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Updated: January 7, 2012 16:25 IST

Daughters unwanted

Meenakshi Kumar
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Sharada Srinivasan
Sharada Srinivasan

She has spent considerable time researching female infanticide. Sharada Srinivasan talks about why elimination of the girl child is prevalent all over the country.

Daughter elimination is very much prevalent in Tamil Nadu even if not as intense as in other parts of the country. Sharada Srinivasan, assistant professor in International Development Studies at York University Toronto, has spent a considerable amount of time researching this subject. Her book Daughter Deficit: Sex Selection in Tamil Nadu (Women Unlimited) explores this issue in depth. She talks to Meenakshi Kumar on how widespread the practice is and why daughters are unwanted.

Punjab and Haryana have made headlines for a dismal sex ratio and hair-raising stories of daughter elimination. What made you focus on sex selection practice in Tamil Nadu?

I had come across articles in the newspapers about this practice, which was first reported in the 1980s. During the mid-1990s I had the opportunity to visit a NGO working to prevent female infanticide in Usilampatti in Madurai district. That brought me face to face with the issue. I wanted to find out more. At that time, Madurai and Salem were the two districts which were highlighted in the media. In the case of Tamil Nadu, despite the relatively high status of women, the State has recorded a steady decline in its 0–6 age group sex ratio. The ratio has fallen from 985 in 1961 to 942 in 2001 and some of the districts with the most unequal 0–6 sex ratios in the country lie within the State. Thus, while the level of the 0–6 sex ratio in Tamil Nadu may be higher than the national average, the temporal patterns in the ratio suggest that the State is experiencing a trend that is similar to the rest of the country. This intrigued me and led me to ask why this happened, what the consequences were and what could be done to prevent daughter elimination.

How widespread is the practice? Which are the communities that have been practising it?

Even though Tamil Nadu has a short history of daughter elimination when compared to other parts of India, it is quite widespread in the State. A 1997 survey pointed out that female infanticide was far more widespread than it's believed to be and occurred in several districts and across several castes. Evidence from Tamil Nadu as well as from other States clearly establishes that the practice emerges from among the well-off, propertied/ land-owning families in the dominant castes. Certain castes such as the Kallars in Madurai, Gounders in Salem and Gounders in Vellore district were found to be practising female infanticide. Now daughter elimination occurs across all castes.

Would you say that it's more a rural phenomenon and can be directly linked to poor and illiterate people?

No, not at all. The practice clearly emerges from wealthy land-owning families who now are well-connected to the modern, urbanized world. My research and travel in Tamil Nadu have shown me that it's not the poor or illiterate who initiate this practice. The bulk comes from well-off families. Interestingly, I found that among land-owning families in Punjab, the trend of having only one son (one child) is growing as they don't want the property to be divided or fought over among several sons. This is similar to the pattern observed among the land-owning families of Salem — if the first one is a son, the couple will not try for another child. But if the first one is a daughter, the second one will be a son and then there will be no more children. Many such communities have begun to report bride shortage and have had to marry from other sub-castes or regions.

Why are daughters so unwanted?

Property is one main reason, at least among the propertied groups. Traditionally, daughters don't inherit ancestral property. Besides, a daughter is seen as a liability and not an investment. Also, in the absence of social security and their own source of financial support, parents hope to live with a son in their old age. Most parents in Tamil Nadu like elsewhere in India do not expect to live in their old age with their married daughters. In addition, a huge dowry has become inevitable. Also a daughter can be a huge emotional burden in case something goes wrong with the marriage. Women in general and daughters specifically carry the family honour and can be another reason why too many daughters are not preferred.

Do you think government intervention can help?

Yes, it can to a large extent help to change a social norm such as daughter elimination. While in the long run fundamental changes in social norms and attitudes are necessary to create an environment favourable to daughters, good policies can be useful in bringing about change especially in the short term. In the case of Tamil Nadu, the child sex ratio has improved from 942 in 2001 to 946 in 2011 — for the first time since 1961. The increase of four points, seemingly small, has come almost entirely from five districts — Dharmapuri, Salem, Theni, Namakkal and Madurai — which have had some of the highest daughter deficits. These districts were the focus of intense efforts by the government and NGOs to prevent female infanticide and female foeticide. The government launched the cradle baby scheme, girl child protection scheme and stepping up of legal action in the 1990s to prevent female infanticide.

