Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

Skewed Sex Ratios in Punjab: A Case Study

The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, was implemented in January 1996. It prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus. Amended in 2003 to include sex-determination at pre-conception stage and action against advertisements promising a male child.

The Indian Express, Nanowal, (Fatehgarh Sahib, India), Feb. 15, 2004

When the slim road lined by shrubs with a sprinkling of pink blooms and brown dust completes a gentle 'S,' you know you have reached Nanowal. A village rich in buffaloes and boys. Last year it celebrated the birth of 18 boys and six girls. The falling sex ratio is no news here, for Nanowal is part of the Fatehgarh Sahib district, which recorded the country's lowest sex ratio of 754 [girls per 1,000 boys] in the age group of 0-6 years in the 2001 census. A study conducted by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (C.R.R.I.D.) for the Bill Gates Foundation in 2002, put the sex ratio (0-6) in the Khamano block (Nanowal is part of it) at a shocking 628.

Walk the brick-lined streets of the village for a day, and the mystery of the missing girl child begins to unfold. The landed Jat Sikhs, who form 70 per cent of Nanowal, have almost given up on them - this year, all the six baby girls born in the village belonged to S.C.s [scheduled (or lower) castes], the Jats only had sons. It was the same the year before last when the village saw 11 baby boys and two baby girls. Balwinder Kaur, wife of Sapinder Singh Sohi, the eldest of three brothers in a prosperous Jat Sikh family, tells you how it isn't easy being the mother of daughter. 'For a perfect family, a son is a must no matter what,' she murmurs. Daughters are dispensable. Which is why Sarabjit, her younger sister-in-law, who already has a baby boy is not planning any more children.

'I feel one child is enough,' smiles the smartly-dressed woman. It's to this pattern that Sarpanch [village head] Sukhbir Singh, a farmer-cum-commission agent attributes the plunging sex ratio. 'Since the last eight years or so, people, especially the Jats, don't want more than two children, and if the first one is a son, they stop there. Another son would only mean division of land. And a daughter would spell dowry.'

Here the gender justifies the means. 'Till a year ago, ultrasounds were commonplace, but not any more,' says Nirmal Kaur, the village midwife. Close to cities like Khanna, Ludhiana, and Mandi Gobindgarh, they have no dearth of choices. 'Khamano, just 4 kilometers away, has two of them. Khanna, which is just 20 kilometers away, not only has the biggest grain market of Asia but also the highest number of ultrasound clinics,' says Dr. Kesar Singh, senior research fellow at C.R.R.I.D.

Here, ultrasound is synonymous with foeticide. Which is why no one admits to having had one. Only Balwinder, an S.C. who's just delivered a boy after three daughters in the last seven years, admits to having asked for it but the doctors refused. Then there is Simran, a city girl married to Avtar Singh, a computer professional. Her ultrasound is public knowledge, for the Khamano-based Ludhiana Clinic was raided soon afterward. 'I'd just gone there to get the foetus checked,' she explains.

Dr. Daljeet Kaur at the subsidiary health centre here, admits the unborn girls are being weeded out. 'There is no other way you can explain this ratio,' she says. But the village is united in its conspiracy of silence. Only a few like Harinder Singh, a dairy farmer who has a son, Shahnaz, dares to break it. 'Madam, who doesn't want a son? Besides daughters are an expensive affair.'

Related Links:
Missing: Miss Punjab, By MANRAJ GREWAL, The Indian Express, Feb. 15, 2004