Every Time We’ve Had Our Babies, People Have Almost… Commiserated

Star reporter Raveena Aulakh, posing as an expectant mother, is handed bags of pills in an industrial area in Mississauga by Kanwar Bains, news editor of a Punjabi-language newspaper.

Toronto Star reporter Raveena Aulakh, posing as an expectant mother, is handed bags of pills in an industrial area in Mississauga by Kanwar Bains, news editor of a Punjabi-language newspaper.

Just in case the rest of the world didn’t know what a sorry state Punjab was in with respect to its gender imbalance, there has been two headline reports from Canada’s biggest newspapers in recent weeks. The first deals with the problem in India and the second talks about how the problem has been exported to Canada.

The first from the Globe and Mail entitled “Land of the Rising Son”, examines how India has responded to the decline of female births. There’s two sad learnings from the article. One is that Punjab is still in the worst position with respect to male-female gender ration and the second is that an individual’s level education has does little to reverse generations of discrimination.

The richest neighbourhoods in the country the wealthy farming areas of the Punjab, the middle-class areas of Mumbai and other cities, and here, the leafy neighbourhoods in the south of the capital have the biggest gaps.

High-caste families in urban areas of the Punjab have just 300 girls for every 1,000 boys, researchers financed by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) reported last year. In South Delhi, it’s 832 girls born per 1,000 boys; in the state of Haryana, home to the high-tech hub of Gurgaon, it’s 822. (In normal circumstances, demographers expect to find 950 to 1,000 girls born for every 1,000 boys).

Conventional wisdom has long held that as India develops as more families struggle their way into the middle class, more girls go to school and more women join the work force traditional ideas about the lesser value of girls will erode. The incentive to abort them would fall away.

Instead, the opposite has happened, and the reasons and solutions have government and activists stumped.

These educated, well-off women, who still want sons this is really the crux of the problem and the government has not caught on to it, says Farah Naqvi, author of a major study on attitudes to son preference.

Yes, you have these very modern women today you see them in spandex at the local gym but it’s a complicated modernity. It’s two worlds these women are straddling.

Women with a Grade 10 education or higher are four times as likely to have a second child who is a son, after a first daughter, as are women who are illiterate. These educated, employed women are earning very well, and yet they prefer a son, says N.B. Sarojini, head of SAMA, a health organization that tries to help women resist sex-selection pressure. Why are rich women worst? If you have a male child, you are more valued in society it’s true in any class. The crucial question, she adds, is why that idea has proved so immutable.

The article also speaks to economics of raising a female in India.

And then there’s cold, hard economics: In the words of a Punjabi proverb, raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s garden. Girls leave home at marriage, taking whatever skills or assets they have accrued. And the practice of dowry, once restricted to the highest castes, has been adopted at all levels of society as a sign of social status and is nearly universally practised even though it was outlawed in 1961. (Like the law against sex selection, this one seeks to alter a widely accepted social practice, and there is little enforcement in fact, many feminists argue, government is reinforcing the practice by offering cash to unwed girls on their 18th birthdays.)

In aspirant middle-class families in south Delhi today, a typical dowry provided to a groom’s family can include a sports car, a large apartment, all its furniture including high-end electronics, and thousands of dollars in clothing. Increasing materialism and the emphasis on obtaining consumer lifestyle products has exacerbated the problem of dowry, Ms. Naqvi says.

So what happens to all these men who can’t find wives?

The shortage of potential wives is a subject of frequent coverage by the Indian media. And there are alarming stories particularly from Punjab and Haryana of human trafficking. Lower-caste women are bought in states such as Jharkhand, where the sex ratio is roughly equal, and then sold for a few hundred dollars in higher-caste communities.

To top it all off, Punjabis have brought their desperate obsession for baby boys to Canada. On the front page of Saturday’s Toronto Star, there’s an undercover report of a man selling pills to Punjabi women that promise an 85% chance of having a boy. To top it off, the salesman is actually an editor of the Ajit Weekly newspaper that advertises the services.

On a windswept street in a bustling industrial area on the outskirts of town, a stocky man in a white shirt and dark jeans pulls out three Ziploc bags containing red, brown and silver pills.

Take two red and brown pills each day for a week, he tells the woman who says she is nine weeks pregnant, and your baby has an 85 per cent chance of being a boy. Then he demands $750 in cash.

Magic pills or not, the trend of more girls than boys in South Asian (and Punjabi) parts of Canada is clear.

