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Ilunga: Social cost of female foeticide

In a survey of the world’s most untranslatable words, the worlds best translators and linguists came up with the word: ilunga. Since the tribals are close to nature, this word appropriately comes from Tshiluba, a Bantu language spoken in South Eastern Congo and Zaire. It means a person who will forgive everything once, tolerate it the second, but never the third time. The Indian census figures 2001 are the second wake up call.

The Indian male to female ratio is plummeting. The national average is 927 girls for 1000 boys in the 0 to 6 age group. In the richest parts of India it is even less. Punjab has just 793, and Haryana has 820 Chandigarh 845 and the national capital Delhi has 865. Others with ratios below 900 are Gujarat [878] and Himachal Pradesh [897]. This means that along with ‘progress’—technological and otherwise—India is moving backwards in social equity, and into a future of intense conflict. The first 11 places ranging from Assam [964] to Sikkim [986] are all tribal majority states. Andhra Pradesh ties for the eleventh place. At present there are two states with a positive ratio: Keralam and Pondicherry. In the 0-6 age group they come in at 14 and 17 respectively.

Conditioned by the prevailing market ideology and thinking, we tend to think in terms of supply and demand. According to this line of thought, fewer girls will lead to more demand for brides, bring down the dowry—or even bring in bride price—and generally make society value girls some years down the line. However, the human being does not always act according to the market, and price does not translate into value, much less good behaviour. The experience of China is illustrative. With the strict one child per family norm, Chinese couples with their notorious preference for boys, used modern technology for sex selection. Female foetuses were ruthlessly aborted. This has resulted in a major imbalance. The result of the practice was that there are fewer girls. Chinese custom is to pay bride price. So the boys paid high bride prices to get brides.

The consumer culture does not stop with acquisition. It demands ‘quality of service’ to match the price paid, specially if it is ‘premium products’. The girls were normal human beings with all human frailties. However, the boys wanted super humans, having paid premium rates. Nothing that the girls did would satisfy them. They thought that they got ‘exclusive goods’ not partners, every bit as human as them. Domestic violence soared. Disappointments were rampant.

The other cost paid is in increase of violence. The use of technology for sex determination and then selective abortion itself is violence. However, large-scale violence of the overt kind—such as crime waves—is a phenomenon waiting in the not too distant future. Simple mathematical projections into the future let us know its contours.

There are 157,863,145 Indians below the age of six. Of them 81,911,041 are boys and 75,952,104 are girls. This gives a ratio of 927 girls for 100 boys in that age group. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume evenness across the nation, and that this will remain the same for the next ten years. The most aggressive periods of a man’s life are between 15—35. During this time, marriage provides the balancing factor to ‘settle down’. This is also the prime military age.

If these figures are projected over this timeframe, in 30 years we will have almost 18 million boys in the 15 to 35 age group, with little chance to marry. About six million of this—those in the present 0-6 age group—will be in the 30 to 36 age group, increasingly despairing of ever marrying. Even assuming that some will take to sanyas in the true Indian tradition, the huge numbers of those who don’t will be a fertile ground for violence and aggression.

There will certainly be an increase in rape and domestic violence. But the danger goes far beyond the individual, and not limited to the confines of the home however abhorrent even that is. It will have repercussions reaching to the core of social organisation. The present organised sexual slavery and trafficking in women will increase manifold, and become more vicious. There will be increased forced prostitution through kidnaps, because of the ‘demand’.

The ‘reserve pool’ from which crime—whether organised or political, such as communal riots—can draw from will be multiplied manifold. We will literally have an army of the willing, able and ready to indulge in violence. With crime rates soaring, spending on security—both state and private—will need to match it. The rich will retreat behind walls of concrete and security rings of dispensable lesser folk.

When confronted with such violence, nations normally export it. India will find itself in more wars. Warlike individuals will attain positions of power and be called ‘strong’. Employment will be in more warlike industries such as ‘security’ and ‘defence contractors’—i.e. half will become criminals, and we will have to employ the other half to protect us! Police, military and paramilitary expenses will climb, taking away resources from productive investment. The violence against the unborn, the violence against the defenceless, will rebound on us all. It is a law of nature. It is for our own good and survival that we need to lessen the violence in our society, and turn it into a more nurturing and caring one. Nature may yet be the mother of all ilungas.