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Reproductive Technologies, Care Crisis and Inter-generational Relations in North India: Towards a Local Ethics of Care

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This paper reflects on the social consequences of biotechnological control of population for values and ethics of care within the family household in rural north India. Based on long-term ethnographic research, it illustrates the manner in which social practices intermingle with reproductive choices and new reproductive technologies, leading to a systematic elimination of female foetuses, and thus, imbalanced sex ratios. This technological fashioning of populations, the paper argues, has far-reaching consequences for the institutions of family, marriage and kinship in north India particularly in relation to care circulation within the family-household leading to a shifting local ethics of care.

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  1. The state took cognizance of this and enacted the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 to ban sex-selective diagnostic testing, but the practice remains widespread.

  2. As per 2011 census, the child sex ratio for India is 919 females per 1000 males, significantly higher than the figures for Haryana and Rajasthan.

  3. Parental perception of daughters as a ‘liability’ in India is tied to the burden of controlling her sexuality before marriage, arranging dowry for her marriage and the fact that even though parents will make investments in her upbringing, she will move to another household post marriage and will contribute productively to her marital and not natal home.

  4. All names are Pseudonyms.

  5. Courtyard shelters set up by the Indian Government, as part of its Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in 1975.

  6. ASHA stands for Accredited Social Health Activists. The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare defines ASHA workers as ‘health activist(s) in the community who will create awareness on health and its social determinants and mobilize the community towards local health planning and increased utilization and accountability of the existing health services’.

  7. PHC stands for Primary Health Centre which is the first contact point between rural populations and the medical officer.

  8. An excess of males in the prime marriageable group in comparison with the number of females in the same age group is referred to as male marriage squeeze.

  9. Even though marriage squeeze existed in earlier times, due to widely prevalent practice of female infanticide in Haryana and Rajasthan, customs of fraternal polyandry and accommodating involuntary bachelors in the family and aging parents into the married son’s household were some of the ways by which social reproduction and provision of care within the families was ensured (Kaur 2008; Gupta and Sarkar 2015), but the dominant trend now is towards monogamous marriages as a desirable model, and thus, questions of care provision assume centrality amidst these structural changes (see Chaudhary 2018; Mishra 2018 for details).

  10. Between 1951 and 2011, India’s elderly population (aged 60 and above) has increased from 361 million to 1.21 billion (Registrar General of India, SRS Statistical Report 2011).

  11. Conventionally, marriages in India are arranged over a small geographical radius keeping in mind conventional rules of matchmaking-caste endogamy, hypergamy and dowry exchange. In cross-region marriages, such rules are largely not a consideration.


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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Conference on ‘Reproduction, Demography and Cultural Anxieties in India and China in the 21st Century’, held at IIT, Delhi, in February 2020. The paper has benefitted from comments received at the conference. I am immensely grateful to both the anonymous reviewers for their critical inputs on the paper. I would also like to acknowledge the support provided by Research Assistants—Sonika Hudda, Tanya Sharma and Soniya Singh—for data collection in Rajasthan.


This research was supported by the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi, and the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi.

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Mishra, P. Reproductive Technologies, Care Crisis and Inter-generational Relations in North India: Towards a Local Ethics of Care. ABR 13, 91–109 (2021).

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