Friday, November 27, 2015

The times they are a changin

I was a prized grandson.  Not because I the most charming baby ever; I suspect I was as ugly as I now am.  Not because I was a child prodigy; have always been dumber than a doorknob.  But, because after having daughters, and then after the first two daughters in turn having daughters each, well, the grandparents were excited that I came along.  A boy!

Those were the days of old India where boys were considered assets and girls were seen as liabilities.  What an awful view of life that was!


That kind of a systematic ill-treatment of girls, especially in the less literate and developed areas of India, and similar practices in China and a few other Asian countries, were why demographers and thinkers--especially Amartya Sen--wrote and spoke about the missing hundred million women:
In 1990, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist, shocked the world with an article in the New York Review of Books that estimated there were 100 million missing women because of discrimination.
Since then, demographers have devised more precise methods of calculating missing women in each country. They factor in the toll caused by malnutrition and poor medical care and, more significantly, also the numbers lost to abortions of female fetuses, a problem recognized in the years after Dr. Sen wrote his article.
In June of 2015, the Population Council, a New York City-based research organization, published a study saying there were 88 million missing women world-wide in 1990, when Mr. Sen wrote his article, and that there were 126 million missing in 2010, roughly half of them attributable to prenatal sex selection. Of those, more than 112 million were in Asia.
The paper, by John Bongaarts, a distinguished scholar at the Population Council, and Dr. Guilmoto, projects an increase to 150 million missing by 2035 and then a slight decrease to 142 million by 2050.
Of course, as one can expect, the missing women will also mean a whole bunch of problems for men who will be looking for spouses.

But, that is not the problem that I want to blog about.  Because it has been talked about a lot--it is one of those serious issues over which there is often a lot of talk and very little action.  Instead, I want to write about something impressive about women in the very areas in India that have had decades of gender issues.

Rajasthan in India is notorious for the lopsided female/male ratios, and for unequal treatment of women.  Yet, even there, there are wonderful stories like two sisters, Rimppi Kumari and Karamjit, who farm on their own.  Yes, women farmers.  Not on some tiny strip of ancestral land either:
"When my father died seven years ago I decided to take up farming. We own a lot of land, around 32 acres," [Rimppi Kumari] says, a smile playing on her lips.
How awesome is that!  And, there is more:
Rimppi gave up a job in information technology to grow soyabean, wheat and rice.
She is making more money out of the land than even her father did, helped by her decision to embrace modern farming techniques.
What?  Giving up IT?  How dare she! ;)

Caption at the source:
                     Rimppi is queen of all she surveys on her farm which is making more money than ever                 

Of course, the larger population is not in support:
But despite their success, the sisters are viewed with disapproval in their village.
Eighty-year-old Sardar Karamjeet Singh voices the opinion of many others when he says that "what these two sisters are doing is wrong. They should have been married by now".
"We don't allow our women to leave the house. Forget about farming."
The eighty-year old perhaps has no idea that the world is changing, and changing rapidly.

But, who cares about the world of eighty-year olds when the girls have an important woman backing them--their mother, Sukhdev Kaur:
"If you give opportunities to girls, if you allow them to grow, they can fly high," 60-year-old Sukhdev Kaur says.
"They just need their wings unclipped. I have always believed in my daughters. They show that daughters can surpass sons."
Indeed.  The daughters can, and will, surpass sons.  Well, especially the prized ones will be the ones left behind in the dirt.  Wait, why am I covered in dirt? ;)


Anne in Salem said...

A problem not just for men looking for spouses but for countries wishing to repopulate.

Missing women is an interesting idea. I've not heard of this so it will be interesting to read more.

Bravo to the women farmers and especially to their mother. One would think her promotion of her girls' wishes would be considered more radical than the daughters' wishes simply because she is of an earlier generation. Imagine if they started a movement!

On a slightly related note, I heard on the radio that FGM surgery has been banned in another country, I think Somalia but don't remember. If they can actually enforce the ban and protect the girls, it will be a cause for celebration.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, the "missing women" argument dates back to my years in graduate school ... it worsened after the sex-selection technology diffused through India and China. India has banned the usage after the alarming results. But, the ratios have been screwed up like crazy.

The next couple of decades will be dramatic because girls and woman all over the world will be unshackled, slowly and steadily. We will all be better off as a result. I cannot wait for that better world ... am tired of men messing things up :(

Ramesh said...

If it was at all possible, you can be simultaneously be exhilarated and depressed at the lot of women in rural India. Now that I am heavily involved in the rural sectors, I often see heartwarming stories of how girls are shooting ahead when given the opportunity. We have centres which are 75% women. Equally I also see horrible discrimination in other parts with women being denied every opportunity. We also have centres where we struggle to get 5 women.

It is so culturally influenced. The more west and south you go in India, the better the opportunities for women. The more east and north you go, the worse off they are. It will take another generation for change here - I see many green shoots, but they still are mere shoots.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, there is plenty of hope, which is what I wanted to focus on ...

Looks like you are getting a lot of mileage from your post-retirement professional engagement. Will be neat if you could somehow translate some of those experiences into a series of blog-posts ...

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