eldest, will then inherit the mantle of patriarch and controller of family wealth/resources.
3. Other daughters-in-law too are under pressure to produce a son. If they beget a son sooner than the eldest daughter in law, that son may be he oldest grandson making him the future boss. Female choices here are important too. The woman may initiate sex if she desires to have another child that she hopes will be a son. The man too may force himself on an unwilling wife to try an have a son. In every case - Indian laws that handed over property to the male heir only have been at fault.
4. Since daughters did not inherit property (before the law was changed in the 1990s) , keeping girls at home is a burden. Add the need to provide a dowry. Dowry itself is a way of compensating for the fact that a girl brings no share of family wealth as per traditional Indian laws.
Now how does all this pan out in an era of birth control, birth spacing and ante-natal health care to reduce maternal and infant mortality?
The family that used to have many children in the past is now being restricted to just 2 or 3. But if those 2 or 3 were girls, family wealth would inevitably pass to someone else. One needs to recall that in India "family wealth" is most often arable land or other real estate, then cattle/animals and finally jewels. Recall that 80% of Indians were rural when the 1971 war was fought and when India conducted its first nuclear explosion. That apart, the Hindu succession act was changed in 1956. It still did not give dauhters equal share, but it was an improvement. But it meant that anyone born before 1956 would fall under the older law. If you look at any lady who was born before 1956, you would expect her first children to be born by about 1970 and last children born around 1990. So we now have women born between 1970 and 1990 who fell under the old Hindu succession act. Those Indian women who were born between 1970 and 1990 and their husbands would all have made family decisions about boys and girls based on what they knew the law to be.
The advent of ultrasound (post 1980s in India) was a two edged sword. Ultrasound is a vital tool in the armamentarium of women's health care specialists. Lives are saved by ultrasound because it shows up abnormal foetal and placental positions so the mother can have a Casearean rather than risk death after prolonged labour. But as part of "birth control" unwanted pregnancies in India can be aborted legally. Fact is that it is safer to have a legal abortion in a clinic that an illegal abortion that becomes the norm when abortion is made illegal. It is possible for any quack to try and cause abortion, but saving a woman after that may not be possible, so legal abortion by specialists (called "MTP- or Medical Termination of Pregnancy) is always safer for birth control.
But ultrasound and legal abortions are misused with the connivance of doctors to detect the sex of an unborn child and abort. So what we are seeing in India is a consequence of attempts to play compassion with the population (reduction in infant/maternal mortality) resulting in society choosing to keep boys over girls.
Is anything being done? Yes. this is what I am aware of
1. Ultrasound to detect the sex is illegal. But making it illegal does not stop it.
2. As of 2005 the law has been amended to give girls equal property rights. (yes 2005!!!
3. There are now moves to make education free for girls in some states
There may be other measures, that I am unaware of, but attitudes in society need to be moulded to favor the girl child, and I can see that being done although in my personal view TV serials and Bollywood have not been helpful in this regard. I may be mistaken. But remember that the gender ratios we see today are the choices made by couples who were married between 1970 and maybe 2000. Any change of attitude will reflect in statistics only after many years. Till that time expect to be told that "India is the worst place for girls" in addition to "Most cases of TB" and "Most people without access to toilets". But for an educated and concerned Indian it is IMO better to be informed than join the chatter-gossip club.