The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In the heart of Calcutta, cradles with no place for girls

Calcutta, March 3: The staircase leading to the world inside the six-storey residential coupes in the city’s central business belt is as dark during the day as it is at night.

The world inside is darker still for the girl child, a dwindling species in the heart of the city with a heart.

A day after Neetu Sau’s parents alleged that her husband and his family were not taking her back from a Barrackpore nursing home after she gave birth to a girl, The Telegraph — aided by reports of the last census — visited places in Calcutta where men outnumber women by two to one.

Enquiries showed how the ill-effects of tradition (like the dowry system) were making vast stretches of Calcutta hostile territory for the girl child (see chart). The scan also indicated how Calcutta’s march towards modernity (like more and more single-child families) — in many cases — queered the pitch even more for the girl child.

Thirty of Calcutta’s 141 wards now have less women than they had a decade back, making the city (with 828 women for every 1000 men) the most regressive area of Bengal (934 women for 1000 men) as far as sex ratio is concerned. The worst of them — Muchipara, a red-light area where mothers often do not want to give their daughters a life similar to their own — has 435 women for 1000 men.

But the more affluent areas told more worrisome tales. OPS (only initials used) of Posta has four children, three of them sons. The five sons of LD of Kalakar Street have nine children; between them six are boys. ND of K.K. Tagore Street has four children, three of them sons.

The list would have been far more dismal, but for some unintentional effects. Septuagenarian LP of Kalakar Street has four sons and one daughter, all of them married. His eldest son stopped having children — he now has three — after a son was born, making him (by his wife’s admission) a “nervous” father of two girls.

The next son has two daughters and his wife says they are again going to try for a son. “I don’t know what I’ll do if this one turns out to be a daughter,” she said, hinting that sex-determination is an option.

Every family spoken to denied going in for sex-determination tests and abortion; but every family said it knew of “many friends” who did that.

Demographers insisted that sex-determination tests continue to flourish. “Despite stringent laws against it, it’s amazing how this illegal trade carries on in Calcutta,” said Satish Agnihotri, who was involved in the ward-wise study.

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