The notion of what constitutes ‘violence against women’ in India is given a different kind of systemic enlargement by the age-wise data of India’s population in 2011 released by the Census authorities on Friday. Among children up to 15 years old, there are 1.8 crore fewer girls than boys. The sex ratio of 914 girls for every 1,000 boys remains the same as a decade ago. There is a steady decrease in the number of girls with an increase in the age group, and the drop proves, in the most dispiriting way, the cosmetic nature of all the welfare incentives for the ‘girl child’ thought up by the State over the last decade or so. Not only do the figures indicate a systemic tendency of the most dismal kind in the actual state of the nation’s female population, but they also urge a much more radical understanding of the recent spurt in cases of more targeted violence against minor as well as adult females — brutal gangrape often followed by murder — in the country.
There is a steady, and much less obviously dramatic, brutality that dogs female Indians from the moment of their conception. It starts with foeticide, and when a female foetus is allowed to be born, then systematic discrimination in nutrition, healthcare, education, labour and reproductive coercion (to marry and bear children earlier than is healthy or legal) and geriatric neglect shadow females into adulthood until the end of their lives. Family, society and the State — all three work together, like concentric nests, to keep these visible and invisible forms of injustice and brutality active and in place, compelled by poverty in the case of some families or driven by greed and prejudice in the case of others. Caste often lends another dimension to the inequality and injustice based on gender. So, trying to understand, and then ‘resolve’, the problem of men getting together to rape and then kill women becomes part of a larger, and more frightening, picture.