‘In Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women’, the film set in 2050, imagines the long-term social effects of foeticide and infanticide on India. It conjures up bleak, male-only villages where residents engage in illegal activities such as human trafficking, gender violence and bride-buying. Thankfully, male-only villages are not a reality in India as yet, but rampant foeticide is. India’s child sex ratio is 919 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to the 2011 census, down from 927 in 2001, 945 in 1991 and 962 in 1981. Haryana is one of the states that has the abysmally skewed sex ratio of 879/1,000 (2011 census). So it was quite a smart move of the Haryana government to rope in Olympic bronze medalist wrestler Sakshi Malik to be the state’s brand ambassador for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme after she returned on Wednesday from Rio de Janeiro. One of 17 Haryana districts classified gender-critical, Rohtak (Ms Malik’s home district) has 867 females for every 1,000 males. Though this is an improvement — 847 in 2001 — the sex ratio should ideally be between 940 and 980.
Haryana’s choice works at two levels: One, Ms Malik’s success will attract attention to this important issue of foeticide; and second, her choice of sport (wrestling) is a befitting foil to India’s patriarchal systems and those who say that wrestling is a man’s sport. Fewer brides, trafficking of women and violence against them, however, are not the only pitfalls of foeticide; it has a deep economic impact: India loses workforce talent and diversity. In fact, women’s participation in India’s economy has been falling despite industrialisation and economic prosperity. The reason for such dismal gender numbers is the lax implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act and the low social value of women.
The Act was passed in 1994 to bring an end to foeticide, but the situation is still so dire because of poor implementation and other reasons: Sometimes district health officers are unaware of the provisions of the Act; sometimes families and doctors collude in the practice, and records from ultrasound clinics are rarely scrutinised by health officials. Two years ago, the Supreme Court was so worried by foeticide rates that it ordered states to report on the implementation of the law. Poor health communication strategies could also explain the prevalence of the practice.
For the Haryana government, the job is well defined. Getting Ms Malik as a brand ambassador for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme is a wonderful idea but it is hardly enough. The state has to implement the PCPNDT law in letter and spirit, get civil society and religious leaders involved in spreading awareness and finally, do everything in its power to ensure that culprits who indulge in foeticide are brought to book and, if need be, publicly shamed.