Recently, I was in Dhenkanal discussing about domestic violence with one of the vigilance groups supported by our partner organisation. We discussed about dowry and domestic violence and its legal implications. During the discussion, Indira Mohanty, a leader of the vigilance group said “If we want to address domestic violence, we should be talking more about sex selective abortions, otherwise we will be left with no women someday.” She continued, “…it is important to change our customs and attitudes which only give importance to the male child. Until we treat both the girl and boy equally we will never be able to have a society which ensures equality for women in all aspects.”
Despite its efforts to rectify the skewed sex ratio in the country, the government has admitted that sex ratio has worsened over the years, falling from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and slipping further to 918 in 2011. In this context, the sex ratio of Odisha is really appalling. Though the sex ratio has increased marginally; i.e. from 972 in 2001 to 979 in 2011 census, the child sex ratio fell to 941 in 2011 as compared to 979 in 2001. The gap in sex ratio is also continuously widening. While the district of Nayagarh is at the bottom with 916 females per 1000 males, the neighbouring district Ganjam and nearby district Dhenkanal reported a decrease in sex ratio in comparison to their 2001 status.
There are four other districts where a decrease has been noted. The sex ratio of Sonepur came down to 959 in comparison to 966 in 2001. Similarly, Balangir district fell to 983 from 984 and Puri from 968 to 963 females per 1000 males. In 2001 census, the coastal district Kendrapada had 1014 females per 1000 males which went down to 1006 in 2011. Also, the increase in sex ratio in many districts has been insignificant, which is not encouraging. However, some districts like Nuapada, Kalahandi, Rayagada, Nabrangpur, Koraput, Malkanagiri and Gajapati record a same or positive sex ratio, i.e. wherein the number of girls is either equal to the number of boys or more in comparison.
To address the issue of sex selective abortions, the Government of India brought the much required Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, in 1994. The act prohibits sex selection or determination before or after conception and regulates pre natal diagnostic techniques to prevent its misuse. Yet in the recent parliamentary session, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi told the Lok Sabha in a written reply: “The reason behind the declining child sex ratio in the country primarily is the socio-cultural mindset of having preference for sons, considering girls as burden and preference for small family. Further, easy availability of technology for sex determination tests and abortion services act as catalyst in the declining child sex ratio.”
There are around 500 ultrasound machines registered with the state authorities (as on 31.03.2014) across Odisha. At the same time, it is estimated that there are more than 1000 unrecognised ultrasound machines in Odisha that determines the sex of the child and help families get rid of the female foetus. These clinics operate openly in the communities and there is no regulation imposed by the Government machinery thus adding to the missing girls count. Availability of portable ultrasound machines-despite a ban- has aggravated the issue.
Is it just a failure of the act or of the society that never accepted a girl whether at birth or after. Amartya Sen’s article “100 million missing women” haunts me till date, where he estimated India has about 37 million missing women. Has the situation changed or has it deteriorated? The widening gap of sex ratio is a terrible story of inequality and neglect and this reflects in a women’s life from womb to tomb.
On my way back to Bhubaneswar, I started recollecting all the occasions in my personal life when I have seen girls being discriminated and boys given a preference. Today as a father to a daughter and a son, I decided that I will ensure equal opportunities to both my children.
The author is Regional Manager – Odisha and South India, Oxfam India