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The disappearing girl-child

The 'First Report on Religion Data, 2001', collected during Census 2001, brings to light the persistent bias among communities against the girl-child and clarifies that region plays a greater role than religion in overall development indicators

Although the population growth rate among both Hindus and Muslims fell significantly between 1991 and 2001, the most alarming revelation of Census 2001 was the declining child sex ratio within the age-group 0-6 years. More disturbing is the continuing bias shown by prosperous communities towards the girl-child.

According to the 'First Report on Religion Data, 2001', released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Sikhs and Jains -- two of the more prosperous communities in the country -- record the lowest child sex ratio. The Sikh community, with 786 girls for every 1,000 boys, has the lowest child sex ratio followed by the Jains ( 870/1,000).

Some interesting facts:

  • Female literacy among Sikhs and Jains is encouraging compared to several other religions. Despite this, the two communities have the lowest child sex ratios.
  • The Jain community has the highest female literacy rate, at 90.6. But female work participation is the lowest in this community, at 9.2%.
  • Buddhists, with a female literacy rate (61.7%) lower than that of Sikhs (63.1%), have a higher child sex ratio (942/1,000) than both Sikhs and Jains.
  • The child sex ratio of Muslims (950/1,000) is better than that of Hindus (925/1,000).
  • In Punjab , the child sex ratio is lower than 900/1,000 amongst all religious groups.
  • In Gujarat , Muslims fare much better than Hindus on almost all counts. Female literacy among Muslims (63.5%) is better than that among Hindus (56.7%). The overall literacy rate among Muslims (73.5%) is better than that among Hindus (68.3%). Among Muslims the child sex ratio is 913/1,000; among Hindus it's 880/1,000.

According to the report, the overall sex ratio, although better than the child sex ratio, is dismal too. The data discloses some disquieting figures among the various religious groups. There are 931 Hindu women for every 1,000 Hindu men, which is less than the national average of 933 women for every 1,000 men. The figure among Muslims is slightly better, at 936/1,000. Christians have the highest sex ratio: 1,009 females per 1,000 males; Sikhs record the lowest overall sex ratio: 893/1,000.

Literacy and population

The report questions the popular belief that literacy rates have a direct bearing on population, and that literate people are less prone to gender bias. Although this may be true in some cases, as with Muslims having one of the lowest literacy rates (59.1%) and the highest population growth rates, the same logic does not hold true among the Jain community that has the highest literacy rate (94.1%) but a low child sex ratio.

HAVE MONEY, WILL RAISE ONLY BOYS
Sikhs and Jains, prosperous communities, show a poverty of girls

 

Overall Sex ratio

Child sex ratio
(0-6 years)

Proportion in India 's total population**

Overall
literacy rate**

Female literacy rate**

Female work participation rate**

Hindus

931

925

81.4

65.1

53.2

27.5

Muslims

936

950

12.4

59.1

50.1

14.1

Jains

940

870

0.4

94.1

90.6

9.2

Sikhs

893

786

1.9

69.4

63.1

20.2

Christians

1,009

964

2.3

80.3

76.2

28.7

Buddhists

953

942

0.8

72.7

61.7

31.7

Others

992

976

0.7

47

33.2

44.2

Note: *as number of females per 1,000 males
**as per cent

The report is quick to point out that Tamil Nadu, despite its low literacy rate, has been able to keep a check on its fertility rate.

"Literacy rates for all religious groups are very encouraging, shattering many myths in circulation earlier when such data was not available for the country as a whole," says a census press release.

Of India 's total population, seven years old and above, 64.8% are literate. Christians, at 80.3%, and Buddhists, at 72.7%, follow the Jains in literacy rates. The lowest literacy rates are among people of 'other religions and persuasions', at 47%. Surprisingly, this category of people who don't want to report their religion records the highest child sex ratio of 976/1,000 across the country.

Religion versus region

A closer look at the religion-based data highlights the important role of region over religion in development indicators (see table). The report reveals that there are regions in the country where all religions have either a high literacy rate or a low literacy rate. Therefore it would appear that the effects of religion are weak in several parts of the country and that overall regional factors and low or high development among the states contribute to the improvement or lack of progress in literacy.

The southern states report Muslim population growth rates lower than the national average, because population growth rates in general are lower here. The same holds true for Christians -- although the community has the highest child sex ratio across the country its child sex ratio is down to 870/1,000 in Punjab . States such as Punjab , Haryana and Gujarat depict a distinct bias against the girl-child regardless of religious affiliation.

THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE
The northern states are prosperous but they kill their daughters

Punjab

798

Kerala

960

Haryana

819

Tamil Nadu

942

Delhi

868

Karnataka

946

Chandigarh

845

Andhra Pradesh

961

Child sex ratio (0-6) as number of girls per 1,000 boys

The report echoes India 's north-south divide that is clearly reflected in a number of key development indicators. The child sex ratio makes it clear that the southern states are less biased towards girl-children than their northern counterparts.

Economists have long discussed how social services function much better in south Indian villages compared to those in the north. The report argues that one of the reasons for this is the poor status of women in the north. Historically, Punjab has always reported good economic indicators but is poor on social indicators, whilst in Kerala the reverse is true.

The 'First Report on Religion Data, 2001' concludes that regional disparities remain the biggest challenge to overall development in the country.

InfoChange News & Features, October 2004