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Social developments in the Indian countryside are not benefiting daughters

There have been great economic and social advances in India in recent years. Despite this, millions of girl foetuses are aborted because they are the "wrong sex".

Daughters are not rejected simply due to old traditions, but also because the changes in society do not leave any room for girls, says Mattias Larsen who is presenting his thesis at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

According to culturally conditioned conceptions it is necessary to have sons, above all to provide care in old age. In combination with the major social changes, this leads to girls being rejected, says Mattias Larsen, who has researched the problem in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

Earlier research has shown abortions of unwanted daughters in India to be a problem that has emerged in recent years - despite tangible economic and social progress. Traditionally sons in India have had the responsibility of taking care of their parents when they get old.

This" contract" between the generations is a fundamental social institution in India. It binds generations together and shapes large parts of the social life, says Mattias Larsen.

Sons guarantee a secure old age

However, in line with economic developments, increasing numbers of young men are leaving agriculture behind in the countryside and migrating to cities that are undergoing rapid economic development. And this is also causing an important part of the traditional social safety net to break up. To guarantee their security in old age it is even more important for parents to have a son who they know will take care of them.

Most of the new economic opportunities outside agriculture are benefiting young men who are becoming more and more independent, thus leading to the traditional agreement becoming increasingly untenable. Paradoxically, in order to salvage the only available option for provision of care in old age, parents are compelled to concentrate more on their sons and to reject daughters, says Mattias Larsen.

The rapid economic development has also led to many instances in the countryside of greater demands for dowries and financial contributions in conjunction with marriage, reinforcing the view of daughters as a burden.

Even though there has been rapid economic development with increased prosperity within agriculture, opportunities for self determination for women have not advanced. This has led to dowry problems in villages were it was not previously a problem, says Mattias Larsen.

The thesis is based on research in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Mattias Larsen has compared eight villages through 55 interviews, 8 group discussions and a questionnaire consisting of 477 households.

Title of the thesis: Vulnerable Daughters in Times of Change: Emerging Contexts of Discrimination in Himachal Pradesh, India


Author of the thesis: Mattias Larsen, tel: +43 6764903038,
Name of faculty opponent: Professor Ravinder Kaur, IIT Delhi, India
Time and venue for the public defence: Friday 13 March 2009 at 13.15, Lecture theatre 220, Annedalsseminariet

Campus Linné, Seminariegatan 1, Gothenburg, Sweden

BY: Lena Olson
+46 31-786 4841

Helena Aaberg | idw
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