Canada does not collect statistics based on ethnicity at birth. But statistics here, now home to more than a million Indo-Canadians, many from Punjab, also show a somewhat skewed gender ratio. According to 2006 census figures, nationally there are 932 girls to 1,000 boys under age 15 in the South Asian community, compared to 953 girls to 1,000 boys in the general population.

The numbers in the South Asian community in the Toronto area become much more skewed: 917 girls to 1,000 boys in the Toronto Central Metropolitan Area. Broken down further, it shows 904 girls to 1,000 boys in Mississauga, and 864 girls to 1,000 boys in Brampton.

“That means the sex-ratio is 50 per cent higher for under-15 South Asians as compared to the general population (in the Toronto CMA),” said David Foot, professor of economics at the University of Toronto and a demographics expert. “I would say that is concerning.”

That’s a huge gap proportionally, says Myer Siemiatycki, a professor in immigration settlement studies at Ryerson University.

“In the Punjabi and South-Asian population, the numbers show a clear tilt in favour of men while it’s the opposite in the national population (where overall there are more Canadian women than men). There’s no question something significant is happening in the under-15 age group.”

Some significant indeed. If education doesn’t help back home and moving to the West isn’t helping us here, what then? Where do we go from here? Where are we going to end up?

Hopefully the story of the Bedi family gives us hope.

Prabhsharan Bedi was born on a snowy March night 13 years ago.While the baby and mother, Rupinder Bedi, were still in hospital, Randhir Bedi, the father, bought sweets and distributed them to family members and friends. When the mother and her baby girl returned home, the couple invited almost a 100 people for a celebration.

Over the next 12 years, the couple welcomed three more daughters and celebrated in similar fashion. Manmeet is 10, Binwant is 8 and Japneet will shortly turn 3.It is not rare but unusual for a Punjabi family to have three or four daughters.

“Girl or boy, it never mattered to us,” says Randhir. “But people are funny. Every time we’ve had our babies, people, even family members, have almost … commiserated.”

Randhir, 39, who lives in Mississauga and works in Woodbridge, says even his own parents, who live with the family, have dropped subtle hints “that it’ll be nice to have a boy also. They love the girls but think there should be a boy too.”

The couple, who immigrated in 1991, laugh it off and tell their parents how brilliant the girls are and how they will make the family proud.”It’s the way our culture is everyone believes a family is incomplete without a boy,” says Randhir.”Rupinder and I don’t believe in it and we tell people that.”


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50 Responses to “Every Time We’ve Had Our Babies, People Have Almost… Commiserated”

  1. Roger Mangat says:

    The article is well written & it spits in the face of south-east asian cultures.No matter who initiates it the end result is that female bear the burden of these skewerd thinking.The selling of the pills is only one part of this maccabre equation in canada.There are caucasian doctors who practice primarily to indian pregnant females by promising them the gender of the fetus.If the fetus is female then these foren females either get an abortion here or they go to india,get a no que3stions asked abortion and have good times with their aquaintenses and come back.Since there is no moral dillema,because no indian religion condemns female fetocide,everything is cool & on the upright.

  2. Roger Mangat says:

    The article is well written & it spits in the face of south-east asian cultures.No matter who initiates it the end result is that female bear the burden of these skewerd thinking.The selling of the pills is only one part of this maccabre equation in canada.There are caucasian doctors who practice primarily to indian pregnant females by promising them the gender of the fetus.If the fetus is female then these foren females either get an abortion here or they go to india,get a no que3stions asked abortion and have good times with their aquaintenses and come back.Since there is no moral dillema,because no indian religion condemns female fetocide,everything is cool & on the upright.

  3. SKS says:

    Roger Mangat: "No Indian religion condemns female fetocide.."

    What? Have you read Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji?

    Do some research before you become an expert on all religions and especially Sikh religion.

    Donot confuse religion with culture. Get some education.

  4. Roger Mangat says:

    Doctrinerly sikhism does not condemn female fetocide.There is a reason for this,sikhism being a sect of hinduism takes its directions from it.Only in the last couple of years the so called jathedar of akal takhat came publicly against it,only after the PM Manmohan Singh publicly chastised punjabis in general & sikhs in particular for practising female infanticide/fetocide.There was another boorish jathedar named ranjit singh who publicly used to decry the property & civil rights accorded to sikh women.The hilarious thing was that this guy was a convicted/self admmited killer who had served 14 yrs in the jail.Yet another leader,a woman head of sgpc was present at the place where her daughter was murdered,she is facing legal action for her complicity.So please do not say that sikhs do not practice female infanticide/fetocide.

  5. SKS says:

    Roger Mangat: "No Indian religion condemns female fetocide.."

