India: Where Are All the Girls?
Image Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

India: Where Are All the Girls?


The silence is revealing. Rajju is baking bread for her son Rajesh. She serves him without word. Thirty minutes later, mother and son finish their lunch with only the barest minimum of utterances. This is life for the Hooda family of three—Rajju and her two sons. The tension within the household has been mounting for six years, ever since 52-year-old Rajju advertised for a bride for her elder son.

In the Sanghi village, located in the Rohtak district in the northern Indian state of Haryana, like most places in this region and indeed throughout India, the majority of marriages are arranged by the parents. Most marriage alliances are made within the same caste or ethnic group. The marriage age seen as ideal here has traditionally been between 20 to 25 for both men and women, but with growing urbanization and increasing education men have recently preferred to wait until they are 28 or 29. The majority of women are still not able to make marriage decisions for themselves.

Rajesh is now 35 and despite being well settled in his job as a computer professional near his village he has not had any good marriage proposals. In fact, in six years he has received just one proposal, which fell through.

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Barely 100 meters away from Rajesh’s house lives Shayam. He’s been looking for a bride  for four years, also without success. The absence of marriage partners is creating tensions within many families. The stress and frustration has aged Rajju beyond her years.

Rajesh and Shayam are not alone. Haryana, which borders Delhi, has long had a gender imbalance, and some reports say it has the worst sex ratio in India.

According to the 2011 census, the number of females per 1000 males in Haryana stands at 879, far below the national average of 943 and the lowest among all twenty-eight states in India. The number falls to 836 in certain districts, and the state-wide figure is even more alarming in the 0-6 age group, where there are just 834 girls for every 1000 boys.

As a result of this disparity, men like Rajesh are unable to marry, and face an increasingly dire situation. His mother laments, “There are so few girls in Haryana. No-one wants a daughter. If you don't have any daughter how will you have a bride?”

She adds, “It is common for pregnant women to have a prenatal test and if the fetus is a girl, they often abort them.”

The gender imbalance in the Haryana society has forced many young men to look for girls outside the state from different cultural, socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds. Men are bringing brides in from other states, like Tripura, West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar and even—in some cases—Bangladesh.

“I have started looking for girls outside my state and very soon I expect to have a wife. For that I will have to spend some money. The situation is really bad. Even a well qualified person remains unmarried because of the paucity of girls,” rues Rajesh.

Rajesh’s neighbor, Karamveer Hooda, a farmer, married a girl from West Bengal two years ago after failing to find any partner locally. His wife Seema, 22, speaks a different language, Bangla, and had never left her village in her home state. But she is now the mother of a 2-year-old boy and seems at ease in her new home.

“My father was a poor man. He could not afford a boy from Bengal who would expect a dowry. When the offer came from Haryana I willingly accepted. I married without paying any dowry. Initially it was difficult to adjust but now I am fine,” says Seema.

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