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Help our daughters survive, empower women financially

columns Updated: Apr 03, 2011 22:07 IST
Gautam Chikermane

The next time someone seeks your advice on whether to get her daughter married to this man, ask one question: does he come from Jhajjar in Haryana? If the answer is yes, tell him to reject the proposal. Jhajjar is the worst place for a daughter to be born. It has a child sex ratio of 774 (number of females per 1,000 males), way below the terrible national average of 914. In fact, if the family is from Haryana (child sex ratio: 830), Punjab (846) or Jammu and Kashmir (859), you might want to give the boy a rethink.

Not every household in Jhajjar or Mahendragarh (the second-lowest district with a ratio of 778, again in Haryana) is a den of murderers, but why take the risk? If snuffing out the lives of girls between 0 and 6 years is the popular culture, how do you think your daughter is going to be treated? Imagine the nightmare if the illegal but flourishing sex determination test in these states reveals that your daughter has conceived a girl. Worse, if she delivers one.

Despite economic growth and better literacy and a globalised environment of money, attitudes and culture, India shows up to be a savage nation. From the very first census in Independent India in 1961, its child sex ratio (then 976) has declined consistently to touch a new low of 914, the Census 2011 data, released a week ago, revealed.

Industrial growth has no correlation — Gujarat and Maharashtra maybe among the most industrialised states but their child sex ratios, at 886 and 883, are among the lowest. Better education helps — but even in the case of Kerala, the ratio has fallen by one point to 959. The fall in Jammu and Kashmir, from 941 to 859 is inexplicable. Not a single state has the ratio of more than 1,000.

On the positive side, the performance of Himachal Pradesh (up to 905 from 895), with district Lahaul-Spiti’s 1,013 (the country’s highest) is deeply heartening. So is district Tewang (1,005) of Arunchal Pradesh. Mizoram (971), Meghalaya (970) and Puducherry (965) lead the rankings.

Clearly, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 has proved to be nothing more than a legislative exercise. Besides, I’m not sure whether the penalty of R10,000 and at worse a three-year jail term, has created any hurdles to this barbaric phenomenon. We need are two things. One, doctors who conduct such tests should face capital punishment — if you abet in killing a girl, a noose awaits you. Two, better enforcement of this activity, but with adequate care that it doesn’t become an opportunity for corrupt officials.

Over dinner with a group of economists the day the Census data was released, we felt that killing our girls is not merely an abhorrent crime, it also shaves a few points off our GDP growth.

Apart from punishments, we also need incentives. And for the first time, I crossed the line and pushed for reservation for women as a tool for their empowerment. Here are some of my suggestions.

Political empowerment through 33% reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies.

Administrative empowerment through 33% reservation for women in all government jobs — central as well as state.

Professional empowerment through 33% reservation for women in boards of publicly listed companies.

Financial empowerment by reserving 10% of all government contracts where women are the majority shareholders.

Social empowerment by reserving 10% of government grants to NGOs that have women as heads. Add 33% reservation for women as heads of hospitals and universities.

Most women I know would reject these reservations — all of them have come up on merit alone. But it is not for a Sushma Swaraj, a Nirupama Rao or a Chanda Kochhar that I offer this solution. It is for the silent majority, for whom, a position of economic strength or political power is a lever for cultural and societal empowerment and survival of the next generation of daughters.

The previous week, in a closed-door gathering I was lucky to attend, Warren Buffett had said that any nation that doesn’t allow half its people (meaning women) to express themselves, needs to rethink its policies, adding that even in the US, there is a long way to go for women.

I believe, India needs to shorten that journey. We need quick and hard policy action to fix the problem. Reservation could be one way out. Meanwhile, steer clear of Haryana and Punjab.