Many doctors, including the Indian Medical Association, dispute the findings of the report, saying that the number of female feticides is closer to 250,000 per year. They note that the data sample used by The Lancet study precedes a 2001 Supreme Court decision outlawing the use of ultrasounds to check for girls. But activists note that the law is largely unenforced.
"If there were half a million feticides a year," S.C. Gulati of the Delhi Institute of Economic Growth told the Indian news channel IBN, "the sex ratio would have been very skewed indeed."
Yet the sex ratio is skewed. According to the official Indian Census of 2001, there were 927 girl babies for every 1,000 boy babies, nationwide. The problem is worst in the northwestern states of Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, and Gujarat, where the ratio is less than 900 girls for every 1,000 boys.
Against common expectations, female feticide is not a crime of India's backward masses. Instead, it is most common among India's elite, who can afford multiple trips to an ultrasound clinic, and the hushed-up abortion of an unwanted girl. In the prosperous farming district of Kurukshetra, for instance, there are only 770 girl babies for every 1,000 boys. In the high-rent Southwest neighborhoods of New Delhi, the number of girl babies is 845 per 1,000 boys.
Some activists say it is wrong to blame Indian society for the incidents of female feticide. The main cause for the "girl deficit," they say, is the arrival of ultrasound technology, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Indian doctors.
"This is not a cultural thing," says Donna Fernandez, director of Vimochana, a women's rights group based in Bangalore. "This is much more of an economic and political issue. It has got a lot to do with the globalization of technology. It's about the commodification of choices."