Here is a paradox. During the final decade of the last millennium, the Child Sex Ratio (CSR, the number of girls in the age group of 0 to 6 years per thousand boys of the same age group) recorded its highest fall, dropping 18 points from 945 to 927. However, during the same decade, the Overall Sex Ratio (OSR, which looks at the ratio of all females to males, and not just those in the 0-6 age group) recorded its highest gain, rising 6 points from 927 to 933. In every census since 1951, the two ratios have gone more or less hand in hand, dropping steadily except in the late 1970s (see Table 1 below). [The figures in brackets show the rise or drop during the decade. All figures in this paper are taken from the Census Of India 1991 and 2001 unless otherwise stated].

What explains this surge in the sex ratio which has favoured the female in the 2001 Census, in spite of inconvertible evidence that mass scale female foeticide was responsible for the highest ever drop in the CSR during the same period? The Census calls this increase in the sex ratio a 'welcome development'. If the increase were the result of improved conditions for women, that would be true. But instead, what if the increased ratio is not due to improved female indicators but due to the disappearance of significant numbers of males instead?

TABLE 1: Child Sex RAtio (CSR) and Overall Sex Ratio (OSR)

        1951     1961      1971       1981      1991      2001

CSR     983   976 (-7)   964 (-12)  962 (-2)  945 (-17)  927 (-18)

OSR     946   941 (-5)   930 (-11)  934 (+4)  927 (-7)   933 (+6)

We can guess that something is wrong, by looking at data since the 1981 Census. At the national level, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, the male population increased by 24.31% (from 353.324 million to 439.230 million) whilst the female population increased by 23.35% (from 330.005 million to 407.072 million). In the next decade from 1990 to 2000 the male population increased by 20.95% (from 439.230 million to 531.277 million) whilst the female population increased by 21.78% (from 407.072 million to 495.738 million). Thus between the 1991 and 2001 Census, the percentage decadal growth for males dropped 3.36% while for females it dropped 1.57%. For only the second time in census history, the growth rate for females (21.78%) actually overtook the growth rate for males (20.95%).

What makes this fact more startling is that nearly 2 million females were not allowed to be born in the last decade, as a result of female foeticide. The number of females would have been even higher (and thus improved the sex ratio even more) if nature had been allowed to take its course.

Which states contributed the most to the reversal of sex ratio trends in the last decade? The jump in the OSR from 927 to 933 is really driven by trends in some states only; in other states the sex ratio continued to drop. Table 2 (below) shows those states where the trend was reversed. Figures in brackets show the change from previous decade.


           1951   1961       1971       1981      1991      2001

Bihar     1000   1005 (+5)  957 (-48)  948 (-9)  911 (-37) 925 (+14)

MP         945    932 (-13) 920 (-12)  921 (+1)  931 (+10) 937 (+7)

Rajasthan  921    908 (-13) 911 (+3)   919 (+8)  910 (-9)  922 (+12)

UP         908    907 (-1)  876 (-31)  882 (+6)  878 (-4)  901 (+23)

Andhra     986    981 (-5)  977 (-4)   975 (-2)  972 (-3)  978 (+6)

Tamilnadu 1007    992 (-15) 978 (-14)  977 (-1)  974 (-3)  986 (+12)

Orissa    1022   1001 (-21) 988 (-13)  981 (-7)  971(-10)  972 (+1)

The first four states are the infamous BIMARU states, grouped for their lowest per capita income, literacy rates and negligible health care. It seems implausible that these states would witness an increase in the sex ratio, given how badly girls and women are treated within them. This breakdown, therefore, offers a clue: that the reversal of the sex ratio is not due to improved conditions for women, but something else that is causing the numbers of men to go down.

This can be verified. Using long term trends in population we can ask "what should the number of men in each state in 2001 have been if the long-term trends had continued?". We can then compare that number to the actual number of men counted by the latest census; this would reveal any drop in the numbers of males that isn't predicted by the long term trend. These numbers are shown in Table 3; the expected male population for 2001 is worked out assuming long-term trends in OSR between 1951 and 1991 continued in the last decade as well. The comparison to the actual number of men counted in 2001 is also shown. The populations of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Uttaranchal have been included in the populations of Bihar, MP and UP. All populations are in millions and are taken from the 2001 Census.