Such efforts were intensified following the 2001 Census. The results were dramatic; female infanticide reduced significantly. For example, in rural Salem, female infant mortality fell from 121 over the period 1996-99 to 45 in 2003. In Dharmapuri the corresponding numbers were 111 to 49 and in Theni 81 to 42. Thanks to the efforts of NGOs, in many districts it is difficult for a scan centre to operate without being registered and has increased the risk of offering sex selection tests. Still, an environment favourable to daughters is a distant prospect. It is quite possible that a reduction in government and NGO interest in preventing daughter elimination could reverse the pattern.

In my family we are three daughters and i'm mother of two daughters. My dad never felt for not having a son and me too. As a parent our duty is to mould them properly and educate them so that they can take care of them. Now a days expecting too much from a son is also diminishing as most of the couples choosing small families. Son or Daughter lets give them equal share in property,love and affection and groom them to be good citizen to our nation.

from:  Aruna Sivakumar
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 20:44 IST

Being an Indian, It is our duty to rethink about such an important issue and we must take some necessary strict steps to avoid female foeticide. It is impossible to think about new origin in absence of female because males are not blessed to give birth to a new life.

from:  Rishi
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 16:09 IST

I have daughters, and in Indian history except for those who are stupid or naive or silly the lanscape of Indian heroes has many women who lead it. Jhansi Rani is one, Indira Gandhi is another, Sister Nivedita is one of Irish birth who helped many to think in the direction of Independence for the country. When such women have helped our nation, whoever does not want women to be born into their families are either stupid or silly or plain idiots. Pardon the harsh language but without women no man will be born into this world. That is another point to think about.

from:  Prashanth Thirukkonda
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 16:07 IST

I am surprised this is still a big issue, and that too among educated families. I think change of mindset is required and portrayal of women in TV serials ought to change.

from:  Vasanth
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 15:59 IST

i feel that these cases are predominant in areas where women literacy is poor .education and government laws should be made mandatory to women by the media and NGOs to reduce these age old atrocities still existing in the Indian economy.

from:  A. Srikrishnan
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 15:29 IST

There are always two sides of the same coin and any story. If you do not ask for dowry, the family of a girl undergoing marriage will have doubts about the boy and boy's family- "there must be something wrong/fishy with this family or the boy". This aspect is important too.

from:  Hitesh
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 15:20 IST

I am proud to be a father of two daughters. When my second daughter was born, many of my relatives told me not to do sterilization as the third may be a son. I categorically rejected the idea and told them I am very much happy for my daughters and I enjoy my life with them. It is in the mindset of the people and the society. Go by your conscious. Daughters are always better compared to sons though as stated there are emotional issues when something goes wrong in a marriage life. Still daughters are always a step ahead when it comes to love and affection.

from:  Ramanan T K
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 13:21 IST

Every child is as important as the other irrespective, of the gender. Individuals of the country should be that diligent and pragmatic to understand that in each and every case it can't be a matter of profit 'n' loss especially if it comes for live creatures. Every child should be given due importance in the society. It is very important to educate oneself and be aware of the fact that girls are no less in today's era. I am elated to know that government mandatory laws and N GO'S constant efforts have succeeded to make a sharp decline in the female infanticide quite possible. I would like to give a vote of thanks to Sharada Srinivasan for investing her precious time and resources for such a novel cause. Do love your child irrespective of their gender. Your both eyes are same. So, should be your thought towards both the genders.

from:  Priyanka Paryani
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 10:51 IST

The real reason why a girl child is not preferred in India because
Women are catalysts of change in a society. A society which is static
and tradition bound hates change! It is high time that a people's
movement is started in India to protect the Girl child. There has to
be a shift in people's perception about women. No country in the world
can progress unless the Woman is respected In society. Women in India
have to become aggressive and assertive about their Rights. These are
revolutionary times and societies which bring in a feminine dimension
to their thinking can lead the world to a new world order!

from:  Umesh Bhagwat
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 09:52 IST

I suggest the writer rather than doing so much services for women, also do a survey of how women are affecting the society emotionally and problems made by women in family and life of men in India. I am emotionally tortured being a very reasonable man and ofcourse always being a giver. Forget the women's right its like America saying other countries have no freedom where are US is the biggest defaulter. Get a grip author. Study 2 sides of coin. In India Men suffer more than Women especially after marriage women messess the life of husband.

