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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Atanu Dey's Girl Child problem

So I am going to be the first person to start a fight on this blog. God willing there will be many more!

I have to say, I am absolutely shocked to read Atanu Dey's post about the girl child the other day. Atanu writes:

The breast beating about the skewed sex ratio in India has always puzzled me. What is all this bitching and moaning about, really? Why don't these people analyse the situation in its entirety?
Consider the facts:

A. India is overpopulated.
B. Girls are valued less than boys.

C. Neglect of an unwanted child is a greater evil than the aborting of a foetus.

D. The lower supply of women of marriagable age will increase their 'price' leading to a 'negative dowry'.

E. The lower supply of women would retard population growth.

Firstly, I find it impossible not to breast beat, bitch and moan about the murder of innocent girls because their 'net present value' is lower than that of boys. I am wierd that way.

Yes, I think the foetuses has rights. Not neccessarily all rights. But the right to life except under well defined circumstances.

I wrote about this a few days ago. The EPW article I linked to made it amply clear that female infanticide did nothing to increase the utility ('price') of females and a cursory look at population figures will make it clear it did nothing to dent the population growth rate.

Besides, the preference for girls spills over to the women who do make it out of the womb. The girl-child is typically given less nourishment compared to the boy and consequently there is an adverse effect of the development of her cognitive skills and immune system. What is the utilitarian advantage of having a little less than half your population unable to participate fully in the economy?

I could go on. However, I don't want to make this an utilitarian argument. This is about liberty. Female infanticide and discrimination is against the principles of liberty. The contradictions between utilitarianism and liberalism are well understood. Atanu should try re-reading Sen's paradox.

The point is not that Atanu is at all sympathetic to discrimination against women. I feel quite sure he isn't.

But the point is that his argument is reductionist, wrong and dangerous.

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