Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday made the people of Patidar community pledge that they would not do female foeticide. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony of Vishwa Umiya Dham — a Rs 1,000-crore socio-religious 40-acre complex being built by Patidars in Ahmedabad — Modi chided the community over the high prevalence of female foeticide and made it promise to not kill the female child in the womb.
“You offer prayers to Ma Umiya (the community deity of Kadva Patidars, a sub-caste of Patidars) and then kill the girl child…this is not acceptable,” Modi said. “I have grown up amid you and have the right to be upset with you. I’m disappointed with the skewed sex ratio in Unjha,” he added. He made the people pledge that they wouldn't even mistakenly kill the girl child before its born and also urged the doctors of the community to not encourage or participate in the illegal practice.
Gujarat's poor sex-ratio
Despite being an industrially developed state, Gujarat’s sex ratio was 890 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group (sex ratio: 919/1000), according to the 2011 Census. This sex ratio is lower, compared with the national average of 933. The state’s bias against the girl child was first exposed in the 2001 Census figures, which showed the child sex ratio to be 883 girls per 1,000 boys.
In 1994, India had banned prenatal sex screening and female foeticide making it illegal to determine the fetus's sex. However, despite all measures to curb the ill-practice, the Mahesana district —which also has Modi's hometown Vadnagar falling under it — has a sex ratio of 926 females to every 1,000 males. Interestingly, among sub-districts, Vadnagar has the highest sex ratio of 954 and Mahesana has the lowest sex ratio, 912.
Whereas, in terms of the child sex ratio, Mahesana comes second last only after Surat district with a child sex ratio of 842. Sub-district Kadi has the highest child sex ratio of 887 and Mahesana has the lowest child sex ratio of 807.
The Times of India quoted AK Patel, a community leader from north Gujarat while underlining the gravity of the situation said that, “Our internal surveys have revealed a sex ratio of less than 600 girls per 1,000 boys in the community in many areas. It is time to stop killing the girl child.”
Child Sex Ratio gives out an even grimmer picture
The 'Sex Ratio at Birth' is a more robust indicator of the extent to which sex-selective abortion is happening. The average SRB for the entire world is 101 males per 100 females. However, the ratio looks highly distorted in some countries, especially in India which has a ratio of 110 males per 100 females, as per a report by DownToEarth.
The same report states that India has one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world. The female child population in the age group of 0-6 years declined from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. And, during the period 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914.
Meanwhile, according to the Population Research Institute's report, at least 1,27,71,043 sex-selective abortions had taken place in India between 2000 and 2014, taking the daily average of sex-selective abortion to 2,332.
Another report by the UNHR titled “Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council" — which makes a continent-wide analysis of infanticide patterns — ranked India at the fourth position in the list of countries with the most skewed sex ratio at birth (112 males/100 females).
Efforts by govt to curb female foeticide
This even as, apart from the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT Act), India also enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971 to regulate access to safe abortions. Apart from the curbs, the BJP government (which has been in power in the state for over two decades now) also started the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' campaign in 2015 and launched several programmes to the effect of providing monetary compensation or conditional cash rewards under the the Balika Samriddhi Yojana and the Dhanalakshmi Scheme.
Patidar community worst-affected, no brides available for match-making
The most affected by this skewed sex ratio in the state are the prospective grooms of the Patidar community, who are unable to find a bride for themselves amidst a severe shortage or lack of female population. Many from the Leuva and Kadva communities have remained a bachelor as earlier their community wouldn't allow inter-caste or inter-region marriage, news agency UNI reported.
The Patel community is most affected with their men being forced to score brides from the tribal regions in Gujarat, Maharashtra and even Karnataka, and this even leads to a practice of 'buying' brides from agents. On the other hand, complaints of brides running away with the money and jewellery are common-place in north Gujarat and Saurashtra regions, The Times of India reported.
Skewed sex-ratio in these regions is the reason why men here are compelled to take wives from other communities specially, migrant Odiya women settled around Surat and other regions of Patidar dominance. According to reports, a few years ago, after much deliberation, the community leaders decided that Patidar men could marry Kurmis, a peasant caste in the north and western India, whom they consider their “equivalent”.
In fact, in October 2015, forty-two girls from mostly the poor Kurmi families from Odisha took part in the first-ever match-making ceremony held in Surat. According to The Times of India's report, 5,000 Patel men had queued up in the hope of finding a bride, mostly belonging to families of Oriya workers working in textile units nearby.
Recently, in a similar community marriage event, 30 brides came from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Delhi, apart from those belonging to Odisha and there was also an attempt to reign in more "educated and qualified girls" in the mass marriage function, as per a report by The Indian Express.
However, educational qualification is not necessarily a criterion for Patidar men. They mostly just need to own a house, be a resident of Ahmedabad, earn more than Rs 20,000 a month and not demand dowry from the bride, the report said.
Gujarati communities wake up to the problem
To attract more prospective brides to get married into their community, the Gujarati Patidars started a 'Beti Roti' tradition with Kurmis in other states. According to this ritual, parents of the brides will be spared all expenses and the wedding feast will be sponsored by the Patels who will also gift household articles worth Rs 2 lakh to each newly-wed couple.
"Patel boys remain unmarried as brides are not available. They (Odias) give their beti to us and save their 'roti' as they will be spared taking back-breaking loans for dowry,'' a Patidar leader was quoted as saying in The Times of India's report.
Meanwhile, the Kadva Patidar Samaj have instead started initiatives to encourage the birth of a girl child. They felicitate the parents of the girl child besides giving away savings certificates worth Rs 1,000 each in the name of the child for a duration of five years. Calling it a trend to check the poor sex ratio of the community and to celebrate the birth of a girl child, the community plans to counter such remunerative measures on their part, until the situation becomes positive and there is a balance in population, stated the report.
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Updated Date: Mar 05, 2019 18:12:31 IST