Saturday, 31 March 2018

Promoting gender equality in India

Dr. Devendra Kothari

Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

In India there are two great evils. Trampling on the women, and grinding the poor  through caste restrictions. 

Swami Vivekananda
Our Women (p. 61)

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty and promoting productivity. So, how is women's status in India? No doubt, in many ways, today is the best time in modern history of India to be a girl. Opportunities for a girl's successes are as unlimited as her dreams. It appears that the condition of women in India has undoubtedly improved in the last couple of decades. However, the extent of this improvement is mainly confined to middle classes. Even among middle class families, this change has been very slow and it has benefited only a small portion of women, mainly the educated ones and that too only in big cities.

According to Gender Gap   Index (GGI) Report 2017, released by the World Economic Forum, India is simply not doing enough for its girls/women. The country ranked 108 out of 144 countries in 2017, behind China and Bangladesh. In fact, India slipped by 21 places compared to 87th rank last year.  Further,   India’s ranking has been falling steadily since 2006 when the Index was launched. [1]  That is a shameful reflection of the condition of the women/girls in a country that is on a growth song. Available data indicate that   the poor health conditions and discrimination in opportunities for work and income still haunt women. It appears that India is simply not doing enough for its women to improve access to resources and freedom of movement as well as about decision making.  

As a result, India has witnessed an alarming increase in the number of missing girls. It is estimated that around 3 million girls in age group 0-6 have gone missing in 2011 Census. In other words, during 2001-11, on an average, the number of girls missing in India was 300,000 per year or 820 per day. The number of missing girls for the consecutive census periods 1981-91 and 1991-2001 were 0.5 million and 2 million, respectively.

As a result, India is among countries with the worst child sex ratios in the world. The 2011 census showed that the child sex ratio, number of girls per 1,000 boys between the ages 0-6, has dipped from 945 girls in 1991 to 919 girls in 2011.

To understand the rising phenomenon of missing girls, one has to analyse the complex calculus that Indian would-be parents go through - when to have a child, how many, and boy or girl. A survey, conducted by the Forum for Population Action, an NGO working on population and development issues,   in a community inhabited by the middle and lower classes including slum dwellers in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India in 2010  revealed some interesting facts (Table 1). The main objective of the survey was to understand the fertility preferences and contraceptive uses. Around 200 couples were selected randomly with the help of local telephone directory, who had married between 1990 and 1995. Though the sample size is small, findings indicate a strong preference for sons as well as for a small family. The survey findings clearly indicate that Indian women with son (s) are more likely to stop having children than those with any daughters; also indicate a strong relationship between family size and the proportion of female children in a family.

Table 1 Distribution of couples by number of children, Jaipur, India 2010
Couple with:
Number of couples
Percent of total couples
No children
One son
Two sons
One daughter
Two daughters
One son and one daughter
One daughter and one son
More than two children
Did not answer
Source: Kothari, Devendra. 2010. “Fertility preferences in an urban locality,
Rajasthan: An analysis of survey data”, FPA Occasional Paper 8, Forum
for Population action, Jaipur, India.

Also, the findings clearly indicate that the sex ratio is poor when women have one or two children, but gets better as they have more children. Two factors are at play here. One is sex-selective abortions and the other is sex-selective ‘stopping practices’, which is stopping having children based on sex of those born. It is observed that women stop childbearing if the first one or two births are sons and even girls.

The findings of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS- 2015-16) support this trend. The survey showed that almost 30 per cent women with one child had got sterilised, suggesting that they had decided they did not want any more. Almost 84 per cent of women with two children had got sterilised. This was the case for 77 per cent of the poorest women who had two children and almost 89 per cent of women in the highest wealth quintile with two kids. This indicates that even poor do not want more children.

Now question arises why many couples don’t like the birth of a girl child? It is widely observed that growing up as a girl in India in the prevailing environment   is a challenge in itself. Girl/woman is made to feel like it is all her fault. It is just like that when investigating crimes of passion, the French Police are said to use the mantra – 'cherchez la femme' (find the woman) in establishing a motive. This preconceived notion that whatever the ills afflicting us, from crime to unemployment, girls/women must be at the root of them is gaining ground in India's male-oriented society.[2]

Much of the discrimination has to do with cultural beliefs and social norms that have become more pronounced in the deteriorating governance or low and order. There has been a continuous rise in the incidence of crimes committed against women over the years. Girls are raped, beaten, dumped even in the metros like New Delhi. Raising a girl child in such a situation is very difficult. One can ask questions: Save girl child for what? Eve-teasing? Dowry? Rapes? Domestic violence? This what we have in store for girls? This is why we want to save them?