    What? Have you read Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji?

    Do some research before you become an expert on all religions and especially Sikh religion.

    Donot confuse religion with culture. Get some education.

  6. Roger Mangat says:

    Doctrinerly sikhism does not condemn female fetocide.There is a reason for this,sikhism being a sect of hinduism takes its directions from it.Only in the last couple of years the so called jathedar of akal takhat came publicly against it,only after the PM Manmohan Singh publicly chastised punjabis in general & sikhs in particular for practising female infanticide/fetocide.There was another boorish jathedar named ranjit singh who publicly used to decry the property & civil rights accorded to sikh women.The hilarious thing was that this guy was a convicted/self admmited killer who had served 14 yrs in the jail.Yet another leader,a woman head of sgpc was present at the place where her daughter was murdered,she is facing legal action for her complicity.So please do not say that sikhs do not practice female infanticide/fetocide.

  7. Sanehwal says:

    Roger,
    Did you take a look at TLH's praise of Nikky-Guninder Kaur's work? http://thelangarhall.com/sikhi/sikh-literature-co
    Also, though the Indian state would have you believe otherwise it is accepted generally among publics around the world and the academy (that takes no stake in the debate either way) that Sikhi is not a sect of Hinduism. Do some light reading on the subject and you'll be relatively surprised.

  8. Sanehwal says:

    Roger,
    Did you take a look at TLH's praise of Nikky-Guninder Kaur's work? http://thelangarhall.com/sikhi/sikh-literature-co
    Also, though the Indian state would have you believe otherwise it is accepted generally among publics around the world and the academy (that takes no stake in the debate either way) that Sikhi is not a sect of Hinduism. Do some light reading on the subject and you'll be relatively surprised.

  9. Eliza Blake says:

    Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) did the research that Stephanie Nolen of the Globe and Mail used for her article "Land of the Rising Son." Check out the IDRC's web site and look for the Daughter Deficit article. I cannot find anywhere on the IDRC site that supports Nolen's claim that there are only 300 girls born for every 1000 boys among high-caste urban Indian women. The report says the problem is more like 927 girls per 1000 boys. I have emailed the Globe and Mail to ask the title and author of the study that Nolen is quoting because I couldn't evidence on the IDRC to support the numbers she used.

  10. Eliza Blake says:

    Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) did the research that Stephanie Nolen of the Globe and Mail used for her article "Land of the Rising Son." Check out the IDRC's web site and look for the Daughter Deficit article. I cannot find anywhere on the IDRC site that supports Nolen's claim that there are only 300 girls born for every 1000 boys among high-caste urban Indian women. The report says the problem is more like 927 girls per 1000 boys. I have emailed the Globe and Mail to ask the title and author of the study that Nolen is quoting because I couldn't evidence on the IDRC to support the numbers she used.

  11. Deep Singh says:

    Roger,

    Guru Gobind forbid such practices and it is written as such in the Rehat Maradya. I would suggest you do your research before making unsubstantiated claims.

  12. Deep Singh says:

    Roger,

    Guru Gobind forbid such practices and it is written as such in the Rehat Maradya. I would suggest you do your research before making unsubstantiated claims.

  13. Charanjeet says:

    okay aborting female fetuses does not only happen in the punjabi sikh community, punjabi hindus and hindus all over india also abort female fetuses. Punjab is almost 50% hindu. Punjab, Haryana and Gujrat apparently have the highest abortion rates in india. this is something that affects many communities in south asia. also, there is more wealth in those three states as well so you have to have money to get an illegal abortion in the first place. people always attack the culture for preference for males, yes i agree its wrong to prefer a boy over a girl but WHY doesn't anyone every focus on the economic situations in Punjab and why people are so damn DESPERATE to leave , sell everything, get married, come abroad and still some people get these abortions…these did not use to happen in the 80s or 90s or even in early 2000's….the culture has changed dramatically and continues to change in Punjab, people are losing their values, norms and ethics, and it is getting placed with the rest of indias culture such as greed, selfishness, corruption, bollywood, cricket, stupid indian soap/drama, etc, etc,. India wants everyone to "Assimilate" into a pro-indian who ignores SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN INDIA and just sits their ass watching bollywood and stupid indian tv shows, while feeling a sense of "unification" by watching thier "beloved cricket" (btw such a shitty boring sport). people in india are so BLINDto reality, they are so easy to manipulate thats why theres never really been a major revolution in india since independence (there was an attempt during 1980s in Punjab but the government was quick to propagate it as anti-national and evil, and attack their "own people" with the use of 100 000 army men and many tanks and weapons, and the same old strategy, divide & rule)….. my main point is that INDIA SUCKS!!! i have nothing against indian cultures, people, religions, etc., but the GOVERNMENT IS PURE EVIL, SELFISH, GREEDY AND CORRUPTTTTTTT!!!

