Saturday, October 6, 2001
F E A T U R E


Kanjak no longer revered
in the Land of Gods

The drastic fall in the birth rate of the girl child in Himachal Pradesh in the past two decades is not only damaging our social fabric but will also have other far-reaching consequences. It appears that the malady of sex-determination tests and the subsequent abortion of female foetuses, which is widely prevalent in Punjab and Haryana, has spread to the HP districts which are contiguous to the plains, writes Rama Sharma.

The 2001 census figures show 897 girls per 1000 boys in HP
The 2001 census figures show 897 girls per 1000 boys in HP

THE startling statistics of census 2001 — which declared that there were 897 girls per 1000 boys in Himachal Pradesh — should come as wake up call for people in the state as well as social scientists and welfare organisations.

The 1981 census figures showed 968 girls per 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years, thus indicating a sharp decline in the birth rate of the girl child in the past two decades. The situation is much worse in the districts of Kangra, Una and Hamirpur, where the number of baby girls has fallen to an all-time low of 836, 839 and 864, respectively, as against 1000 boys in 0-6 age group. In 1971, the male-female ratio was 1000:1008 in Kangra district, 1000:1003 in Una district and 1000:1118 in Hamirpur district. Hamirpur had the highest percentage of girls. This drastic fall in the birth rate of the girl child is not only damaging to our social fabric but will also have other far-reaching consequences. It appears that the malady of sex-determination tests and the subsequent abortion of female foetuses, which is widely prevalent in Punjab and Haryana, has caught up with the people living in these HP districts, which are contiguous to the plains. Ironically, the girl child is revered as kanjak in this land of gods and goddesses.

 


Himachali women work in the fields with the same ease as they tend to their home and hearth. The majority of the men in Kangra and Hamirpur districts join the defence forces, while their women take care of the family and fields in their absence. It should be a matter of concern to social scientists that why the hardworking hill woman is facing a threat to her very existence?

Though this hill state has made remarkable progress in the field of education ( with 86.02 per cent male literacy and 68.08 per cent female literacy, and 89.59 per cent literacy rate for urban population and 75.71 per cent for rural population) and in the successful implementation of health, education and child-welfare programmes (the fertility rate has come down to 2.18 per cent in rural areas against 1.74 per cent in urban areas), a lot requires to be done to protect the basic right of the girl child — the right to life.

Dr N.S. Bhisht, an economist-cum-demographer, says 92 per cent of the women in the state are engaged in agricultural sector, which does not bring as much money as other income-generating activities. He says that the much-hyped empowerment of women through PRIs (Panchayati Raj institutions) is meaningless unless women are made aware of their rights and are involved fully in decision-making at every level to make an impact on society. Just 30 per cent reservation alone will not improve their status. Women presidents and members elected to the PRIs will have to be made functional in the real sense to make an impact on society. He further adds that the high female literacy rate achieved in Himachal could bring real gain only when it is followed by empowerment of women at every level of decision-making, as was done in Kerala.

Dr Bhisht convincingly made his point at a recent workshop organised jointly by the UNFPA -supported Voluntary Health Association of India and the GTZ at Shimla, where leading NGOs in the state, including Sutra and the Gyan-Vigyan Samiti, were invited to deliberate on the lopsided sex-ratio in Himachal.

With consumerism and money power invading all walks of life, the status of women in this traditional hill state is also under going a change. The practice of ‘dowry’ was unheard of till a decade back and now you even get to hear of dowry deaths. Atrocities on women have increased and so has the parents’ preference for a male child, who is viewed as a passport to social security in old age.

The girl can be projected as a suitable alternative to a boy only if she enjoys the same privileges and powers. There is need to glorify women achievers in every sphere of work, be it at the local or regional level, and highlight their sensitive, caring traits in order to bring a gradual change in public perception.

The cases of female foeticide are a blot on the face of the culturally rich state of Himachal Pradesh. It is high time we did some introspection to find where we have gone wrong. How and why Himachal that was a ‘surplus female population state’ in 1971 now figures among the ‘seven worst-affected states’ — affected by the malaise of foetus killings?

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