Discrimination Against Women A Global Survey of the Economic, Educational, Social and Political Status of Women

By Eschel M. Rhoodie | Go to book overview
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26. Case Study: India

In almost all countries of the world the number of women per thousand of the population is always greater than men. In almost all countries women have a higher life expectancy. But not in India. The 1981 census produced a ratio of 1,000 males per 935 females, and the proportional representation of women has been declining since 1901. 1

In their revealing article "Women in India: The Reality," Neela d' Souza and Ramani Nataranjan said:

Behind the figures and charts, dismal in themselves, is the grim reality of neglect of female children, for the intense desire and preference for sons is linked to the often fatal neglect of daughters. If the practice of female infanticide belongs to history, the legacy of discrimination and the neglect of female children is validated in infant mortality rates, nutritional surveys, and hospital registers, which show that medical attention is sought much later for girls in case of illness -- a delay with grave consequences. The male child is a potential source of economic support and so gets the major share of parental attention, better nutrition, and preferential treatment in all matters. 2

Female infanticide in India is something which everyone is aware of, but not much is being done from the official side to put a stop to what the weekly news magazine India Today termed "a murderous tradition." Recently the magazine reported that the killing of female babies "is still a widespread phenomenon," pointing to the fact that among the Bhati people there are only 550 girls for every 1,000 boys. In one school there was only one girl among the 175 children. 3 The development of amniocentesis, a genetic technique to determine both the condition and the sex of an unborn child, has worsened the situation. According to Abha Pandya, an estimated 78,000 fetuses were legally aborted in India over the period 1978-1983 because of "birth defects" in the unborn. "This misuse of genetic testing . . . is a flourishing business, mainly in northern India where a daughter's birth may be considered a near calamity." A son is perceived as an economic asset to the family: to capture wealth in the form of a dowry when he is married, to provide productive labor, and to perform the religious rituals after the death of the parents. Protests have arisen in the media and by women's and civil rights groups against the misuse of amniocentesis for what some see as a technological aid to female feticide. It is essentially an urban problem, reported Abha Pandya in The Christian Science Monitor, confined primarily to the middle classes, but the amniocentesis clinics are spreading in rural areas, indicating that this discrimination has widespread sociological roots. Women's rights groups have asked the government to ban the use of amniocentesis as an instrument of selective abortion. 4

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