It appears that female's abhivyakti (expression), khvaab (dream), or kalpana (fantasy) frightens males. And they want to regulate it by hook and crook. It appears “women are not born, but made”. What better than India to exemplify this statement by Simone de Beauvoir, made some 70 years ago.  [3]  One has to recognize that high GDP or economic growth   alone does not automatically empower women nor does it reduce gender inequality.

What do we do then? No doubt, expanding education and employment opportunities will help in achieving gender equality but that may take more time. To expedite the process, “we need men to be allies”, as argued by Melinda Gates, in her article: Women Transform Societies, based on Indian experiences. [4]  Expanding argument, she writes: “women's empowerment can't be just about women; it also has to be about men - the fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons – with whom they live their lives.”

In my paper - Empowering Women in India: Need for a Feminist Agenda - it is argued that there is an urgent need to formulating a feminist agenda to empower women living in highly patriarchal and traditional surroundings with several obstacles. [5]  The ‘agenda’ is based on the premises that  efficient policing, stringent punishments and legal measures would reduce the incidences of crime against women but these cannot eliminate growing gender inequality in India unless and until the mindset of the society changes. Women-centred reproductive health care along-with enlarged education and employment opportunities for females may alter patriarchal constructs despite strong structural resistance. And this feminist agenda will contribute to women’s empowerment significantly and reduce gender gap.

That can happen only from more deliberate and direct public policy interventions to change the mindset. Men does what does they see in their own family and surroundings. People question government’s inability, but it would require reforms in child rearing as well education in schools regarding gender equity - respecting women and their dignity. Mothers need to learn to treat daughters equally as they do for their sons.  It means one has to work at the family level.  With the help of grassroots workers like ASHA and Anganwadi Workers, one can achieve this. These workers should be trained to change the minds of young and old about everything: from the age at which girls should be married to whether men and boys should help with housework. And such campaign will drive home the point that girls are to be celebrated.

The path ahead looks long, winding and hazy. However, the present administration shows the promise and will to clean the path, albeit slowly. The government also recognizes that gender equality is part and parcel of the country's future; and campaigns like “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, educate the girl child) will help promote gender equity. To make BBBP more effective, the government has clubbed it with Nutrition (Poshan) Mission on the International Women Day 2018. 

[1] The index measures gender gap as progress towards parity between men and women in four indicators: (i) Educational attainment, (ii) Health and survival, (iii) Economic opportunity, and (iv) Political empowerment.

[2] TOI Edit. 2015. “Jobs (only) for the boys: Women are being seen as the root of all our ills, including unemployment” at:

[3] The Second Sex (FrenchLe Deuxième Sexe) is a 1949 book by Simone de Beauvoir, in which the author discusses the treatment of women throughout history. Beauvoir researched and wrote the book in about 14 months when she was 38 years old. The Second Sex is often regarded as a major work of feminist philosophy and the starting point of second-wave of feminism.  

[4] Gates, Melinda. 2016. “Women transform societies”, Times of India at:

[5] Kothari, Devendra. 2014. “Empowering women in India: Need for a Feminist Agenda”, Journal of Health Management, 16 (2),  233-43

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

India needs well-governed and managed states

Dr.  Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst

Forum for population Action

India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well-governed and managed states. Thus, the demand for newer administrative units will be a continuous one, seeking to bring distant provincial governments in remote capitals closer to the people.

Quartz India



There is a widespread perception that splitting super states into smaller ones will improve administration and governance by bringing power centres closer to the people. [1] Is it time to restructure India into smaller states? The post aims in this direction.


There are 29 states in India. Their populations range massively in size – the largest, Uttar Pradesh, holds around   200 million people, the smallest, Sikkim, just over half a million. About half of the country's population lives in five States, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in 2011; and ten most populated states or super states of India contribute more than three- fourth of India's population (Table 1). 

India's largest state is Uttar Pradesh which, with a population of 199,812,341 in 2011, is larger than most countries in the world. If it were a country in its own right, it would be the sixth largest in the world in 2011, falling just behind China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil. Two other Indian states are home to more than 100 million people - Maharashtra ( 112.4m) and Bihar (104.1m).

Whether level of socio-economic development is affected by the size of an administrative unit? As per the Rajan Panel Report, around 50 per cent of total population of India is residing in the least developed states after 60 years of the planned development.  And most of these states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - are very large containing around two-fifth  of total population in 2011.  [2]  So what kind of achievement did we achieve?

Table 1: Ten most populous states of India in 2011 and ranked if they are a separate country in the world and projected population in 2051



Ten most populous states in 2011

Projected population  in 2051

 in million

(% of total


Total population in million

(% of total population)

Number of children per woman (Total Fertility Rate)

Ranking in the world as if a separate country








Uttar Pradesh





(After Brazil)




















West Bengal








Andhra Pradesh*








Madhya Pradesh







Tamil Nadu






























(After Italy)



Sub total














* The united Andhra Pradesh was divided into two states – Andhra Pradesh (Population 49.4 million in 2011) and Telangana (35. 2 million) – on June 2, 2014.

