Monday, May 21, 2012

India’s male-female ratio crisis and an out of the box soution

Pre-requisite: please first watch the Satyamev Jayate episode on female foeticide that aired on 6th May prior to reading this. The link will lead you to its webpage.

I want to illustrate, using just bare numbers, how serious is the crisis arising from rampant female foeticide in India is in terms of there being a shortfall in women for men of marriageable age.

When we take the absolute countrywide numbers, they’re too large to immediately make sense to us, so let’s scale it all down to this scenario:

Imagine a small island nation with a culture identical to our own. Meaning that there is a “rule” that marriage by the marriageable age is a must, plus the cultural trend of preference for boys over girls. Take the present Indian sex ratio and imagine that every year there are exactly 1000 boys and 914 girls being born. For the sake of simplicity we imagine a 0% population growth rate.

The table below charts the yearwise progress of the island’s numbers of girls and boys. Imagine that everyone gets married at some age like 25, but we’re calculating how many couples will form and how many will be left single right from year 1.


From the first year, (ie, 25 years on), 86 boys are left single.

For year 2, there are not 1000 but 1086 boys available for the 914 girls. Here we will assume the same trend of Indian culture of a preference for older boys by the girl’s parents (and increasingly by the girls themselves), with the usual immediate advantage of an older boy being more well-off, more mature and more able to provide for the girl. So, all 86 of the boys carried over from the previous year get married to 86 girls from year 2. As a result there are now 172 single boys left from year 2.

These get carried over to year 3, and again the same circumstances. So now there are 258 boys left single from year 3.

This number of boys being left single increases year on year, and at the 11th year, the number of boys left single has crossed the total number of girls that will be born the next year. Also worth noting for the guys is that by year 11 (+25), of the 1000 boys that were born, only 1000-946=54 boys are able to marry girls from their own year. If there is just one school and college, this means only 54 of the 1000 boys will marry girls who they studied and graduated with. Remaining 946 have to wait for their juniors.

And from year 12, the extras literally spill over. There are now more boys staying single than those that will be born the next year. From year 12 onwards, NONE of the boys will marry their batchmates, plus 32 of their seniors will join the singles club with them. Of course, with the cultural preference being as it is, these 32 will definitely get married in year 13, but there will be even more boys from year 12 who will remain single even in year 13.

Now, of course we don’t marry off the kids at birth, meaning that the surpluses that started from year 1, are only observed from year 25 when parents seek to get their kids married and settled. Till then, imagine that this imbalance has gone unchecked, unobserved by the population of the island. Where is the chart at year 25 when the first shortfall of 86 unwedded males is physically felt by the people of the island?


By year 25, there are a whopping 3064 boys for the 914 girls…a factor of more than 3! 2150 boys … 70.2% of the total boys, including all of the boys born that year, are destined to be left single by the time the people of this island nation actually realize that they have a problem on their hands!

And this is what has happened in India. Sure, there are variations limiting the number of boys available for coupling including deaths and diseases, singledom, homosexuality etc. But the same variations affect the total women per generation as well, and seeing the distorted numerical relationship, even a minor offset in number of available girls translates to big offsets overall. It’s like the case of a scarce commodity causing major issues when it decreases even by a little. And even if one argues that of course girls will marry older boys, Duh, just shift the girls column up a few notches (so year 1 boys are to be paired with year 5 girls, suppose) – the end result is unchanged. There will still be a widening that will increase year on year.

The effects are already all around us. Haven’t we all witnessed an increase in large age gap marriages somewhere or the other among the people we know? 7~8 years difference between the bride and groom’s ages (guy being older) are no longer uncommon. But the same thing flipped (girl being older), is still very rare. This age gap has only widened over the past decade and it is because those men could not find anyone their age. For a whole gamut of other problems arising, the Satyamev Jayate episode covers them very effectively and I won’t go into them here.

I’m a solution oriented guy, so I’m not going to just bray about the crisis here.

So let’s go back to the island. In which ways would a solution be sought?

We could of course bring the sex ratio back to 1:1. Imagine that this process has already begun. But seeing the nature of things, this is a slow solution, will probably take a whole generation to work out, and does nothing to address the immediate problem which will get truly disastrous by the time the first balanced generation comes of age. I want to explore, what can be the immediate solutions?

