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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 24.08.06

AMARTYA SEN, “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing”, The New York Review of Books, December 20, 1990: “...we can estimate the number of ‘missing women’ in a country, say, China or India, by calculating the number of extra women who would have been in China or India if these countries had the same ratio of women to men as obtain in areas of the world in which they receive similar care. If we could expect equal populations of the two sexes, the low ratio of 0.94 women to men in South Asia, West Asia, and China would indicate a 6 per cent deficit of women; but since, in countries where men and women receive similar care, the ratio is about 1.05, the real shortfall is about 11 per cent. In China alone this amounts to 50 million ‘missing women’, taking 1.05 as the benchmark ratio. When that number is added to those in South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa, a great many more than 100 million women are ‘missing’. These numbers tell us quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.” [The Princeton demographer, Ansley J. Coale, reduced Sen’s ‘100 million’ figure to 60 million.]

Poverty alone cannot be the explanation, says Sen: “For example, the ratio of women to men in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, which happen to be among the country’s richest, is a remarkably low 0.86, while the state of Kerala...has a ratio higher than 1.03, similar to that in Europe, North America, and Japan.”

In Punjab, Akal Takht, the highest religious body of the Sikhs, issued an edict in 2002 punishing female foeticide by excommunication. That hardly helped. In August, 2006, 35 female foetuses were found in a well behind a nursing home near Patiala.

Sen had said, “If this situation is to be corrected by political action and public policy, the reasons why there are so many ‘missing’ women must be better understood.”

EMILY OSTER, “Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women”, Journal of Political Economy, 2005, vol. 113: “I present new evidence, consistent with an existing scientific literature, that carriers of the Hepatitis B virus have offspring sex ratios around 1.50 boys for each girl....Since many of the countries with missing women also have a relatively high prevalence of hepatitis B carriers, the naturally occurring higher sex ratio at birth could produce a higher population sex ratio even in the absence of excess female mortality....after one adjusts for differences in the sex ratio at birth caused by Hepatitis B, the number of missing women (based on population estimates from 1980-90) drops to 32 million from the 60 million calculated by Coale (1991) and the 107 million suggested by Sen (1992). There is significant variation among countries in the share of the gender bias that is accounted for: I find that Hepatitis B can explain 75 percent of the missing women in China but less than 20 per cent in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.”

Going by this thesis, 33 million girls were never born. But that does not solve the entire mystery.

Oster, in a later article, writes, “...there is evidence that women in these regions have less access to education than men, have low levels of bargaining power in the household and are generally limited in their choices....evidence in support of cultural explanations by no means rules out biological ones.”

Bengal’s dead brides: July-Aug, 2006

  • Aug 22: Sampa Manna found dead in Belghoria, allegedly tortured by her husband and mother-in-law

  • Aug 12: Nirmala Ram sets herself and her six-year-old son on fire in Alipore. Her brother alleges dowry harassment

  • Aug 4: Ambika Sharma falls from a 10-storey house in Moscow. Her father says she was killed for dowry

  • August 4: Aparna Biswas strangled to death by her husband after months of torture for dowry

  • Aug 4: Tarapodo Mondal kills his wife despite having received a cycle and gold jewellery as dowry. He wanted Rs 25,000 more

  • Aug 3: Debashis Podder and his father arrested in Kanchrapara for the alleged murder of Debashis’s wife, Kakali, and baby daughter

  • July 30: Anguribibi strangled to death by her husband and mother-in-law in Murshidabad. Her brother said that the parents could not give gold jewellery as dowry

  • July 26: Aparna Chatterjee allegedly burnt to death by her in-laws at Bantra

  • July 24: Swapna Dey in Sodepur and Mou Chandra in Barasat are found hanging. Both were being allegedly tortured for dowry by their in-laws

  • July 18: Barna Chatterjee, an engineer, suffers 100 per cent burns in an attempted suicide after months of torture for dowry