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Why Genocidal Violence on Women in India Increases with Wealth and Education

June 12, 2011

photo by Divyesh Sejpal ©. All Rights Reserved.

       by Rita Banerji

By far, the biggest myth about India’s female genocide is that it is the outcome of illiteracy and poverty.

What most people feel is – if you build schools, educate people, educate girls, and create jobs, then people won’t kill their infant girls or eliminate their daughters through sex selection.


When wealth starts flowing into a household, a community, a village or a state, in India, and along with the economic prosperity come other amenities like schools and clinics, then one sees a simultaneous drop in the ratio of females in that particular household, community, village or state, as the case may be!  “Economic success seems to spread son preference to places that were once more neutral about the sex composition of their children,”observes Indian demographer, Alaka Basu.

In other words, the more wealth and education there is, the higher the rate of female gendercide! This is an observation that has been made by isolated researchers and social scientists in India, but till now has been utterly ignored.

However India’s recent census data from 2011 and an independent research study also published in 2011, in the noted medical journal Lancet, based on mass scale data-gathering and analysis, now expose the above stated pattern so strongly, that it’s impossible to ignore.

The 2011 census of India shows that the highest rates of elimination of girls through sex-selection and infanticide is not in the poorest states of India, but in the wealthiest states and cities, as in Punjab and Haryana, and the cities of Delhi and Chandigarh.  One sees the same pattern with illiteracy and education.

The states with the higher rates of literacy, such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, have a worse gender ratio than the states with some of the worst literacy rates such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

 Also, rural areas in India, that lag far behind the urban areas in education and development, tend to have a better sex ratios than the urban areas.

Furthermore, the 150 districts of India, that are officially classified by the government as being “least developed”, had far better sex ratios than the other comparatively more developed districts.  In 2001, the district-level data indicated that the most literate districts, with the greatest access to technology, had a worse sex gender ratio than the districts with the lowest literacy levels.  That trend has become more blatant in the 2011 census.  In the state of Uttar Pradesh for e.g. the 10 districts  with the highest literacy levels, had a child sex ratio of 887 girls to 1000 boys,  while the 10 districts with the lowest literacy rates has a child sex ratio of 937 girls to 1000 boys, a difference of 50 females per 1000 males.  The same district based trend prevailed in other states: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Haryana and West Bengal.

The vast 2011 study,  led by Prabhat Jha,  published in the Lancet, showed that in the last two decades the most drastic plunge in the gender ratio in India has been in the 20% of the population that represents the wealthiest and most educated sections of India.

Where in 1991, the sex ratio for the second-born children where the first-born is a girl — was about 850 girls for 1000 boys for the richest 20% of India, by 2011 this ratio had plummeted to 750, and was even lower, at 700 in families where women had 10 years or more education.  Comparatively the poorest 20% of the country’s population where the women are uneducated and illiterate, show the best gender ratios.  On an average there was either no change over the last 2 decades, or apparently in some cases even an improvement in the sex ratio in the 2011 census data as compared to the data from 1991.

Would the education and earnings of women change that? Unfortunately not! This research also shows that homes where women have better education and higher incomes are far more likely than poorer homes where women have no education, to get rid of their daughters through sex-selection, especially if they already have a girl.

It is important to note that it is not the women, rather the families that are making the decisions to rid the daughters!  Women are often beaten and violently forced into these abortions.  The killing of new-born infant girls is also often not the mother’s decision but the family’s.

Moreover, it is found that as wealth increases in a neighborhood or in a state dowry related violence and murders of women also increase!

Don’t get me wrong on this! I am not advocating against education or community development here.  On the contrary, I believe that universal education and a basic civilized standard of living for the majority,  both of which India has so hopelessly failed at, are paramount to India’s evolution as a modern democracy.

The issue that I am trying to pin-point here is the problem with the public perception of what is causing India’s female genocide.  And the bottom line is that EDUCATION AND ECONOMICS BY THEMSELVES, ARE NOT THE SOLUTION BECAUSE POVERTY AND ILLITERACY ARE NOT THE CAUSE OF FEMALE GENOCIDE!

The photograph on top, of a little girl hunched over her slate, immediately evokes a positive response in us.   That is because symbolically it represents — empowerment, choices and progress to us.  However, the reality is that education and money are powerful tools, and while we can give them to people and hope they will use it for constructive change, we cannot determine how individuals and communities will ultimately CHOOSE to use them.  In context of India’s female genocide, these tools have been used most destructively.  Why?

