NEW DELHI: With the provisional figures for the 2011 Census sounding an alarm over the falling child sex ratio, it’s a good time to look at who really is responsible for this. Who’s committing female feticide and infanticide? Available figures show that it’s not the poorest and least literate people and communities who are responsible; to the contrary, the reverse is true.
The 2011 numbers show that the states with the worst child sex ratio (CSR) are not the most backward: the prosperous agrarian states of Haryana and Punjab bear that ignominy with the neighbouring industrial hubs of Delhi and Chandigarh only slightly better. Uttar Pradesh has a better CSR than Maharashtra and Gujarat, while Bihar betters the national average. Since the CSR counts the number of girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, this is one trend that cannot be explained away by high out-migration.
Within states, rural areas tend to have a better CSR than urban areas. Disaggregated figures for 2011 are not yet available, but 2008 Sample Registration System numbers bear this out: rural areas had 918 girls for every 1,000 boys under four (the SRS uses a different definition of child), as opposed to 905 in urban areas.
The rural-urban divide is a largely northern and eastern phenomenon with the sharpest divides in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh but also Gujarat. There is little urban-rural difference in the southern states.
Breaking the numbers down further, the 150 most backward districts of India, as identified by the central government, had far better CSRs than the rest, according to the 2001 census — they had an average of 947 as against 921 for the rest.
The gap between backward and non-backward districts was particularly high in states like Gujarat (923 to 873), Jammu & Kashmir (992 to 932), Madhya Pradesh (948 to 924), Rajasthan (936 to 905) and Orissa (964 to 937). This trend too was largely not seen in the southern states.
Nor is high literacy necessarily a good proxy for a healthy gender balance. The latest census numbers show that Maharashtra, with a literacy rate of almost 83%, has a CSR of 883, while Chhattisgarh, with just 71% literacy (61% for women) has a CSR of 964.
In 2001, the district-level data showed that the most literate districts, which would also be those with greatest access to technology, had much worse CSRs than the least literate. The top 10 districts for literacy in UP had a CSR of 887 compared to the bottom 10 for whom the number was 937, a difference of 50. The same trend prevailed in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Haryana and West Bengal.
This indicates that mere education has not been enough to correct a deep societal and cultural bias that the India seems to have against girls.
At a caste and community level, tribal societies have always had much better CSRs. In 2011, this is borne out by the far higher CSRs of states that have a high tribal population — Mizoram, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh, have a better CSR than even Kerala, India’s default model state.