The Current

Is India's gender imbalance to blame for rise in violence against women?

India's gender imbalance of more men than women is a societal consequence that promotes a culture of devaluing women, argues an advocate for women's health and safety.

'Girls are considered a liability, while boys are considered an asset,' says Ravinder Kaur

According to a census in 2011, there are 37 million more males in India than females, in a population of about 1.3 billion. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

As India grapples with an increase in violence against women, one expert points to the staggering gender imbalance in the country as the root cause.

​Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap, an organization which battles sex trafficking in India, points to a culture that devalues women and girls as the social consequence for the rise in sex-based crimes.

She argued the country's "very aggressive toxic masculinity" puts women and girls in danger to the point they're afraid to go out in public places.

"The number of rapes has increased drastically in India. In the last year alone, the rapes of children increased by 82 per cent, and of women by 12 per cent," Gupta told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, citing statistics from India's national crime record bureau.

"Just recently in January, four Dalit girls, in four different incidents were found raped and murdered in Haryana, the very state where the gender issue is the most skewed in India."

The last census in 2011 found there are 37 million more males in India than females, in a population of about 1.3 billion.

Increase in sex trafficking

The demographic divide has also contributed to the increase in sex trafficking of women and girls from one part of India to another, said Gupta.

"Girls from the most poor families who are also low-caste are forced now to be sexually available for upper-class and upper-caste men, taken to villages in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan," she explained.

"They are made to work like chattel and sex slaves for these men."

Gupta added it's common for traffickers to use kidnapping, bribery, seduction and trickery to take girls from one place to another to sell them into sexual slavery and prostitution.

Ruchira Gupta says more has to be done to get to the root causes of why women and girls are not valued in Indian society. (Shailesh Andrade/Reuters)

From the moment of conception until old age, Gupta argues a girl's life in India is always at risk of danger.

As a fetus, if they are spared from infanticide, they could be sold into prostitution at puberty, or into domestic servitude where the child will be sexually exploited.

"She could be sold into child marriage, and there she could die of maternal mortality because her body is not fully formed and she has to give birth," Gupta told Tremonti.

'Girls are considered a liability'

In 1994, the Indian government introduced a law to ban sex determination tests.

But Ravinder Kaur, author of Too Many Men, Too Few Women: Social Consequences of Gender Imbalance in India and China, suggests this hasn't stopped sex-selection from happening.

"Technology has made it easier," Kaur said.

When it became apparent that amniocentesis, a procedure used to detect fetal abnormalities, could also determine sex, it was used as a tool to eliminate female fetuses. Today, ultrasounds are a cheaper alternative.

"Many families and couples do not want to have more than one girl child. Some of them don't want to have even a single girl child and they'll go to any extent that they can to shape their family as a small family, but with more sons," Kaur explained.

Ravinder Kaur said the government has created various policies that address the issue of devaluing girls, but says even they call it a 'stopgap kind of arrangement.' (Reuters)

"Even now for different reasons than in the past, girls are considered a liability, while boys are considered an asset. So families feel they absolutely must have sons."

Shifting culture through law

Both Kaur and Gupta agree legislation can help prompt a culture change to elevate the role of women.

Kaur said the government has created various policies that address the issue of devaluing girls, but adds they know it's a "stopgap kind of arrangement."

She suggests implementing gender neutral inheritance laws as a way to give both daughters and son access to equal inheritance and a chance to support parents in their old age.

For Gupta, she'd like to see the Indian government ban hate speech that is targeted at women and girls in India, "especially of women and girls of minority religions like Muslims and of marginalized castes like Dalit."

"There is impunity for those who rape and who devalue women."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Ines Colabrese.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?