1. War : Start a fight with some neighbours, start a war, use the excess males in the population as cannon fodder. Very evil as well as dangerous option, this can very easily result in mass casualties of even the women if the enemy managed to break the defenses. And this is just plain unethical. So, war is a strict No.

2. Import brides from elsewhere. Now imagine that there is no other place to import from since all other countries have the same crisis going on, or that this island is simply not an attractive enough option! Plus, such a huge addition to the island’s population will doom everybody, zero population growth must be maintained.

3. Throw out the excess males. Yeah, right. Where will they go? And who decides whom to throw out – the richer, older singles or the young, poorer ones who aren’t at fault? This too is an unfeasible option and could very well lead to genocide, if not direct then indirect.

4. Make mass clones of the women. Sure… suddenly the war seems like a far better option. Will the nerds fantasizing about whom they’d want to clone pause to consider that what makes a grown person isn’t just size of body parts but the combined experiences as a human being she’s had growing up over the years? The men will be marrying clones, not women!

5. Force most of the men to be celibate. IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? And whoever suggests that ought to lead by example!!

Have you noticed that all of the above have something similar : They’re all about either eliminating excess or adding more to make up for scarcity. It’s like in a thali there’s not enough vegetable (sabji) available for the rotis you have, so you’re either adding more vegetables or throwing away the excess rotis. One way you’re hungry and the other way you’re over-eating! And the last option is as dry and pointless as having only rotis. This isn’t a sustainable solution! What else can we do to make do with what we have? How can we solve this crisis without any elimination or addition?

And this takes us to the logical conclusion : In the thali, we alter the amount of roti that we take with each piece of sabji in order to balance things out.

It is said that the simplest solution, even if most controversial, is often the best one.

Ready? Here goes….

We have to let the women have more than one husband.

At the same time. With full respect to women’s rights. Not extra-marital, but totally legitimized.

How.. where.. why… well, take a look at the latter part of the Satyamev Jayate episode above and you will know that if we don’t do it legitimately and respectfully, its going to get done illegitimately and extremely disrespectfully.

There are several factors that would go into and result out of this, and the consequences are all ones that I like … most importantly it will once again restore gender equality.

I don’t have the time to go into this right now, but heres a link to a note on my web notebook where you might find some material I collect randomly until I can find a way to put it all together.[[Opinion%3A%20We%20need%20to%20accept%20women%20having%20more%20than%20one%20husband]]

Inviting your views as well.. please leave them in the comments here (and for God’s sake do not put them on the link on facebook that just vanishes off in a day!)


Nikhil Sheth said...

great comments on... FB! @!#!@#!#!!@#!@#@
pasting them here.

TA: I am shocked.

ATH : Hahahaha.. wow.. this post rocked! :D

N : shocked and rocked.. hmm... blog mein bhi koi comments daalo bhai

TA : How did you come up with such a solution? Were you serious? Or is that sarcasm?

N : comments on the blog post, pls! and no, it's not a joke. But i'd rather take better solutions than blind criticism. Like I've mentioned, the most logical solution is rarely the most acceptable one. By the way, there's a big difference between "let" and "force". Force is what's happening with 1000s of women in haryana and similar places right now.

TA : Do you know the kind of exploitation that will happen?
" But i'd rather take better solutions than blind criticism." - I would rather hear dignified solutions. And what makes you think my criticism is "blind"? If solutions were so simple, if such issues were so simple, then there would be easy solutions for everything. The point is - instead of coming up with such solutions, it would have been better to dig the issue first and then paint the picture.

N : hey this is good, i'll post it on my blog on ur behalf, thanks! inviting more views and opinions... I thought I did plenty of digging and painting but perhaps more artistry / excavation may be required :P
Also, would advise one to read up on the history of marriage and treatment of women as men's property. When did it all begin? I've come across some startling facts... for instance, marriage and sex-based division of labour didn't exist in hunter-forager societies before agriculture came about. So out of 100,000 yrs of human existence, women have really been treated as property / inferiors for only the last 5000 yrs or so,

TA : and you are not suggesting a solution which is any different from making their situation worse. A woman goes through enough torture from just one husband. Imagine what will many husbands do? In a way, you are implying that women are just some property to be given off in marriage. By the way, i have studied gender discourse very critically for three years. And i still read about it. Instead of suggesting something respectful like not killing women in the womb and letting them live, you are suggesting to give away a woman in a marriage to lot of men to be shared? How many women did you consult before posting this? Is marriage the ultimate end of everyone's life?