  14. Charanjeet says:

    okay aborting female fetuses does not only happen in the punjabi sikh community, punjabi hindus and hindus all over india also abort female fetuses. Punjab is almost 50% hindu. Punjab, Haryana and Gujrat apparently have the highest abortion rates in india. this is something that affects many communities in south asia. also, there is more wealth in those three states as well so you have to have money to get an illegal abortion in the first place. people always attack the culture for preference for males, yes i agree its wrong to prefer a boy over a girl but WHY doesn't anyone every focus on the economic situations in Punjab and why people are so damn DESPERATE to leave , sell everything, get married, come abroad and still some people get these abortions…these did not use to happen in the 80s or 90s or even in early 2000's….the culture has changed dramatically and continues to change in Punjab, people are losing their values, norms and ethics, and it is getting placed with the rest of indias culture such as greed, selfishness, corruption, bollywood, cricket, stupid indian soap/drama, etc, etc,. India wants everyone to "Assimilate" into a pro-indian who ignores SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN INDIA and just sits their ass watching bollywood and stupid indian tv shows, while feeling a sense of "unification" by watching thier "beloved cricket" (btw such a shitty boring sport). people in india are so BLINDto reality, they are so easy to manipulate thats why theres never really been a major revolution in india since independence (there was an attempt during 1980s in Punjab but the government was quick to propagate it as anti-national and evil, and attack their "own people" with the use of 100 000 army men and many tanks and weapons, and the same old strategy, divide & rule)….. my main point is that INDIA SUCKS!!! i have nothing against indian cultures, people, religions, etc., but the GOVERNMENT IS PURE EVIL, SELFISH, GREEDY AND CORRUPTTTTTTT!!!

  15. Jay says:

    There is research done in Europe that shows that women who have contracted hep a or hep b are more likely to give birth to male children. These two are very common in Punajb with upwards of 60% of the population having been exposed. The actual sex selective abortions are just one part of the sex ratio puzzle….since it is a last resort for ppl who practice it….usually after the brith of first two girls…..mostly for a boy and also to limit the family size.

  16. Jay says:

    There is research done in Europe that shows that women who have contracted hep a or hep b are more likely to give birth to male children. These two are very common in Punajb with upwards of 60% of the population having been exposed. The actual sex selective abortions are just one part of the sex ratio puzzle….since it is a last resort for ppl who practice it….usually after the brith of first two girls…..mostly for a boy and also to limit the family size.

  17. Paramjit Singh says:

    I think what Roger wrote was factually right,too bad he went against the emotional grain of the readers and the administrators,of this blog.That's why he was censored and kicked out by the draconian administrators,isnt there any blog where one can speak candidly.

  18. Paramjit Singh says:

    I think what Roger wrote was factually right,too bad he went against the emotional grain of the readers and the administrators,of this blog.That's why he was censored and kicked out by the draconian administrators,isnt there any blog where one can speak candidly.

  19. Paramjit Singh says:

    All of his arguments are factual,the problem was that many readers like urself were blinded by religious bigotry and this being a so called sikh fundamentalist blog,the administrators could not swallow the truth and they shunted him out. as for progressiveness i think if i give u straight answers devoid of religious sentiments,i too will be blocked/censored.Hopefully if u read ur history and not just listen to oral ramblings,things will become more clear for u. cherios.

  20. Paramjit Singh says:

    All of his arguments are factual,the problem was that many readers like urself were blinded by religious bigotry and this being a so called sikh fundamentalist blog,the administrators could not swallow the truth and they shunted him out. as for progressiveness i think if i give u straight answers devoid of religious sentiments,i too will be blocked/censored.Hopefully if u read ur history and not just listen to oral ramblings,things will become more clear for u. cherios.

  21. Paramgit says:

    Paramjit is the real bigot, always attacking Sikhs and Sikhism.

    A self-appointed crusader with a mission to tarnish Sikhs!

    He needs a indulge in a little introspection to clear himself of this hell-bent desire to slate of others.

  22. Paramgit says:

    Paramjit is the real bigot, always attacking Sikhs and Sikhism.

    A self-appointed crusader with a mission to tarnish Sikhs!

    He needs a indulge in a little introspection to clear himself of this hell-bent desire to slate of others.

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