Will women in some Indian states go the way of the Dinosaur?

 Dr. Anjali

Two categories of theories try to explain
the mystery behind the extinction of the majestic dinosaurs that roamed the
earth eons ago.The gradualists feel that changing evolutionary trends such as competition
with mammals and changes in vegetation and climate slowly eroded their numbers whereas
catastrophists attribute it to one catastrophic event (a meteorite impact is
usually cited) .
Seeing that the population of women in some
states in India is steadily declining one needs to reflect (while it is still
early days) whether some regional types of women too, could gradually become
extinct?Regions lend their own special flavour to the entity we call woman. It would
be hard to imagine our country without the brightly-attired women with their
long veils from Rajasthan, the tall, fair sardarnis from Punjab, the recently successful
sportswomen from Haryana and so many others…
An observation of prevailing trends (the
numbers are from reliable open sources) reveals that a woman’s very survival is
challenged at many stages of  her life. This
is more so in the poorer socioeconomic strata and in some parts of the
country.For some women, it requires the right combination of luck and sheer
tenacity to reach adulthood safely.

The first hurdle looms even before birth

The illegal practice of letting parents
know the sex of the child before it’s birth, continues. It has been found that
first pregnancies usually are not aborted, but second and third pregnancies
are. An overwhelming number of aborted fetuses are female. A recent study in Lancet 
found that sex selective abortions are on the rise in India. The
National family health surveys have found a similar trend. Sex-selective
abortions are more prevalent in the northern states .
Apart from the aborted foetus , the mother
is also at definite risk. Although the MTP act has made nearly all types of
abortion legal, for various reasons ,more than seventy percent of abortions are
carried out under unsatisfactory conditions in small, poorly equipped,
unsanitary clinics run by inadequately qualified owners. Such abortions frequently
lead to maternal mortality due to sepsis or undue bleeding.India has amongst
the highest number of abortion related deaths.
 Challenges at birth :
The birth of a baby girl is not a
unanimously joyous event in our country.Some families view girls as a social
and economic burden and kill newborn girls with impunity.Some in desperate
conditions carry out this act to save their girl from a possible future of pain
and hardship.Convictions occur regularly for all manner of crimes but how many
deaths of infant girls have been seriously investigated and how many parents
convicted? Almost none. The rampant female infanticide is reflected in dwindling
sex ratios. The average sex ratio for the country (rural and urban) is 940
women/ 1000 males. Some states are well below this average and the concentration
seems to be around Delhi(866 ), Chandigarh (818), Punjab(893) and Haryana(877),
with Haryana having the lowest sex ratio among all the states (only the union
territories of  Dadara(775) and Daman and
Diu (618) have lower ratios). That the the capital of the country and it’s
immediate surroundings, where there is relative economic prosperity, should have
these low figures is something to think about.

