By Vivek Prakash
With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion on October 31, photographers in India have been on the move to tell stories that talk about what those numbers really mean in a country as large as India – with 1.2 billion people and counting, this is supposed to be the world’s largest democracy.
When you take a closer look at the statistics, you find some surprising and scary figures – the ratio of female children to males born actually declined here over the last 10 years – from 933 females for every thousand males in the 2001 census, to just 914 in 2011. The combination of cheap portable ultrasound technology and a decades-old preference for male babies — who are seen as breadwinners — has enabled sex-selective abortions and made worse female infanticide. In a place as wide and as vast as India, these are things that are hard to control, no matter how illegal.
We had been trying to find ways to illustrate this for some time without much success – getting access to tell this story had been taking some time. Late last month, a story about a small village in Gujarat was brought to my attention.
Journalists from the Thomson Reuters Foundation had visited Siyani, a small rural town of just 8,000 people (tiny by Indian standards) – where the social effect of such a low ratio of women meant that men were having a tough time finding brides. I set out to remote Gujarat to try and interpret this story with my camera.
A village elder told me that he estimated some 70% of the men there were unmarried. There were a variety of historical causes – lack of industrialization, an unwillingness to marry outside caste and regional lines – and most recently, a rapidly declining supply of brides. There are over 350 unmarried men over 35 – this a remarkable figure for rural India, where people marry very young – some as early as 15. There are hundreds more under 35, but there are so many that no one can confirm the numbers.