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The Gendered Biopolitics of Sex Selection in India

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After China, India has the most skewed sex ratio at birth. These two Asian countries account for about 90 to 95% of the estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million missing female births annually, worldwide, due to gender-biased (prenatal) sex selection. To understand this extreme discrimination against girls, this article examines the gendered biopolitics embedded in population policies, new sex selection technologies, and in the social reproduction of patriarchal society. The ethical consequences of advanced reproductive technologies, which remove the moral turpitude around gender-based sex selection by reformulating it into a “modern”, “scientific” endeavour, facilitating the rise of “missing girls”, make this an issue of gender justice, as noted by the World Population Report 2020. This article argues that unpacking gendered biopolitics within the household is crucial to understanding the reproduction of son preference and daughter aversion since it is here that reproduction and parenthood are subjected to biopolitical governance. We discuss how “biosocial” strategies of the household aimed at producing the “desired” and “right” family of more sons at the cost of daughters are operationalized through women’s bodies with a view to family mobility. While women and girls continue to bear the burden and costs of social reproduction that lie at the heart of the patriarchal capitalist system of accumulation, a perusal of more recent studies suggests the beginning of an equalizing trend of parental investments, especially in the health and education of daughters who are “allowed” to be born. We suggest that familial enhancement of girls’ human capital can help as a means of developing girls’ capabilities and agency, enhancing their power in the biopolitics of the family and increasing their “bio-value” in parents’ eyes.

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  1. See UNFPA (2014) for a map showing the geographical distribution of adverse sex ratios

  2. For review of financial incentives provided by the Indian state specifically to parents of girl children, see Sekher (2012). These include economic provisions for assisting with the birth, education and marriage (including religious ceremonies like Kanyadaan—gifting of a virgin daughter in marriage) of daughters

  3. Pande and Astone (2007) find that women’s education, particularly at secondary and higher levels, is consistently and significantly associated with weaker son preference, regardless of desired family size; thus stable middle classes where women have higher educational levels tend to discriminate less against the birth of daughters

  4. NFHS—National Family Health Survey carried out by the International Institute of Population Sciences

  5. Science Technology Engineering and Medicine; Gupta (2012) on increased enrolment of women in undergraduate engineering education


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We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. Their comments made us reorient the article and expand more on our key arguments.

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Both authors have contributed equally.

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Correspondence to Ravinder Kaur.

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Kaur, R., Kapoor, T. The Gendered Biopolitics of Sex Selection in India. ABR 13, 111–127 (2021).

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