Andrew Buncombe: Official excuses are not going to solve this crisis

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In the states of Punjab and Haryana, famed as the home of the big fat Indian wedding, there is something of a marriage crisis. Such is the extent of the skewed gender ratio – the result, to a large extent, of female foeticide – there are not enough women to go round.

To ensure the young men of these largely agricultural states have a bride to wed when they reach the age of betrothal, a trafficking network has developed with young women brought in from other parts of the country.

"In these situations, marriage is not seen as being a relationship between two people. Women are seen just as sexual and reproductive resources," said Rita Banerjee, an activist from Delhi.

Many communities globally have a preference for sons rather than daughters. In India, the issue is complicated by inheritance practice and the cost of dowry payments when girls marry.

Of all the places where the balance between the numbers of young boys and young girls is skewed, nowhere is the situation more stark than in Jhajjar, a dusty town in Haryana, 40 miles west of Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi. For every 1,000 young boys, there are just 774 girls. Everyone here knows there is a problem. Spend 10 minutes chatting at a tea stand and you'll hear older men teasing the youngsters that their only chance of a bride is to pay for one from Kerala, a state in the south. Ask about the practice of selective abortion and everyone admits they have "heard" about it, and they can usually point you towards the nearest clinic, despite the procedure being illegal.

Education workers say classrooms have far fewer girls than boys. Health officials are trying to come up with ways of tackling the problem. But they also come up with excuses that obfuscate the issue. One senior health official claimed the "martial" nature of local people made it understandable there should be a genetic tendency for male children. When senior officials hold such views, it is unlikely the problem is going to be solved soon.

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