ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Trends in Sex Ratio

Revisit Needed K SRINIVASAN Krishnaji in a recent article (EPW, April 1, 2000) has argued that the declines in the sex ratios of the population of the country between 1981 and 1991 Censuses from 934 to 927 (females per 1,000 population) can be largely attributed to increased female foeticide and to discriminatory practices in society which contribute to higher mortality for women. He rules out the possibility of larger underenumeration of women in the 1991 Census quoting the studies by Ashok Mitra and Pravin Visaria based on the 1961 and 1971 Censuses which are not relevant for the analysis of the situation in the 1981 and 1991 Censuses. He has criticised my earlier hypothesis (1994) that there have been substantial omission of women in the country as a whole in the 1991 Census which was based on unacceptably poor sex ratios observed in some of the districts in the country which were politically more tense before the 1991 Census. I also argued that very low ratios (around 800 in some districts) could not have come about because of increased female foeticide, differential mortality or migration.

Krishnaji in a recent article (EPW, April 1, 2000) has argued that the declines in the sex ratios of the population of the country between 1981 and 1991 Censuses from 934 to 927 (females per 1,000 population) can be largely attributed to increased female foeticide and to discriminatory practices in society which contribute to higher mortality for women. He rules out the possibility of larger under-enumeration of women in the 1991 Census quoting the studies by Ashok Mitra and Pravin Visaria based on the 1961 and 1971 Censuses which are not relevant for the analysis of the situation in the 1981 and 1991 Censuses. He has criticised my earlier hypothesis (1994) that there have been substantial omission of women in the country as a whole in the 1991 Census which was based on unacceptably poor sex ratios observed in some of the districts in the country which were politically more tense before the 1991 Census. I also argued that very low ratios (around 800 in some districts) could not have come about because of increased female foeticide, differential mortality or migration.

During the eighties there has been a larger increase in the expectation of life at birth for females compared to males and in such a context it is demographically inconsistent for population sex ratios to decline between 1981 and 1991 unless there is an enormous selective abortion of female foetuses historically. Sex selective abortions, possibly on a large scale, is a recent phenomenon in the Indian society, after the introduction of ultrasound sonography in the eighties that enabled doctors to identify the sex of the foetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Even now such facilities are not easily available in the rural areas especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the sex ratios have recorded a substantial decline between 1981 and 1991 Censuses. This prompted me to analyse some of the factors behind the declining sex ratios, and I postulated the hypothesis that there was a greater under-enumeration of females in the 1991 Census. Female foeticides in the 1980s cannot affect the sex ratios of the population above age 10 in 1991; these can be affected only by higher mortality in these ages, which were not observed from the mortality data published by the SRS.

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