The hill state of Uttarakhand is largely the result of a struggle lead by women who fought for a separate state that was carved out of Uttar Pradesh on 9 November, 2000, just about 17 years ago and when we had just ‘celebrated’ the State Foundation Day, it would be pertinent to look at the prevailing status of women in the state.
It will be pertinent to look at the status of women in Uttarakhand as they have always been at the forefront of any struggle to secure people’s rights; be it fighting the colonial regime over their forest rights that ultimately culminated into the formation of van panchayats, the famous Chipko Movement, or anti-alcohol or anti-mining movements that continued till date.
Although considered as the backbone of the state’s economy, they are under heavy work pressure, especially in the hills, where besides taking care of almost all household chores, they fetch biomass, fuelwood and water and except ploughing, carry out almost all other farming activities, but don’t have the status of farmers and have little say in marketing the farm produce.
And, men plough the fields as the earth is considered a female and ploughing means making it fertile, so it is a taboo for women, since it the ‘sacred duty’ of men to make a woman fertile!
Hence, it is pertinent to look at the prevailing status of women, without whose struggle and sacrifice, the very existence of Uttarakhand wasn’t possible.
As per the figures of 2011 census, there were 963 women per 1,000 men in Uttarakhand, making it better that the all-India figure as gender ratio in the country was a low 939. But, when we look at the child gender ratio (below five), it was a shocking 908. Clearly, gender discrimination prevails in the length and breadth of this hill state and despite of the PNDT Act that had made the revelation of the foetus’s sex in an ultrasound test of a pregnant woman, this is observed more in breach than in strict observance and many unscrupulous doctors must be happy to reveal it for a few thousand rupees!
Even if we look at the overall gender ratio, it was highest in a hill district: Almora, where it was 1142, followed by Rudraprayag, where it was 1120, then 1103 in Pauri Garhwal. Except in Uttarkashi, where it was 959, it was well above 1,000 in all hill districts. In plain districts, the picture was reverse. In the capital, Dehradun, it was just 902 and in Haridwar, it was much worse, at 879. Even in two plain districts of Kumaon Division-in Nainital and Udham Singh Nagar, it was 933 and 919 respectively.
Why is it so? Is it because hill people love girl child and sustain them? After all, all laborious tasks are performed by women in the hills, so they must be valuing their daughters!
Or, is it because a very high degree of male out-migration both within and outside the state? To Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar and plain areas of Nainital within Uttarakhand and to cities like Delhi and Lucknow where most hill men rush to eke out a living, often doing menial jobs and daily-wage labours?
Instances like a recent incident in Panuanaula area in Almora district where a man was arrested for marrying off his minor daughter and widely prevailing incidents of female infanticides in Garhwal hill districts are enough to tell the tale!
How the hill men take care of their women is clear when we look at its Fertility Rate which was Fertility Rate of 3.6 in 2006, when the national figure was 2.7; meaning an average hill woman bears a child in her foetus 3.6 times in her life, facing avoidable risks every time she becomes a mother. Little wonder, Uttarakhand is cursed with a higher Maternal Mortality Ratio at 440 in 2006, which is significantly higher than the National average of 254.
This is the high time when we make women the torch-bearers of change again as we have just entered into the 18th year of its existence as a separate hill state of the country, as without women who have always fought to secure their rights over the natural resources like water, land and forest because their survival and livelihoods depend on the proper management and sustainable harvesting of these resources and the very establishment of this separate hill state, are still treated as a second class citizens, deserve a state of their dreams that’s still a far-cry.