TA : Let me put it more simply - Would you put your own sister through that?

N : no, i want to pitch the idea to throw out the whole concept of 'husband' and marriage as we know it today. it's a stinking pile of crap and i've seen several of my closest friends/family suffer through it. would i put anyone through it? hell no. so can you now try to redefine it all into something better? AND keep in mind that something needs to be done for the coming 40 or so years even if we completely halted female foeticide right now? Did you miss the whole point of the post by any chance? Now go to the original BLOG and post there pls, your inputs are useless on temperamental FB!

Nikhil Sheth said...

I guess it's my fate to copy-paste from FB now.

TA: wow.. you deleted all the comments. Smart.
TA: too many problems posting on your blog, so here is my reply :
If you don't want anyone to put through it, then why are you suggesting something on a similar line?

And "something" needs to be done doesn't mean that we will suggest anything and everything.
I would have appreciated if you would have suggested something like introducing gender empowerment programmes, building respect for women, starting from the classrooms itself, and so on.
But you came up with polygamy?!!
And furthermore, saying that you don't want anyone to go through that?
I don't really see any clarity in your argument.

N: check... its polyandry. Polygamy toh kabka chaalu hai bhai. And I've only said LET THEM WHO WANT TO. And did I mention it needs to be done with full respect.. check. Is this something I'm suggesting? DUH No ma'am, its already happening, whether u personally like it or not. Am I asking to look at things in a different way and challenge centuries-old perceptions? Yea! Are you SUGGESTING anything apart from stoning to death anyone who dares to think differently? I don't think so. What you would have appreciated, is already on the cards, only Satan would oppose that so stop trying to paint me so, but the CRISIS is what's to be done for next 2~3 decades before the restoration (if it starts at all) kicks in.

I don't see the existence of any solution oriented thinking in your arguments. It seems you only want to be offended and show it like several others like u out there. But thanks for your views, or the absence of them, nonetheless.

TA: Sorry, my bad. Polyandry - the basic concept remains the same though.
And full respect? Right. Sure. Look around you. How much respect can you see? Can we be a little realistic here?
Stoning to death? That's what your perspective tells you. The real thing is that YOU are doing the same thing. I am just having an argument here.

Also, it doesn't necessarily mean that people need to come up with solutions when they are debating about something. But, if you read my comments closely , you'd see that I DID come up with solutions.

Plus, your arguments are pretty weak. You never really tackled the arguments I gave but you are just trying to "win" a debate not by strong ideas, but by putting someone down. Who asked you to take it personally? You are putting personal comments here.
That's not what good arguments contain. Did I comment on YOU? I'm just talking about an idea. Im not talking about YOU. On the other hand, instead of defending your idea, you are criticizing ME.

I am actually amused. Sorry, but I expected something better out of you . I didn't want to get into a personal tiff.
You need to think before speaking, man. Seriously. I hope you'll learn.
I don't argue/debate with people who don't know how to.
End of discussion. Thank you so much.

N: haan meri maa, time nahin mila bahut saara explore karne ka, maaf kar de. Udhar bhi wohi bola lekin aap ki khaatir idhar bhi apoligize kar leta hoon, Sorry. And you didn't actually read the article fully, u were happy acting shocked. Ur complaint was that as per status quo what I suggest is dangerous. My take was to completely change the status quo and I also explicitly warned against maintaining it. I did not make any statement about forcibly putting anyone thru anything yet you said would I put my sister thru this. What was the need of mentioning my family member?? I am not taking personally, you are the one bombarding with "how could you even think of" dialogs and all. And where are your SOLUTIONS? Saying don't do this, don't do that is not solution. What you did mention finally was nothing new. Just lots of hot air and no substance. Take care before explicitly insulting someone and shooting down things in the name of criticism next time. Comments will be moved to blog. Smarter.

Rita said...

Hi. Very interesting post. I find your solution great and potentially very empowering for women. I am not Indian though so I was surprised by the 'marriage=torture thus polyandry=more torture for women' opinion in the comments. Another thing. Since female foeticide in India has been around for some time, why don't we see the huge imbalance in current male/female population ratio that would be expected? Sorry if I overlooked something, just curious. Thanks for thinking about a solution. Rita

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