 1.       Money and education increase people’s knowledge of and access to various means and newer technologies to eliminate potential daughters.  More so, the more money and education people have, the better they understand the system and know how to get around it.  They also have the means and contacts to bribe the police and government officials to get away with any kind of crime be it female feticide, the killing of a baby girl or the murder of a woman for dowry.  Have you ever wondered why the people in prison for dowry murders and female infanticide are always the poor?

2.       The better off a family is economically, and the more education they give their daughter, the larger the amount they are expected to pay in dowry for her marriage.  Hence if their daughter gets a University degree and is working, the social “penalty” in dowry is far more than if she was simply a high school graduate.  Because wealthier families feel they have to pay bigger dowries they also have more incentive to want to get rid of daughters early. Conversely, why would an educated, middle-class family even want to pay dowry for their daughter, when she could well sustain herself? Because if a daughter is married and given a dowry, her family believes they don’t have to give her any property, and all of it can then go to their son!

3.   The better off a family is, and the more educated their son is, the bigger the amount the family expects in dowry for their son.  In fact each educational or professional degree (as lawyer, engineer or doctor) the son has, adds an incremental notch to the wealth that he draws into the family through dowry.  Often the dowry demand is almost ten times the groom’s annual salary – it’s the family’s jackpot!

Hence the reality about female genocide that we must face, if we want to find an effective solution is this.  Female genocide is not about poverty or illiteracy. Female genocide is an exercise of power like all genocides are.  It is about the social and criminal persecution of a targeted group by the powerful – like all genocides are.  The reasons and the solutions to stop female genocide are no different from what it would be for the genocide of any other human group!

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. Please see our copyright notice.


Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji


Divyesh Sejpal is an award winning photographer and a member of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers’ Group which is supported by more than 2300 photographers.  To see more of his works click here

45 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 5:10 am

    what world do we the people of the in.

  2. June 14, 2011 11:00 am

    Good piece Rita.

  3. Sridhar permalink
    June 22, 2011 1:29 pm

    Point well made that education and economic well being do not necessarily protect the girl child.
    But the proposition in the last sentence is self defeating (unless you are pointing towards sham or fraudulent organisations).
    Why should this preclude donating to charities/organizations that support female literacy and education? Female education is crucial for the next generation of women not to succumb to age old male prejudice.

    • June 24, 2011 7:31 am

      @Sridhar — No, no, it is not my intention at all, to in anyway decry education for girls and women, and I make a pointed note of that in the column above. In this forum I am SPECIFICALLY EXAMINING the practical strategies of controlling (since we cannot reverse it) the sliding sex-ratio! I am asking what strategies will and will not work.

      One of the concerns I have as I look around, is how this terrible disaster is being used as a platform by NGOs to garner funds. They’ll put up a photo of a deprived girl-child with a poster saying something like they are providing education to the poor so that people don’t kill their girl children. It is a false premise to get funds. What people need to know is that is not true. The more education a community, girl or woman has, the more jobs they have and income, the more likely they are to abort or kill an infant girl.

      Furthermore, even with providing universal education, people need to be very careful with who they are donating to. There is one NGO for every 400 Indians today. In states like West Bengal, there is one hospital bed for every 100,000 Indians, and in the best states it is something like 17 beds for every 100,000. Something is very wrong with that picture! The NGO system has become one of the most easy ways of garnering funds in India today by domestic and foreign agencies. There is no accountability! An NGO can set up today and disappear tomorrow! It can just say: we tried and leave it at that.

      Education, housing, food, and citizen well-being have to be state responsibilities, like it is in all civilized nations. A state does not disappear. And yes, there is corruption, but in the end the state must answer. And causes like this have become easy baits for getting donations and funds for NGOs. So NGOs are not the answer to India’s femicide, education is not the answer, and economics is not the answer! But I will get to what the answer is in one of the Q&A forums. I think people need the right information and need to engage with this issue publicly and intelligently. And that’s the purpose of this forum.

  4. June 27, 2011 6:37 pm

    “But for now, should you see any advertisement or website, with pictures of underprivileged Indian girls, professing to ‘Save the Indian Girl Child,’ by building schools and creating jobs, and asking for your donations to this purpose, DO NOT FALL FOR IT! Instead send them a link to this post!”

