Many Western observers hope that India's growth as a global power will both balance China's rise and ensure that rise remains peaceful. Indeed, the U.S. has identified India as a crucial partner for the coming century, and as part of its effort to cultivate a strategic partnership with New Delhi, Washington has even pledged to help India develop its nuclear energy capabilities. But the continued disappearance of India's women and girls described in preliminary census figures released last week is putting the future of India's security partnership with the West at risk.
According to the census figures, the sex ratio of children ages 0-6 is now 914 girls per 1,000 boys, or 109.4 boys for every 100 girls. This sex ratio is the worst in the recorded history of the modern Indian state. In 1991, the 0-6 sex ratio was 934 girls to 1,000 boys, and when it further fell to 927 in the 2001 census, New Delhi launched a round of policy initiatives designed to turn the situation around.
Cradle baby schemes, where girl babies can be left anonymously at government buildings, were instituted in some states. In the north and northwest, where the worst sex ratios were found, state governments paid cash to families that chose to keep their girls and offered additional money if the girls were immunized, sent to school and not married off before age 18. In 2006, the first arrest was made of a doctor charged under anti-sex-selective abortion laws. Government officials have condemned the culling of daughters from the population, as have religious leaders. Some Sikh and Hindu priests have even administered oaths to their followers not to engage in this practice.