How few there are . . . how many fewer there will be, unless India acts now.


Is 2012 a good time to be young and female in India?

It depends.

This New York Times article says this: “The number of girls in schools has increased. The maternal mortality ratio has dropped. The government has carved out more money for women’s welfare measures in the budget. And for the first time, women outnumbered men in the number of literates added to the country in the last decade.”

Yet the same piece also points out that rape is high, child marriage is on the upswing – with its concomitant surge in domestic violence (in Hinduism, a husband is supposed to be a god, and gods are allowed to beat humans) – and compared to Western nations, as a democracy, India is far behind. This article on the thoughts of male elders in the state of Haryana is alarming. Their idea is to marry girls off early, so that they won’t be raped as single teenagers. Which is rather like saying that to prevent lambs being attacked by groups of jackals, each lamb ought to be housed individually with a single jackal. The fact that a lamb is just as much at risk from assault by an individual jackal (especially one larger and older than the lamb) is ignored.

So, it depends. Are Indian girls better off than their grandmothers at the same age? Definitely. More of them are being schooled, more are out in public where other people can assure their health and success. The eyes of the world, via the internet and Twitter, have made it possible for Indians of good faith to ensure girls’ nutrition, vaccination, and education.

On the other hand, there are reactionaries who – not unlike their Taliban contemporaries in Afghanistan – deplore the improvement in girls’ lives. It’s no accident that village elders are male. That such a skewed power structure (as the saying goes, women hold up half the sky) can be neither effective nor impartial is swept under the tribal carpet.

And the girls of tomorrow’s India? Will they have it even better than current schoolgirls?

I’m sorry to say, probably not. Not unless India stops the abortion of female fetuses. Not prohibits, but stops.

All over Asia, but particularly in India and China, the number of girls has dropped. Where there is scarcity, often there is value. Supply and demand, yes?

Only, not so with girls and women. Instead of being valued for their rareness, they will be trampled and hidden in order to “protect” them.

Where women and girls are hidden, they are subject to abuse. After all, who will know? If a man’s society affirms that he has the power and the right to inflict pain on people in his family, unless he has very good mental health indeed, he is likely to be the pain-inflictor.

Where there is a huge overpopulation of young males regarded as more deserving of schooling, college, jobs – even food – what happens to their sisters? They lose out. It is not that many years since Indians failed to feed unwanted girls, and in some rural areas that practice of slow infanticide continues. In the future, if sex-selective abortion continues its expanding course, the female child will become a rarity. The few who are born will not find themselves among others like them. Instead, they will be valued for one thing: reproduction. Their lives will be shadowed, isolated, and filled with fear. They are likely to be married off as infants, promised to families of boys, and they may well be subject – due to scarcity – to two or more husbands who will all too often demand their “rights”. That’s already happening in India.

So, are Indian girls today at a good place? Compared to their grandmothers, yes. Compared to their granddaughters, most certainly.

But it should be better than that. India should be looking ahead and planning how to empower these girls, how to assure their continued health, and how to stop sex-selective abortion so that the girls alive today have a chance to right the balance of daughters in a nation with too many young men.