from:  Arun
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 09:45 IST

Sharada Srinivasan's research substantiate the alarming imbalance of women to men ratio. All the governments should step up to avoid this menace before the problem gets worse and irreparable. Stringent laws should be adopted and implemented on the people who are eliminating girl child by various ways. Strict monitoring should be in place on scanning centers. Practicing license of the violating doctors should be dismissed and punish with rigorous imprisonment.

from:  Gopi Tadakamalla
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 09:39 IST

The matrilineal inheritance followed by the Nair community in Kerala is the best answer to this tragedy.

from:  Viswanath C Pillai
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 06:29 IST

Meenakshi Kumar’s interview of Sharada Srinivasan on her book “Daughter Deficit: Sex Selection in Tamil Nadu” is a timely one. During her interview Ms.Meenakshmi Kumar has sought suggestions of the writer for tackling this complex issue. It may be concluded that with perpetrators’ attitude change (a tough one), doctors consciously refusing to reveal the sex of a baby, aiding abortions, sincere efforts of NGOs and a government truthfully wanting the ‘change to happen’ can only bring in a positive reversal to the sex imbalance.
The 2011 census has rung alarm bells to the untold story of “a girl murdered before birth”. The census projection of a national average of 940 women/1000 men does not augur well for our women. If the trend is not checked now, no place will be safe for women as possibilities of reversal of the Pancha Pandava system of wife sharing would come into vogue. The situation would also lead to rampant abduction/trading of women, rape and prostitution. Even the life of married men would be in danger. News paper reports of such happenings, makes one to conclude that such practices are already prevalent somewhere or other. Rich would buy their brides immaterial of cast, creed etc. The expressions may look uncivilized but the fact remains for serious pondering.It’s heartening that Tamil Nadu pioneered the successful revival of sex ratio in the five districts — Dharmapuri, Salem, Theni, Namakkal and Madurai — which had some of the highest daughter deficits. Acting swiftly on media reports, Tamil Nadu government acted decisively through its bold and innovative cradle baby scheme, girl child protection scheme and stepping up of legal action in the 1990s to prevent female infanticide thus achieving to arrest the trend. The role of the NGOs is also commendable as they played a positive role in carrying out the government’s initiatives.

from:  Srinivasan Sitaram Iyer
Posted on: Jan 8, 2012 at 06:16 IST

From ancient time people of India don't want girl child. The preference for a son when child born as old as Indian society itself.Vedic verses pray that son will be followed by still more male offspring,never females.A prayer in the Atherva veda adds a touch of malice"The birth of a girl,grant it elsewhere,here grant a son".I think this trend is deeply rooted in Hindu society.Girl of father still insulted by bridegroom family.Main reason of this bad tradition is insecurity in Indian life.Our economy till depend on Monsoon.this is most unpredictable.If more sons are there family pull economic burden easily.Girl child is burden on family,who will never adds to family income and who upon marriage,will take away a considerable part of her family`s fortune as her dowry.How to diminish this trend is most difficult problem to us.If bride earning independently till dowry and other demand are forcefully asked by bridegroom.No effect of education also on this bad tradition

from:  Ramesh Raghuvanshi
Posted on: Jan 7, 2012 at 22:14 IST

I am an indian living abroad. It is embarassing to be an indian when you read such articles. Teachers at my daughter's school have asked us about the above issue. You still see the same attitude and stereotyping in tamil serials.Until the day the govt considers this to be a serious issue and punish the offenders with a capital offense the issue is unlikely to be solved. A country cannot be considered a developed country until it cares for its citizens equally irrespective of age, sex, caste etc., There is no point in lauching a rocket to the moon or a long range missile and considering yourself to be a developed nation while simultaneously letting the above incidents happen. A medical entity either a physician or a hospital that participates in crimes like these should be banned from practicing medicine for the rest of their lives.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jan 7, 2012 at 19:42 IST

When you make a comment like "daughter elimination is prevalent all over India", please make en exception to Kerala. A female child is as precious as a male child in Kerala. Malayalees are well educated to know the value of life. India is such a varied country culturally that no generalization is possible and fair to some parts of the country.

from:  Boby Austin
Posted on: Jan 7, 2012 at 19:37 IST
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