Uttarakhand is a Himalayan state located in northern India. Its unpredictable weather conditions and difficult terrain ensure a difficult life for the region’s inhabitants, numbering more than 10 million.
Women in the state have traditionally been the economic backbone of their families, earning money, running households, collecting firewood and carrying water tens of kilometers every day.
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Historically, they have participated in several social movements, including the famous movement of tree hugs or “chipko” in the 1970s, when women in the Chamoli neighborhood attached themselves to trees to protest against large-scale deforestation, which has destabilized the fragile ecological balance of the region.
Later, the women were involved in a mass movement against the construction of the Tehri dam and the hydroelectric project, among others. However, as in most parts of India, the women of Uttarakhand suffer from the low status accorded to them in Indian society and culture.
The last census of India, carried out in 2011, showed that the sex ratio of children in Uttarakhand (the number of girls per 1,000 boys) fell from 908 in 2001 to 890 ten years later. The recent figures are even more shocking. A recent government survey of 132 villages in Uttarkashi district, state, found that none of the 216 children born in those villages for three months were girls.
In a statement to DW, Uttarakhand State Women’s Commission chairperson Vijay Barthwal said early reviews revealed some girls were also born, but the numbers still need to be verified. Yet activists and experts believe the biased sex ratio points to an increase in female feticides – selective abortion of female fetuses – which are banned in India.
‘Owned by another family’
The problem is not confined to Uttarakhand alone, but transcends state borders. In Indian society, a son is considered the defender of the surname, which he passes on to his son and so on. Many Hindu families believe that a person has a place in paradise only if his son lights the funeral pyre and spreads the ashes in the Ganges.
The prevalence of this mindset in India means that women are seen as the subordinate gender and must abide by the rules society has set for them, said sociologist Pramil Kumar Panda, who teaches at the Xavier Institute of Social Sciences. from the eastern town of Ranchi. DW.
“Girls are always considered the property of another family. Thus, they are never seen as contributing to the expansion of household ownership, whether in the short or long term, ”he explained.
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Economic progress and better physical infrastructure have not been able to change people’s minds, he said.
“Data from the 2011 census shows that relatively prosperous states like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra have a very poor sex ratio of children, while some of the less developed regions like Chhattisgarh and the states of northeast have a much better sex ratio of children.
The Indian government has passed laws prohibiting the use of ultrasound tests to determine the sex of a fetus and sex-selective abortions.
Access to illegal tests
Jaisingh Rawat, journalist and author of several books on the language and culture of Uttarakhand, says economic development has even made the problem worse.
Previously, men in the state paid a “dowry” to the women they married, he told DW. But now the scales have shifted in favor of men, who demand huge sums of money from potential female partners.
This has increased the financial pressure on the families of the women, prompting many of them to opt for gender-selective abortions rather than bearing the financial and cultural burden of a female child, the expert said.
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Rawat noted that developing infrastructure, including better roads, has improved people’s access to illegal sex determination tests and abortions. “Ultrasound scanners are sent on a temporary basis – for two or three days – from towns like Dehradun to villages in the mountains. [medical] agents carrying these machines announce their arrival in advance and that patients wishing to undergo prenatal tests should contact them. “
The local agents who operate these machines also participate in the business and get their share of the profits, the expert said, adding that officials generally had no idea of the practices, as medical workers say they use these machines to set up temporary health camps for pregnant women. .
Once a family decides they want to get rid of a female fetus, they can just go to a bigger city and get the job done, he said. Poor families sometimes also take out loans at high interest rates to undergo prenatal sex tests and sex-selective abortions, local media suggest.
In this way, prenatal tests, which are supposed to be used only to check for genetic abnormalities, are illegally used to determine the sex of the fetus, which is then aborted. In many cases, the mother of the child has no say in the matter.
Too few women
And the results are clear to see. India ranks fourth in the world after Liechtenstein, China and Armenia in terms of asymmetric sex ratios at birth, according to data released by the Asian Center for Human Rights, an NGO based in New Delhi. . There are 112 boys for every 100 girls in the second most populous country in the world.
In an official report from 2013, the Indian Ministry of Health pointed out that “preference for sons, neglect of the daughter leading to higher mortality at a younger age, female infanticide, female feticide … “were the main reasons for this distorted sex ratio.
According to the Population Research Institute (PRI), around 15.8 million girls went missing in India due to prenatal sex selection between 1990 and 2018. Around 550,000 girls went missing in 2018 alone, according to PRI.
The government has passed laws prohibiting the use of ultrasound tests to determine the sex of a fetus and sex-selective abortions. However, they failed to end the problem.
Sociologist Pramil Kumar Panda says that changes in social attitudes towards women and girls take time. This is why, he argues, the laws against female feticide have not been very effective.
The asymmetric sex ratio means that men in some Indian states, like Haryana, are already struggling to find a wife. Out of desperation, men are increasingly approaching human smugglers, who supply them with trafficked women from poor families in countries like Bangladesh.
These women, in turn, face several issues in their new homes, ranging from an inability to communicate and adapt to a new culture to being treated like sex slaves.
Sociologists warn that biased sex ratios can, over a period of time, lead to worsening of women’s rights in these communities and make them more vulnerable to sexual violence.