Gendered Arrangements: The Issue
In 1998, for the first time in over a century, a marriage procession was welcomed in Devda village of Jaisalmer district in the state of Rajasthan, India. It wasn’t because the residents of Devda did not want their girls to be married; it was because there were no girls to be married in Devda. For over a century, no girls were allowed to survive or be born in Devda except for this rare one who was saved by her mother and father. Let us call her Manju. In 1998, it was Manju’s groom who headed the marriage procession to Devda. This is a common event in Indian marriages, where the groom’s party comes to the bride’s village/city. Dressed in a gaudy long coat, called sherwani, the groom sits high on a female horse, music and a live band accompanied by dancing, men, women, and children dressed in their best clothes and jewels. In a ceremony, the groom and bride are married and he takes her along with him. I imagine this is exactly what would have happened in Devda village in 1998 when Manju got married. The incident instantly made headlines in newspapers and other media. According to several statistics, seventy to hundred families live in Devda. That must give you an idea about the scale of this tiny hamlet, which has one of the worst child sex ratios in the state of Rajasthan.
Jaisalmer borders India and Pakistan on the Western side. With its majestic yellow stone fort, desert safari, and intricately filigreed architecture, Jaisalmer is a prominent tourist destination. Where sand dunes cover urban signs of constructed roads in a matter of minutes during a sand storm, there’s also a bitter truth hidden in the dunes of this beautiful district. Here is where you find dunes that are called, “Baion ka tila,” which means the dune of daughters. Narratives abound about girls buried alive right after birth in desert sand dunes. This is one of the ways female infanticide was, and is accomplished even today claim certain media reports. One of the more notorious ways girls are eliminated today is by sex-determination and termination of pregnancy.
By now it must be obvious why a marriage procession arriving to a village after about a century makes for a news item. This brings me to the issue that this blog post is dedicated to: the missing girls of India. Each day, fewer and fewer girls are born in India. Huffington Post, India edition recently featured an article from the Asian American Open Magazine of the United States. It revealed one of the most horrifying numbers: “A recent village-wise census of Mahendragarh,” a village in the state of Haryana “has uncovered that Jorasi has the lowest child sex ratio of all, an abominable 286 girls to 1,000 boys, which makes it the worst village in Haryana for the girl child”. The article further says that because Haryana and Rajasthan are Border States, the migration of women from Haryana to Rajasthan for sex determination and termination of pregnancy if the fetus is a female is very common.
Baby girls found in trash bins is another very common news item in India today, in spite of laws banning the practice of sex determination and termination of pregnancy. An article published in The Atlantic in May 2012, referred to the problem of trash bin babies and highlighted baby hatching centers as one of the solutions.
The current population census of India, done in 2011, records the lowest number of girls born in this country in the last 60 years. Presently a lot of emphasis is being laid on the girl child by the Indian government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,” program and the scheme, “Sukanya Samridhi Yojna,” to encourage Indians to save the girl child and to invest in girls. Similarly, local state governments have also initiated efforts and schemes to prioritize the girl child in the society.