All Man’s Land

India imagines herself as a woman – Bharat Mata, or Mother India. But, unless far-reaching changes are made soon, a cultural preference for boys – and a widespread willingness to abort girls – could one day leave Mother India the only woman left in the country.

NEW DELHI – Ernest Hemingway’s collection of stories, Men without Women, examines tense gender relationships. In a particularly poignant story, a young man convinces his partner to have an abortion, viewing their unborn child as a hindrance to the status quo. Frustrated, the woman gives in.

That story, published more than 80 years ago, remains relevant today in India, where female fetuses face severe risks. According to the 2011 census, the sex ratio of the country’s children has dipped from 927 females per 1000 males to 914, a 60-year low. Ratios in the northern states are particularly alarming: only Himachal Pradesh now has a ratio of girls to boys above 900.

Despite being illegal, ultrasound sex-determination tests are being used across India to identify for abortion extraordinary numbers of healthy female fetuses. But there are serious concerns about legal operations, too. Genitoplasty – a sex-change operation on newborn girls – is a mushrooming, and deeply disturbing, business in India.

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