New Delhi, India – Officials in a northern Indian state are investigating whether sex-selective abortions have been conducted after government data revealed not a single girl was born in 132 villages in the last three months.
Official data revealed last week said 947 children were born across 500 villages in Uttarakhand state’s Uttarkashi district. Among the 200 such births in 132 of the villages, none was a female child.
That, despite the same data saying more girls (479) were born in those three months compared with boys (468).
The Uttarkashi district administration has marked the 132 villages as a “red zone” and a team of 25 officials has been formed to investigate the matter.
“Of the 132 villages surveyed, 82 showed a higher rate of deliveries, so we will investigate those villages first,” Uttarkashi’s District Magistrate Ashish Chauhan told Al Jazeera by telephone.
“As of now, we cannot confirm whether any female foeticide had happened in these villages.”
Rekha Arya, Uttarakhand’s Minister of Women and Child Welfare, told Al Jazeera she has asked for a report from the district authorities.
“A team of officials will look into the matter to see whether any forced miscarriages or abortions were done there,” she said.
Chauhan, however, suggested the situation was “not alarming at all” and the data that has shocked the country could be a mere “coincidence”, a claim rejected by women’s rights activists.
“This is completely unheard of that for three months, no girl child was born in so many villages,” said activist and academic Nivedita Menon. “There must have been some process by which sex determination was done illegally and abortions were carried out.”
Save The Children’s Prabhat Kumar said gender discrimination and female foeticide are a huge problem across India.
“It cannot be a coincidence that not a single female child is born in 132 villages. It seems to be yet another case of discrimination and neglect towards the girl child,” he said.
India outlawed selective abortion of female foetuses in 1994, but the practice remains commonplace. A 2011 study by British medical journal The Lancet found up to 12 million female foetuses were aborted in India in the previous three decades.
India’s last population census, conducted in 2011, found there were only 943 females for every 1,000 males.
According to a recent government survey, India’s sex ratio at birth declined to 896 in 2015-17 from 898 in 2014-16, pointing to a worrying trend.
Alok Vajpayee of the Population Foundation of India, a non-profit organisation that works around population and gender issues, told Al Jazeera the data from Uttarakhand is “shocking, but not surprising”.
“The deep social and cultural norms that exist in our country are responsible for such things,” he said.
India’s predominantly patriarchal culture looks at male children as assets, who will provide for the family when they are adults, apart from carrying on the family name. In Hinduism, men perform the last rites on the death of their parents.
All that explains why female children are often seen as a liability, since their marriages will involve a substantial dowry to be given away to the groom’s family.
In 2015, India’s then minister for women and child development said 2,000 girls are “killed every day” in the country because of the preference for sons. “Some are born and have pillows on their faces choking them,” she had said.
The same year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the high-profile “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters) programme, aimed at addressing the skewed sex ratio and “change people’s mindsets towards the girl child”.
However, media reports earlier this year, quoting government data, said more than half of the money allocated to the programme was spent on publicity, while barely 25 percent of the funds were disbursed to the states.
“The government has taken initiatives, but on the ground, this still has to take shape,” said Vajpayee.
Ranjana Kumari, director at New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, told Al Jazeera there is a “mismatch” between statements made by the political leaders and the steps taken by the bureaucracy in implementing the government’s schemes.
“There is a clear lack of implementation,” she said. “People like us working on these issues see no progress.”