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A Tribune Special
Killing the unborn daughter — I
Scooters are plenty, girls are few
Gayatri Rajwade
Tribune News Service

Fatehgarh Sahib, September 13
Fifteen-year-old Tavleen Suman is Shahadpura’s resident poet whose fiery verses on female foeticide have won her many accolades in district Fatehgarh Sahib. But what makes her success so poignant is that as the youngest of four sisters, she comes from a family that tried desperately for a son.

Today Tavleen makes her parents stand tall, with pride. Not only does she do exceptionally well in class, she wants to join the Punjab Civil Service and make a difference to her state.

Would there be any men if there were no women? Then why is the unborn daughter made the casualty in an irrational demand for boys?

The district of Fatehgarh Sahib holds special attention since it has the dubious distinction of having the lowest child sex ratio in Punjab of 766 girls for every 1000 boys, according to the 2001 census.

Biologically girls are considered to have a greater propensity to survive than boys, so where are they?

According to Manmohan Sharma, Executive Secretary of the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab (VHAP), which has been campaigning against female foeticide in the state, “The child sex ratio is an important determinant because that is one way of ensuring a girl is allowed to live beyond the first formative years.”

There is, of course, fear of the law. Everyone knows sex-determination is illegal and aborting the girl child, a crime. So, no one openly admits to either. But it happens.

“If one wants to assess the situation at a very basic level, look at the number of water tanks built over houses in the villages. The more the number of tanks, the less the number of girls,” says Amarjit Singh, social worker with VHAP.

The “water tank” metaphor has its roots in well-being. The more well-off a family is, the greater the likelihood of seeing fewer girls. But that is not all. Take the case of Dera Mir Miran.

It is a village full of opulent houses and boys. Just this year, from January to August, eight children were born in the village. Out of them only one was a girl.

Dominated by the landed Jat Sikhs, it is this community that has traditionally preferred boys over girls. Now the preference is spreading across all classes and castes, claims Sharma.

According to Jaswinder Kaur, Anganwadi worker at Dera Mir Miran, “Most families opt for just one child, preferably a boy to prevent family land from getting divided into more than one holding.”

This is a fact reiterated by Jagmeet Kaur and Jagdeep Kaur from Badhauchhi Kalan village. Married to two brothers, the women have one son each and are certain that they will not have any more children.

“If we have another son, the land will get divided. On the other hand, if we have a daughter, imagine the expenses we will have to incur,” they try to convince this correspondent.

Both feel they were “lucky” to have had sons the first time round. No, they never went in for an ultrasound test to determine the sex of their child. “It is far too expensive for poor people like us” says Jagdeep.

But she admits that she would have tried for another child, a boy, if the first one had been a girl. In that case, she would also have tried to find out the sex of the child in advance.

No one is quite certain why only boys, but the preference for “at least one” comes down through several generations. The pressure on the woman to produce “an heir” is intense despite the fact that as Baljinder Kaur, mother of two daughters in the same village puts it, “girls cut even a small apple into four pieces and share it but boys cannot be bothered.”

But the irony is that it is the rich villages like Dera Mir Miran with its abundance of ‘education’ and ‘wealth’ that seems to have a reverse effect on the fate of the unborn girl.

“Ninety per cent of the people in this village are educated. They are aware of the law and understand everything. What is more, they will tell you that there is no difference between girls and boys. Yet, there are families in the village that are aborting girls on a regular basis. Let all the education come in, it will change nothing here,” says Jaswinder.

However, the situation is slightly better in villages dominated by Scheduled Caste families. This is clearly discernible in village Pandrali.

A few kilometres from Pandrali is Hussainpura, a village dominated by Jat Sikhs where of the 81 children born from 2001 to 2005, 58 are boys and 23 girls. However, this year of the eight children born, there are four boys and four girls, says Balraj Kaur, Anganwadi worker.

Panchayat member Roop Kaur claims that having fewer girls than boys in the village is “God given”. She herself believes that “while one daughter is welcome, there is no need for another”. Her daughter-in-law Ranbir Kaur has a daughter and a son. “No matter how the son turns out, it is necessary to have one,” she says.

Parupkar Singh, an ex-serviceman in Badaucchi Kalan village believes the one way to change this mindset is to introduce this subject in the school curriculum. “They should be taught that girls are in no way inferior to boys, that they can do everything a boy does.”

This comes from a village which registered an appalling ratio of 651:1000 in the 2001 census, which has been more or less reversed today. If anything, it suggests that the ugly trend can be changed for the better.

But for the present, the state has to do with villages like the ones in Fatehgarh Sahib where there are plenty of scooters and inverters but not enough girls.

To be continued



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