    I’m sorry, but you don’t make the distinction here between NGOs that are doing good human rights work – this lumps us all together in one group and presumes that we are in fact exploiting destitute girls to make money. I have encountered this attitude many times before, and it is very unfortunate. We make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of girls every year in India and Cambodia – ask ANY of our beneficiaries.

    Your post is dead on to point out that reducing sex selective abortions and righting the sex ratio will not come as a result of education and economics. However, it is gravely misguided and irresponsible to suggest that NGOs working for female empowerment should not be supported, or that their work is worthless, or even worse that it is contributing to the problem. It’s reckless to suggest that we should not educate girls because they will grow up to abort their female fetuses.

    Please be more careful when making these types of blanket statements. We work very, very hard to secure funding, and this unfairly tarnishes our image. People believe what they read; please take care in what you publish.


    • March 9, 2012 7:45 am

      @Rachel — I just saw your comment! Well this is not a post about what each NGO is doing. It is a post about why Indians are killing girls and women en mass.

      And yes, I will argue from what I have been seeing for the last 6-7 years, that this particular issue of gendercide (or ‘Girl Child’ issue) has become a very easy and convenient platform for NGOs to garner funds. They push the argument that Indians are killing their daughters because they cannot afford to educate them. So if we give girls an education — they might find a better job — and then Indians will feel more inclined to have daughters!! And this post establishes via the data from India’s ground reality — that that is not the case. In fact it goes the other way. It is this particular kind of argument that I think the public needs to be cautioned about.

      More so, in India the NGO arena is completely unmonitored. I will definitely argue in another post that the NGO system in India today has become a parallel system of exploitation and abuse of the issue of female gendercide. We run as a zero-fund campaign. We don’t ask for or collect funds. But every time we get a case where help is needed — all these NGOs with website proclaiming they do this and that seem to be no help at all!! We had one woman who was forced to consume acid by her in-laws and she was dying (see Roopa’s story) and we approached every NGO local and international — and no one would help her!! She needed major surgery urgently or she would have died! And finally our campaign members directly sent funds to her parents so they could put her through a surgery and hospital care, and also later when we were helping her with her rehabilitation.

      The same thing — when we were trying to find a home for a child (see Karishma’s story) — we found that in every so called home for abandoned children, the girls live under atrocious conditions. And by the time they are 18 — the ngo pays a dowry (a dowry!!!) and marries them off into families in villages and slums. It’s just another form of disposal. The kind of education they are given is totally inadequate for an independent life-style with options of walking away from violence! It gives them no skills or life options — does not pull them into the middle class — and leaves them helpless and exposed to abuse whichever family they are married into. Of course, as we are seeing with cases via our own campaign, even educated women with jobs and earnings — get killed for dowry, get forced to abort their daughters, or watch as their baby girls are kicked down the stairs or something like that and they still don’t want to get out. But at least they have that option to get out. What’s the use of an education if it does not give a girl the option of not being married!! Or getting out of a marriage. See the documentary by National Geographic on the Missing Girls. A girl abandoned as a baby raised in one such home is married into what clearly is a shanty like situation. And then guess what — she’s being pressured to abort her daughter!! Is this the road to change via NGOs — pick up a girl from the trash and throw her right back into the trash?

  5. July 24, 2011 3:22 pm

    true… not sure who said this, but it still rings true: Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power

  6. emery permalink
    December 20, 2011 1:05 am

    the statement “its the family’s jackpot” says it all! we will continue to have this problem until the day dowry is sent to the trash pile of history and marriage becomes about love.

  7. PalomaSharma permalink
    August 11, 2012 7:04 am

    Reblogged this on Going Bananas.

  8. February 8, 2013 1:31 am

    Rita, this is quite an eye-opener! Could you help us understand why “daughter gets a University degree and is working, the penalty in dowry is far more than if she was simply a high school graduate.”??

    Thank you for enlightening us to this social/economic aspect of the problem.

  9. BAsudev Barpanda permalink
    February 8, 2013 7:14 am

    we ourself are resposible female genocide.if we won’t except dowery during son’s marriage and also promise not give dowery for our daughter’s marriage then thegenocide will stop.

  10. Nanu.T permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:39 pm

    Really shocking

  11. adele van niekerk permalink
    April 3, 2013 6:01 pm

    i would like to know where all these little girls are sent. there are so many parents who are childless in South Africa and would love to adopt or care for these little ones. please advise on how we can help without sending money, we offer our time and love. adele van niekerk

    • April 3, 2013 6:49 pm

      @Adele — The Indian government has some of the hardest out of country adoption rules. Even though most girls in orphanages are not adopted. We’ve not been very happy about the state of homes for girls in India, many of which abound in sexual abuse, and often the girls are married off by 18. Right now this is insanity — like all genocides are. And it has to be dealt as an international human rights crises like any other genocide. So for now we are requesting people to give us their voice by signing the petition (see to the right or check the page on top). Thank you.