Challenges in the teenage period

The women who are born under more favourable
conditions and thus escape this ‘unnatural selection ‘reach a stage of enrollment
in school and studies. Alas, every child does not have a carefree childhood.
Many small girls are married off just after attaining puberty. Child marriages
are still highly prevalent in Rajasthan, Uttar pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar
and West Bengal (with Rajasthan being the worst offender) despite there being
an act against this.Teenage pregnancies are associated with a much higher
mortality ratio : twice as high in the 15-19 age group compared with early
twenties. Some teenage mothers who survive may have damage to their still
immature internal organs and become incontinent. This may lead to social
shunning and neglect. Some unfortunate teenage girls are abducted and sold into
prostitution. The life expectancy is shortened for girls in the prostitution
circuit due to a combination of lack of hygiene, forced use of drugs ,injuries
inflicted by violent male clients and sexually transmitted diseases, notably
HIV. Some unfortunate girls are simply raped and killed outright.
Young adults in a cruel world
After this gruesome attrition process
during the earlier years the more fortunate women who are able to actually
complete an education and reach adulthood relatively unscathed then enter the
domestic phase of their lives. Everyone is familiar with the dowry menace in
our country. The word “marriage license” seems to be a license  to start milking the girl and her family for
money. Dowry deaths are as prevalent in the educated and (supposedly) thinking
classes as among the poor.Although there is some conviction rate for this
ghastly crime , it is clearly not enough of a deterrent since it is still
widely prevalent and seemingly on the rise.
For the woman who makes it past these
hurdles, to the state of motherhood, it’s not safe passage as yet. The odds are
still stacked against her, specially if she is poor. India boasted of one of the
highest maternal moralities in the world in the earlier part of this decade.The
latest statistics show some improvement (212 according to the census commission)
but we still have a long way to international targets: 109/1000 by 2015.
Amongst the states, Assam, Uttar pradesh and Rajasthan seem to have the highest
maternal mortality figures(480,440,388 respectively-as per Govt. of India
statistics 2006)The reasons for this alarming statistic range from social and
cultural beliefs and practices to poor infrastructure. Notable are: still
prevalent child marriages leading to teenage pregnancies, unsafe delivery and
abortion, lack of good hospitals for skilled care in rural areas, poor basic
health of women leading to easy susceptibility to infection and many others.
When we realise that the supplementation needed in pregnancy consists of the
very economical iron and folate tablets and two tetanus injections, the
unnecessary sacrifice of maternal life seems very poignant. It is even more ironical
when we consider that India is fast creating a good name for itself
internationally in medical tourism.
Beyond motherhood
It seems that only at menopause does a
woman’s fate appear to be a little more secure. However now the combination of her
advancing years and the woman’s propensity to neglect her own health while
looking after her children, husband and in-laws, make her more susceptible to
the general problems of old age.
our women be saved?
The government, non governmental
organisations and even individuals have been carrying out various initiatives
around literacy, health and incentives for the family of a girl child .  But this clearly is far from enough. We need
to reinforce some actions and make imaginative changes in those measures which
don’t seem to be working. We also need to change social perceptions and unkind
Attention should be focused on the states
which have high maternal mortality rates,low sex ratios,high percentages of
child marriage,and poor literacy levels (Jharkhand[56%] , Bihar[53%], Rajasthan[53%],
UttarPradesh[59%] and Arunachal Pradesh[59%] have fairly low literacy levels
for women).The states with multiple risk factors are at greatest risk of losing
their female population (some northern states fall in this category) and  should be attended to on an urgent basis.
Female infanticide should be taken seriously
as a crime and concrete arrests made. Recently, there were arrests in the
capital of those parents who had fraudulently tried to secure admissions for
their children into universities. Surely, killing also merits parental arrest. When
a death is reported from a particular area ,the village must be also put under
surveillance. Awareness and counselling programmes should be undertaken to
prevent more such deaths.  This could be
the responsibility of the district collector.
Alongside, the danger to girl babies must
be removed by taking measures to ensure that girl children are not seen as a
‘burden’. Dowry should be abolished on a war-footing. Prospective brides and grooms
should give written undertakings that they are not indulging in monetary transactions
before they are bestowed with a legal marriage licence.Generous incentives
should be provided to the family who has a girl child.It should be ensured that
all girl children are highly literate and employed. Thousands more scholarships
should be instituted for girls’ education especially in the vulnerable states.
The child marriage act has not been
enforced at all and convictions are unheard of. The current punishment of three
months in jail is not meaningful.The government should instead impose a stiff
economic penalty on people defaulting. This should be divided and borne equally
by the concerned girl and boy’s parents. Apart from the deterrent value,the
government would also earn revenues which could be used for more schools for
girls and their overall welfare.
Basic health care and good transport
facilities should be provided so that all women have access to at least one
good hospital within half hour distance away. The village Sarpanch should
ensure that all households in the village are aware of where to go in a
gynecological emergency and should ensure that some means of transport is
available.  Iron and folate tablets
should be distributed in an organised manner just the way Anti-Tubercular and
Anti-AIDS  drugs are being distributed-
perhaps the same channels can be used.

We need to bring about a social change in
the way marriage is perceived. Currently, too much importance is given to
marriage and it dominates many aspects of our lives. In some cases, the growing
up years seem to be little else than a preparation for the inevitable marriage.
We should ensure that childhood is a rich and multidimensional experience for
our children. There should be counselling in schools about not thinking about
marriage during the formative years. Children should be encouraged to develop
their talents and personalities, not to attract a good mate but to realise
their own highest potential. Marriage should merely be one of the many aspects
of a person’s life. It should not be a social stigma if people choose not to
get married and prefer to just remain bachelors. People should neither pity
(nor for that matter envy) those who choose to remain single.

At an individual level, each citizen must be
aware of these issues and try and help in any small way possible. This could
include educating a girl child or counselling a known family not to marry off
their girl children early and helping them arrange a vocation for the girl
instead. Parents should hesitate to offer their daughters in marriage to any
family bringing up the topic of money. This can only lead to grief later. All
parents must sensitize their sons and daughters to these matters at an
appropriate age. Equality of the sexes should be stringently emphasized and
practiced in our daily lives. Parents should take greater responsibility in
ensuring the safety of their girls and not sending them to cities to work
unless they are absolutely certain of the credentials of the accompanying
 Women should be empowered at the school,
family and social level in every way possible. An example should be set at the
highest level by tabling and passing the women’s representation bill in
For each person who does not care about
women there are many who care deeply. Such people should come forward, in
thought and action to help preserve and nurture our women……

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