The Numbers Are Telling: We Have a Lot of Worry about When It Comes to Sex Ratio & Domestic Violence


The Numbers Are Telling: We Have a Lot of Worry about When It Comes to Sex Ratio & Domestic Violence

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

When it comes to making progress on social indicators in India, it is always a case of two steps forward, one step back. Whether it is women’s rights, LGBTQ rights or affirmative action on caste issues, we have made strides in the right direction only to be pegged back by our own societal and political imperfections. It is precisely what the data released by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-2020 indicates. In a worrying trend for India’s gender parity goals, eight states that had posted gains in the past have recorded a decline in sex ratio at birth.

Sex ratio at birth indicates societal preference for a boy over a girl, something we have campaigned against for years. However, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Dadra and Nagar Haveli have all reported a decline in sex ratio.

Among the 22 states surveyed by the NFHS, Himachal Pradesh recorded the worst sex ratio with just 835 females for over 1,000 males born in the last five years, a sharp drop from 937 in the previous survey. The coastal state of Goa has recorded a steep decline from 966 to 838 females for every 1000 males. Kerala, hailed for having a positive sex ratio in 2015-16 of 1,047 girls for 1,000 boys has dropped to 951. Same has been the case with Nagaland, dropping from a positive sex ratio of 1,009 to 989.

The survey, conducted pre-pandemic also touched upon gender violence and noted it to be “distressingly high” even back then. While many states did record a decline, the numbers remain shockingly alarming. In Bihar, for example, 40 per cent of women continue to be victims of spousal violence, coming down marginally from 43.7 per cent in 2015-16. This is simply unacceptable. “NFHS is the government’s own data and if the figures are so high pre-pandemic, one shudders to think what it will be like post-pandemic,” said Sohini Bhattacharya of Breakthrough India, a women’s rights organisation that works to end violence against women.

India’s poor sex ratio stems from the belief that women are seen as a “burden” on families.

While the survey indicates backward strides in some core indicators, there are gains in other areas. Numbers of banks operated directly by women have shot up from 26.4 percent to 76.7 per cent in Bihar, and from 34.8 per cent to 74 per cent in Manipur. When it comes to usage of hygienic methods of protection during menstruation, all 22 states and union territories barring Mizoram posted encouraging gains. Goa, Kerala, Telangana, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh noted that over 90 per cent of women use hygienic methods of menstruation. This certainly provides some hope and optimism.

India’s poor sex ratio stems from the belief that women are seen as a “burden” on families. In many corners of the country, women are still prevented from working. The prevalence of dowry in society furthers the false perception of women being an economic liability. Mothers are also subject to physical violence and emotional trauma for giving birth to baby girls. While society celebrates the birth of a boy that is still not the case with a baby girl in many parts of India.

India has campaigned against this societal malaise for a long time and made considerable ground. Now is not the time to slack off and let old instincts take charge once again. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.