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The price India pays to produce male heirs


Thirty five million Indian females are missing today.

Some were killed in the womb, others as infants, while still others succumbed in their desperate bid to have a male child. As the pendulum continues to swing toward a lopsided gender ratio, women find themselves being tugged from both ends.

On the one hand, they are pressured to aggravate the shortage by acting as fertility machines for male heirs. However, as the number of “bare sticks” or bachelors grows, they are also made to fill the deficit by being trafficked for marriage or even shared among brothers. As the situation gets more and more precarious, cracks in the walls of the family unit are beginning to show.

This visual narrative looks at some of those left behind.

Sixteen years after the birth of the youngest of her seven daughters, 53-year old Rani had a son. Villagers say she went into hiding during her alleged pregnancy, suggesting that she may have “bought” this child, even though she already has a 12-year old grandson. Ruhani Kaur Dr. Kaul, DHMS from Bihar, has posters of baby boys plastered on the walls of his infertility clinic. A happy patient, who has had a son after several daughters, believes that the “medicinal herbs” he prescribed to her during her pregnancy caused the turnaround. Ruhani Kaur After the accidental death of her only child, an 18-year-old son, Shweta was desperate for another one. On the advice of a “baba,” a medicine man, she had a concoction of peacock feathers, gold ash and other such ingredients known to be laced with unhealthy arsenic levels. She did have a son but due to a fusion deformity, he was stillborn. Ruhani Kaur After six daughters, Kalpa got pregnant for the seventh time, and her husband threw her out of the house on the grounds of her being a girl-bearing wretch. She gave birth to her seventh daughter on the streets, who died soon after. Kalpa now shares quarters with mentally unstable women at a short-stay shelter. Her husband has remarried since then. Ruhani Kaur While sex selection is rampant amongst the well-to-do, it’s the landless and those without government jobs who bear the brunt. Finding it difficult to get local brides, Dheeru, a 40-year-old truck driver, arranged for two girls from Orissa for his younger brothers. He then got an 18-year-old Bengali girl for himself. Allegedly, he often finds brides for his bachelor friends, but at a price. Ruhani Kaur Twenty year old Chandni’s neighbors brought her 11 months ago from Orissa to “help” her settle in Delhi. Instead, she was married off to Jabbar, a 70-year-old widower with six daughters who lives in a village in Haryana with his 60-year old bachelor brother. Already seven months pregnant, Chandni is being treated well for now, as her husband has found out that she is carrying a son. Ruhani Kaur The woman smoking the hookah is the mother of Satbir, a handicapped man with little land. A man in his situation usually has to shell out lots of money in order to find a bride from another state. So he settled for Sonia, a widow who brought her son from her first marriage. Ruhani Kaur Jaspreet is married to the eldest brother in a family of five. For a while, she also had to look after the other four, as the family didn’t have adequate land to show for all. In time, this arrangement allowed them to purchase more land and the middle brother got married to Veena. The two women now run adjoining houses, and take care of the remaining single brothers between them. Ruhani Kaur

Ruhani Kaur can be reached at ruhanik@gmail.comWe welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com

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