TABLE 3: 2001 projections and actual numbers
              Male      Female     Projected    Projected  Missing
          Population  Population     Ratio        Males     Males 

Bihar        57.014      52.772       889         59.361     2.347

M.P.         41.908      39.271       927         42.363     0.455

Rajasthan    29.381      27.091       907         29.868     0.487

U.P.         91.782      82.749       870         95.113     3.331

Andhra       38.268      37.440       968         38.677     0.409

Tamilnadu    31.268      30.842       966         31.927     0.659

Orissa       18.612      18.094       958         18.887     0.275

          TOTAL NUMBER OF MISSING MALES:      7.963 Million

We have a figure of nearly 8 million missing males in the last decade from the states listed above. This figure is over and above the normal death rate and needs to be explained. The question now rises that having worked out the number of missing males for 58% of the population, would it be correct to assume that the remaining 42% of the population would similarly show a shortage of males? If yes, then it would not be incorrect to say that we ended about 13.75 million men short in the last decade, i.e. we could be losing more than a million men a year.

But how? What are we losing these men to?

One likely answer is that certain afflictions have been decimating the male population over a period of time which are now showing up in the statistics. The single most important factor which has caused the increase in male mortality is rampant alcohol consumption and smoking. Men have been drinking and smoking themselves to death for many years in rural as well as urban India. Add the effect of tuberculosis, drugs and HIV in that order and one finds a full recipe for disproportionate death rates.

Unfortunately the Census does not record the death rates for males and females separately, so we need to look at secondary sources of information. A significant study on smoking and mortality carried out in Tamilnadu provides figures for smoking related deaths in males. The study was carried out by sampling 43,000 male deaths due to medical reasons in rural as well as urban areas. The study also sampled 35,000 controls. The study concluded that 700,000 male deaths per year are directly attributable to smoking and that the average reduction in life span of the deceased is 20 years, so the majority of fatalities is in the middle age group. The study was conducted by doctors and specialists and was published in the August 2003 issue of the medical journal, The Lancet.

The study also recorded that the total male deaths due to all reasons in the year 2000 was 5.263 million. We can work out the total number of female deaths by using the overall death rate of 8.5 per thousand estimated in 2000 as per the Sample Registration System and by interpolating the population figures for that year. The number of female deaths works out to 3.301 million which amounts to a difference of nearly 2 million from the male figure. The female death rate in 2000 was thus 6.78 per thousand females whilst the male death rate was 10.09 per thousand males. The death rate for males was nearly 50% higher. This considerably higher death rate has led to the so called 'improvement' in the Sex Ratio.

The number of alcoholics was assessed at 1% of the population in a study carried out in 1975. Applying that figure to the current male population, we have a total of 5.3 million alcoholics. If we assume that an alcoholic can last for 10 years, then 10% of these will die in a year. The fatalities number about 500,000 which is 30% fewer than the deaths from smoking. Other deaths result from tuberculosis, drugs, HIV and stress related disease. Half a million deaths take place per year due to TB, of which 60% are males. Diseases like kala azar, cholera, malaria and even plague have emerged in the last decade. Males are more prone to these diseases as also to cardio vascular disease.

The millions of males being lost to these illnesses in the last decade is mainly responsible for the overall drop in the rate of increase in the population from 23.86% in the 1991 Census to 21.34% in the 2001 Census. It also accounts for the unexpected reversal of the OSR at a time when discrimination against girls and women is still rampant. If this keeps up, the Sex Ratio in 2011 will further ‘improve’ by an unprecedented 22 points to 955 based on a 2% annual growth from population levels in 2001. An excessive focus on the sex ratio, therefore, is likely to conceal horrors at both ends of the spectrum - with female foetuses and girls being killed at one end, and men falling victim to illnesses at the other end.

A level field for men and women will do no good, if their equality is attained only in death.