Source: Census of India 2011; U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base; and Projected figures from: The Future Population of India, Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau, New Delhi.

The truth is that states in India were formed on no real and common basis, as argued by Mohan Guruswamy. There are different reasons applicable for different states. The northeastern states were formed to suit certain tribal aspirations. Goa had its own historical antecedents. Punjab was formed to accommodate the religious sentiments of the Sikhs with the Punjabi language serving as a convenient fig leaf for it. Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were formed for another reason (that is political), which hardly makes any sense. The four southern States were formed for linguistic reasons, just as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and West Bengal were. But now there is demand for separate states among these States. The Government of India has 10 applications for the creation of new states including a separate Vidharba in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Mithilanchal in Bihar, Bhojpur in Bihar and UP, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and Coorg in Karnataka, and Gorkhaland and Cooch Behar in West Bengal, etc.  It means dividing country alone on the linguistic lines in 1956 was not a valid reason.  [3]

While drawing the boundaries of the states, topography was not taken into account. The difference of topography of existing states is huge - and thereby the differences in culture and economy for a state to be ruled from one Capital. Maharashtra is a case in point. Whilst Konkan is water rich with coconut and fish important ingredients in the food - and one can see the effect a humid environment on clothing. Marathwada & Vidarbha on the other hands are dryer and aridest comparably. And all of them are ruled from Mumbai - at the very fast west end. 

Further, Uttar Pradesh is a classic example of how small states make better sense in a democracy. It is the most crowded state in India and additionally the most populated nation subdivision on the planet. Physically, too, it is very big. In a democracy, a dialogue between the ruler and the ruled is absolutely necessary. That is completely out of the question in a state the size of UP. The districts in western Uttar Pradesh, where people are  demanding a separate Harit Pradesh, represent a totally different lifestyle, culture and even language as compared to that of, say, Bundelkhand or eastern UP on the other side of the state. That is another aspect of the problem of size. [4]

In contrast, people of Haryana, which was carved out of Punjab, can go to the capital to air their grievances or get their problems heard in the secretariat and return home by evening, whichever part of the state they are in. But if a citizen in western UP were to be heard in any of the state commissions or courts, he has to travel over 600 km to Lucknow, spending large amounts of money in an attempt to get justice.

In addition, the large states are also most unmanageable states due its population size. Sometime in the late nineties, I was discussing the population issue faced by the state with officials in the Chamber of the Chief Secretary; I was shocked to learn that there was an utter confusion about the exact number of districts of the State let aside their names.

India does need a lot more states to be able to have better governance in many parts. UP can be divided at least into 4 or 5 parts. States like Maharastra   & Bihar and Madhya Pradesh can be divided into 2 to 3 parts each. West Bengal, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat to at least 2 part each.

The Government of India must, therefore, constitute the second States Reorganisation Commission to redrawn the internal map of India.  While India's internal map may not soon start looking like the pre-independence jigsaw puzzle presented by the myriad provinces and kingdoms, the world's largest democracy could add a few more States if it takes its cue from the world's oldest democracy - USA. The 50 States the US has for its population of 300 million is almost double the number of states India has for its 1300 million-plus people. I think that the era of large ungovernable States is past. 

The population of India is projected to increase from 1210 million in 2011 to 1750 million in 2051, as per Population Reference Bureau (Table 1) that is in the next thirty two years – an increase by 540 million. As a consequence, the total population of 10 most populous or super-states of India will increase from 927 million to 1366 million. And this fact must be kept in mind while redrawing the map of Indian Union.  As such, division of existing super states is must. For governance and socio-economic reasons, the total population of to be carved out smaller States should not exceed more than 50 million each with administrative friendly inter-state boundaries not like existing boundaries in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan.

Further, India has become a very youthful country with 70 per cent of its people below the age of 35, of whom about 350 million are below the age of 15. Clearly, the task of government is not only much more enormous, but also much more complex when the rising expectations, impact of new technologies and demographic changes are factored in. Our record so far is a cause for great concern, and is a severe indictment of the failure of the system of governance in India.

In the end, I will like to quote the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission, 1955: ”manageable states are a must if we have to keep the republic healthy and strong”.

[1] Kothari, Devendra. 2011.  “India’s quest for smaller states and development”, blog Population and Development in India at: .

[2] Kothari, Devendra. 2013. “Rajan panel report on backwardness of States of India”, Population and Development in India at

[3] Guruswamy, Mohan. 2006. India: Issues in Development, Hope India Publications, Gurgoan (see chapter “Small States and Better Government”).