  12. April 3, 2013 9:06 pm

    What will India do when there is no longer enough females to maintain a viable population?

    • April 5, 2013 1:13 am

      Hi Rita,

      You are working for a wonderful cause, but in the wrong direction.

      To me it is the difference of world views that has created the difference of genocide rates in different states. The educated and well-off regions of India have the highest value for the high materialistic progress. Where as those with good man-woman ratio are those regions which have strong belief in life in hereafter.

      The real problem is to take this world “just for fun” and having no sense of responsibility in hereafter.

      I wish you study how Mohammad, peace be upon him, changed the Arabic peninsula just in a couple of decades from a prominent female genocide region to a region where women became the centre of highest respect and love.

      Wish you best of luck.

  13. d kapoor permalink
    April 22, 2013 1:55 am

    you have it spot on here- it really isnt the illiteracy- its the logical, moral and creative bankruptcy thats killing our girls.

    A ‘friend’ of mine happens to be dating a girl who apparently comes from a well off family. On the other hand, owning several properties in posh locales across mumbai, with an engineer’s degree, ‘educated’ at don bosco, this ‘friend’ isnt doing too bad for himself either. Yet the reason he “might marry her” is cause “she’ll bring a fat dowry along.”

    Its not the rate of literacy- its the education and the popular culture that pervades everyday life.

  14. April 22, 2013 12:26 pm

    its very true. and its very frustrating. Women put their foot down on many occassions but still its a big struggle. Its like the Indian family is divided into two parts, the male part and the female part and both of them just want to extend their own cause. Plus women have no property rights which adds to their problems.

  15. Sheelah Goldsmith married to David Cannan. permalink
    April 26, 2013 12:56 pm

    Wjhy on earth does India have a dowry situation anyway? And, if they have one, surely, the more educated and able to earn a female is, the LESSSSS her dowry should be…if ANY!!. The whole idea of a dowry, I imagine, is that the male is taking on a financial burden who will need to be supported. If the wife is educated and able to earn well, then maybe the man should PAY to marry her, especially if she earns more than him? Having earnt more than my husband, and worked, all my married life, I can definitely see how unfair and MAD it would have been for MY family to pay a dowry for me to marry!!!! India needs to get rid of the dowry system. A man gets free sex, a free housekeeper, a free, hostess, a free nanny for his children, a free worker in his garden or fields etc etc when he marries. Men should pay the dowry!!!!!

    • April 27, 2013 11:32 am

      Sheelah — Dowry is illegal in India, but the law is not implemented because people across all classes, including police and politicians are violating it! But your argument is right. In most African countries, grooms have to pay a dowry. In a way it really reduces a woman to a reproductive and sexual commodity bought by a man for use!! But India is worse!! The woman’s family pays for her to be sexually and reproductively used and abuse, as well as blackmailed for more money. It just shows how internalized misogyny is, specially given that the more education and wealth a woman or her family have the more dowry they are willing to pay, when they should be saying — Go to Hell!!

  16. May 12, 2013 9:05 am

    My take is that it is class, not literacy, that is the factor. Looking historically, “higher” classes are more predisposed to patrilineage and other forms of patriarchy, thus the Roman term “patrician.” (That has shifted somewhat, but as female infanticide stats show not as much as some would argue.) The demand for male heirs dictates so many social rules and enforcements. People in “lower” classes over time begin to imitate the codes of the “higher,” in attempting to raise their own status; thus after many centuries of upper-class footbinding in China, other classes adopted this practice, attempting to marry daughters “up,” but also forcing those who didn’t to labor on bound feet. Similarly with corsets in European-based cultures. In India and China the long histories of boy-preference have yielded this bitter result. At root it is a battle for property and prestige, and women have very little of either.

    • May 13, 2013 10:26 am

      But class and literacy go together in India. Education is a way up the ladder. So the argument here is that education can push you up the class ladder but then it also makes you increase genocidal violence on women.

