India and Female Infanticide

India has long been infamous for its skewed gender balance against females. While a lot has been written about the causes of this phenomena (sex-selective abortions, patriarchal culture, etc), there’s been relatively little examination of the role regional and religious differences play. Thanks to data from the 2011 Census, we’ll be able to explore these latter factors in some detail.

Male:Female Gender Ratio is calculated as the number of males divided by the number of females in a certain population. At birth the normal ratio is somewhere around 105, with natural variance extending the upper-limit to 107. Above 107 is considered an unnaturally male-skewed ratio, often thought to be the result of female infanticide (killing females either shortly after they are born or aborting them in the womb).


As can be seen from the figure above, there are significant differences in Gender Ratio across both religious and ethnic groups. Sikhs have a strikingly large disparity of female children. Muslims on the other hand are doing relatively well outside of Kashmir. Hindus exhibit a poor gender ratio in the North/Central regions, but in the South/East seem to be doing fine.

The observations from the map visualization are confirmed when collating the data in table format. Sikhs are extreme outliers. Hindus in the North-Central region score poorly, but do well in the Dravidian South and East. Muslims and Christians generally have normal Child Gender Ratios, but do lean toward the wrong side of 107 in the North.

There is likely some cultural aspect of the Indo-Gangetic plain that predisposes it to female infanticide. Perhaps its the relic of some kind of warrior-based ethos, or the results of differing methods of agriculture with respect to the East and South, that eventually manifested in lesser regard for women. Or maybe its none of these.

On a related note, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that the violent extremism in parts of the Muslim world was exacerbated by demographics; a disproportionately young and unemployed population is bound to get intro trouble. I think a similar phenomena is at play in India visa-vis the rise of Hindu Extremism. Its no coincidence that the heartland of Hindutva, where conspiracies of Love Jihad run wild, maps almost exactly onto the above North-Central region. Its easier to accuse minorities of stealing your women, than it is to acknowledge the female infanticide in one’s own community.

I’m not sure what’s going on with Kashmir, but if I had to hazard a guess, being engaged in a decades-long insurgency against India that’s claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 has pushed Kashmiris into siege mode. Birthing sons is important when you expect them to have a higher turnover due to violent conflict. I suspect something similar happened to the Sikhs during their insurgency against the Mughals, and perhaps persists as a cultural artifact.

I think its likely the Islamic injunction against killing ones newborn daughters is at least partly responsible for the relatively low gender disparity among Muslims. Usually I’d cringe at such a reduction of theology onto complex social phenomenon, but this particular maxim is extremely popular, and often cited as a prime example of the Jahiliya (ignorance) that Islam emancipated Muslims from. Though reliable figures are hard to come by, it seems Pakistan’s Child Gender Ratios are significantly less skewed than their North Indian counterparts.

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