Why do we kill our daughters?

The Economic Survey 2018 says there are 21 million ‘unwanted’ girl children in India. The name of the game is to have a male child

Published: 08th February 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th February 2018 02:08 AM   |  A+A-

As we progressively regress from civilised status notwithstanding (or because of) our single-minded pursuit of the GDP and nationalism gods, it is becoming clear that it will take us a long time to become a developed nation. And one of the main reasons for our indefinitely postponed tryst with destiny has to be the way we treat our girls.

I am not talking here about sexual molestation, stalking or gender discrimination in the office: though important, these pale into insignificance beside the real, visceral, seminal issue—our attitude to, and treatment of, the girl child.

To put it bluntly, we as a society kill little girls, usually before they are born and sometimes after. At the risk of making you throw up your breakfast, let me share a few figures with you (all sourced from the Census) regarding India’s sex ratio for the 0-6 years age group. In 1961, the figure was 976, i.e. 976 little girls for every 1000 little boys. Since then these girls have been disappearing at a consistent rate—there were 945 of them in 1991, 927 in 2001 and 919 in 2011.

Demographers and statisticians call them India’s “Missing girl children”. It is estimated that in the last decade alone eight million girls have been lost. Actually, they have been murdered—by their own parents—but “missing” is the more politically correct word. And guess which are the states where most of this slaughter has taken place? The very same ones where so much violence was unleashed recently about “upholding the honour” of a Rajput queen: Haryana (sex ratio 834), Rajasthan (888), Gujarat (890)—all well below even the dismal national average of 919.

And it’s not about poverty or the lack of education (the convenient scapegoats). For example, Delhi’s figure is 866. It appears that dead women have more value than living ones. Furthermore, as we all know, the cause of women is very dear to the hearts of the right wing—the reason why all the BJP governments in the above states explicitly or implicitly supported the Karni Sena.

Really? The Census figures tell a different tale. The sex ratio is the most abysmal for the Hindus: it is 910, as compared to 940 for Muslims and 955 for Christians. So guess which community looks after its girls better?

Here is another interesting statistic, from this year’s Economic Survey released by  the government: 65 per cent of the “last child” are males, whereas only 45 per cent of the “non-last child” are males. What this tells us is that if the last child of an Indian couple is male then 65 per cent of them will not have any more children, whereas if it is a girl then that figure drops to 45 per cent, or by a staggering one-third. In other words, it is mission accomplished if one has a son, whereas if it is a girl then the quest for a son continues. The name of the game is to have a male child, and daughters are not welcome.

The same report states that there are 21 million “unwanted” girl children. Reason enough, don’t you think, for the majoritarianism in our society to move away from the manufactured outrage over triple talaq and fulminate on the mass female foeticide that is taking place right under our noses?

As a father, I am just unable to understand why we kill our daughters. Oh, I’m aware of the three main reasons given by the demographers: that it is sons who carry forward the family or dynasty, that the sons will look after the parents in their old age and that a son is needed to perform the last rites.
But I simply can’t wrap my head around these alibis in this day and age. A daughter will have as much of my DNA as a son will. And as for dynasty, as the stand-up comic Kunal Grover said, I’m no Chandragupta Maurya that I need to found a dynasty. For that matter I’m no Mukesh Ambani or Mulayam Singh Yadav either. And why can’t my lineage run through my daughter, as it does through my son?

The performance of last rites is a joke—the pandas and pundits do everything, the son just has to pay them (if he has any money left after paying the hospital). Nowadays even pandas are not really needed at the electric crematorium: all you have to do is to show them the Aadhaar card, and a daughter can do that as well as a son.

As for the “looking after the parents” bit, my own personal (in the wider family) and anecdotal experience is that daughters do a much better job of it than sons.

It’s not that the sons don’t care, it’s just that they tend to get more involved with their own families, careers and related problems. Daughters, I have noticed, with the famous multi-tasking skills that women have, find the time for their parents too, even when they have careers and families of their own. They are more compassionate, provide genuine companionship (particularly to their mothers) and are more understanding and tolerant of their parents’ complaints, grumblings and ailments. They provide the compassion and patience which the sons are short on. They make for very good sons, perhaps even better than their brothers. Which brings me back to my original question: Why do we kill our daughters in such large numbers?

Avay Shukla

Served in the IAS for 35 years and retired as Additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh


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