Her birthplace Lucknow is notorious for female foeticide

Nargis Yadav arrived into the world at 7.20 a.m. on a cool Monday morning, at a nondescript community health centre near here which has been besieged by television crews and journalists.

The world's seven billionth resident, Nargis is a symbol of India's hopes as well as its fears .

Her parents, Vineeta and Ajay Yadav, were euphoric. “I realised the importance of my daughter's birth only a couple of hours after she was born when the elders came to wish me for being lucky, as Nargis would go down in history,” said Mr. Yadav. Ms. Yadav, dressed in a new sari, beamed from her hospital bed.

Mr. Yadav, a farmer from Dhanaur village on the outskirts of Lucknow, studied up to Class X, as did his wife. They hope their daughter will, one day, become a doctor.

The city Nargis has been born into, and where she will live her life, isn't one where the arrival of baby girls is often celebrated. Lucknow, the capital of India's most populous State, also has one of its worst sex ratios: there are just 899 girls to 1000 boys, a sign of endemic discrimination and the widespread practice of female foeticide. India now has its worst-ever child sex ratio: there are just 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to the 2011 Census. Ten years ago, the 2001 Census found, it was 927:1,000. The decline has continued apace since 1961, and though things are improving in some States — among them Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — the overall picture is grim.

Like Nargis, her mother was fortunate to receive appropriate healthcare: India's maternal mortality ratio — the number of women dying due to maternal causes per 1,00,000 live births — is pegged at 212. Fifty newborns among every 1,000 also die. India is struggling to knock down these numbers, but has had limited success.

Nargis will also have to struggle among the largest youth cohort in history to build a future. From 238.4 million in 1901, India's population has increased more than four times in 110 years to touch the 1.2 billion mark, according to the provisional figures of the 2011 Census, accounting for a 17.5 per cent of the world's population. The country's population is almost equal to the combined population of the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan.

There are signs that improved women's literacy, better healthcare and birth-control promotion efforts are paying off: 2001-11 is the first decade, with the exception of 1911-21, when population growth slowed.

However, statistics suggest that India is now made up of two contrasting demographic nations: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu — have already achieved the replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman required to initiate the process of population stabilisation, while the four large north Indian States — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — have a long way to go.

Nargis' future, then, will trace the course of India's destiny.

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