Why going urban means more gender discrimination
The upside of India's growing urbanisation is faster growth and more investments. The downside, in the near term, is growing sex discrimination and declining sex ratio in urban areas.
The latest data release from Census 2011 shows a huge spurt in India's urbanisation. Every third Indian now lives in a metro, city or town.
The census numbers show that 31.2 percent of India's population now lives in urban areas, up from a little under 28 percent a decade ago. This is the fastest increase in the history of independent India, and also the first time that the absolute number of persons added to urban areas is also higher than those in rural areas.
Technically, when the population of a place with an existing municipality (or its substitute) exceeds 5,000, has 75 percent or above of its male population in non-agricultural occupations and the density rises to at least 400 per square kilometre, it is classified as an urban area.
Urbanisation is a positive insofar as it is a consequence as well as catalyst of economic growth. In a recent report, the National Institute of Urban Affairs argues that demand created by urbanisation results in investments in ancillary sectors like logistics, packaging, retailing among others to create a rural-urban synergy.
With higher growth rates expected to continue, rapid urbanisation is also to be expected in the future. But while urbanisation augurs well for economic development, it also comes with its set of social challenges.
Easier access to sex determination techniques have contributed to a lower child sex ratio (girl children per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group) in urban areas. The migration of more men than women to urban areas from rural areas has further contributed to a comparatively lower overall sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) as well.
Gender imbalance is not a good sign and can lead to poor treatment of women.
The latest census data also discloses the gender composition of rural and urban populations. These numbers show that the child-sex ratio, which has been declining for the country as a whole, is much lower for urban areas than for rural areas.
With better technology being available for selective sex abortions, India's case of 'missing girls' is far more glaring in urban India than in rural areas. The child-sex ratio, which is otherwise an issue throughout the country, is even lower at 902 in urban areas as opposed to 919 in rural areas.
The overall sex ratio is also worse in urban areas at 926 than in rural areas at 947. Over and above a poor child sex ratio to start with, migration from rural areas to urban areas in search of better economic opportunities is more among men than women. This skews the sex ratio further.
A gender imbalance in turn results in "criminalisation of society," as the Financial Timespoints out in a recent article. The article quotes GD Bakshi of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a security think-tank, as saying that gender imbalance will lead to violence and conflict. "It will aggravate aggressive tendencies - whether they manifest in internal conflict, armed rebellions or you try and externalise conflict."
In sum then, while urbanisation is leading to greater economic development, social progress is in the reverse with respect to gender based attitudes.