  17. LK Viswanathan permalink
    October 16, 2013 3:05 pm

    The need of the hour would be i) strict laws to curb female child killing, ii) Stern action on bribe taking officers to the extent of losing their jobs, iii) discourage dowry system, iv) incentives for bringing up girl child, v) severe actions on doctors and other hospital officials for declaring the sex of a foetes, vi) scrutinise closely the death certificates of female till the age of 40 years and to initiate action against the doctors who certified them.

    If a girl child or female is killed, the law should act swiftly and the judgement to be made on priority and the culprit(s) to be hanged with out any delay to give a fair deal to the departed soul. In the name of democracy, we have allowed too many criminals to escape punishment and as a result, innocents are beeing killed mercilessly with the confidence of the poor judiciary, increased corruption and soft punishments.

    We all are responsible for this type of acts. Let us first demand a fair election process with the deeds of the candidates displayed at suitable places to understand and select the right candidate and if not, the option of ‘no one is suiatable’ is selected to go for a re election with new candidates. We can also demand for the retired senior administrators of big corporates, who have taken their companies to limelight, to handle the job as a politician.

  18. Tom permalink
    January 19, 2014 10:17 pm

    That is strange, if its the upper class who does that more than the lower classes (I did not knew) it should be relatively simple to enforce better protection. I mean in one of the other blogs you say the highest death rate is between the age of 5-6, that means that the friends of the family will have seen the child for 5 years and then it suddenly disapears. If its malnutrition you should be able to see it before. Hence why do the family friend do not say anything, or do not report it to the police or the youth welfare office. While in my country there are admitedly blind spots in the lower strata of society middle and upper class are well observed (regular mandatory health checks until age 6) and in cased of maltreatment the authorities take away the childs from the parents (as well as fine them heavily). In addition here in Germany any child death gets a post mortem and if the parent do not have a watertight alibi they easily go to jail for failure to assist, second or first grade murder.
    Isn’t that also a method that could work in India? I mean even if the state is failing to do the supervision, everyone here has a network of friends which he could monitor, just keep an eye open.

    • January 21, 2014 3:32 pm

      The highest death rate is between 1-6 years. In India there is no proper accounting of birth and death. And that is one of the problems. These kind of data emerge only when the census is done. That’s when you see what is happening. Women die under strange circumstances, girls die, and in slums and villages women will speak out. But in middle and upper classes women are more silent, and people might gossip but they won’t speak out.

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  20. April 8, 2014 4:58 pm

    dear ma’m.
    i went through the article and got to know the -ve consequences of edu and economic prosperity which make avail of knowledge and technology.
    but here we will have understand the differences,
    the the proximate reasons are very vicious in nature, and these are:-
    1 Parents treats girls as liability and discriminates between male child and female child while upbringing, they treat girl child as inferior, and this affects the mentality of male child at subconscious level regarding the girls. and this results in to patriarchal mindset when he becomes youth.

    2 And there is also reason for Parents taking girls as liability like:-
    wide spread violence against women,dowry and thinking that male child as old age care taker etc.

    and further education system manifest it because our education system has failed to bring gender sensitization and gender equality. it has failed to wipe out the patriarchal mindset.
    and Economic prosperity has failed to wipe out the feudal attitude which is prevalent in western U.P. and Haryana.
    Feudal attitude generates the status quoism which further strengthens the egoist patriarchal society and individual male’s mindset and responsible for all kind of crime and discrimination against women.

    Because of viciousness, we fail to recognize the real reasons and we feel ourselves trapped.for the solution of these problem a strong will at political and individual level against all discrimination against women and Proper education system could make difference.

    And in present context for women a real freedom is financial freedom.

  21. young artist permalink
    October 5, 2014 4:14 am

    It’s going to be end of mine day, except before ending I am
    reading this enormous post to improve my experience.

  22. Kathie permalink
    September 23, 2015 2:22 am

    My question is what would help in this situation. It seems terrible that the more educated people are the more they do these types of things. You would think it would be the opposite. There must be a culture which promotes this kind of thing going on among the more well-to-do. In the West when women get more education they support themselves. In ancient Vedic times women studied and were sages. Also the dowry went from father to daughter as social insurance policy. In modern times it seems as though the husband’s family keeps demanding more and more. This madness has to end. You would think the fathers would get sick of this kind of thing.

    • September 28, 2015 1:43 am

      Kathie, women just have to say no to people who demand dowry. In fact with 50 million more men than women, that’s a choice that exists for women in India. They need to learn to exercise i.

  23. March 13, 2016 6:11 am

    Reblogged this on There Are So Many Things Wrong With This.


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