And recent research suggests gender selection abortion is on the rise. Actionaid and Canada’s International Development Research Centre found in 2008 that in 4 of the 5 states surveyed – Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh – the proportion of girls to boys had fallen further. In some areas of Punjab, among high castes, the ratio of girls to boys was 300 to 1,000.
The reasons why boys are so longed for vary somewhat by region. In agricultural societies like Nandgaon, boys inherit the land. In urban India, a trend toward smaller families plays a part: Many couples who choose to have only one child want that child to be a boy.
Underlying the preference for sons is a belief that girls are liabilities who require protection and fat dowries. Though the practice of paying a husband and his family for marrying a girl was banned in 1961, dowry violence – when a woman is abused in her in-laws’ home for paying an insufficient price – is on the rise, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Even in families that do not pay dowries, and where girls may be well educated and lucratively employed, females tend to be viewed as burdensome because they are perceived as requiring more care and protection than men, says Puneet Bedi, an obstetrician and campaigner against female feticide based in New Delhi.