Much of the discussion on the latest set of data released by the Census of India is focused on the deteriorating sex ratio among children below the age of 6—it fell from 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 919 in 2011—and how this suggests female foeticide/infanticide is getting worse. Though this could well be true, the trend is in sharp contrast to the sex ratio at birth data brought out by the same Registrar General of India’s office—this rose from 898 in 1999 to 905 in 2009, and the rise was also seen in states traditionally seen as ones discriminating against women. In which case, the issue may not be one of foeticide but may have more to do with health parameters for the girl child. In any case, in terms of the overall sex ratio for the entire population, the figure has improved due to a rise in female longevity.
Most other parameters, happily, suggest inclusive growth—almost everyone is doing better, and the minorities are catching up. That this happened when GDP growth rose, from an average of 5.7% per year in the 1990s to 7.8% in the 2000s, does suggest a correlation, but even if you dismiss this, it’s difficult to argue as many in the government constantly do, that economic growth has come at the expense of social inclusion. In the cases of houses, the proportion of houses with concrete roofs has risen from 19.8% in 2001 to 29% in 2011; for SCs, this rose from 13.14% to 21.93% while for STs it rose from just 6.12% to an equally low 10.11%. While the number of Indians with access to electricity rose from 55.9% in 2001 to 67.3% in 2011, it rose from 44.32% to 59.02% for SCs, and from 36.51% to 51.7% in the case of STs. In the case of telephones, thanks to mobile phones mainly, it rose from 9.1% to 63.2% for all Indians, from 3.47% to 53.14% for SCs and from 2.51% to 34.82% for STs.
Literacy levels, similarly, continue to grow, as much a result of government spending more on education as of the fact that rising salary levels have seen a dramatic increase in private spending—including among the poor—on education. The continuing low female worker participation rates—roughly half those for men—continues to be a puzzle even though the argument made is that this is a result of a lot more girls being in school today. In terms of overall worker statistics, the fact that 55% of the work force continues to be agricultural and around a fourth has been working in a job for less than 6 months suggests the challenge of fixing labour and other laws—which make it easier to set up businesses—remains a big one.