Why Genocidal Violence on Women in India Increases with Wealth and Education
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.
BUT THE FACT IS, THE GROUND REALITY SHOWS THE EXACT REVERSE!
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!
ABOUT THE WRITER
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 www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
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