If Chandrababu Naidu looks to women mostly for child bearing, why should they oblige in their blighted state?

Its not just Andhra that needs special status but its women and girlsPTI/representational image
Voices Politics Saturday, June 25, 2016 - 13:58

Of all the statistics raining on the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu has eyed the fertility rate in the state as if an imminent demographic disaster looms, and proceeded to chastise the fraction of plentifully endowed Andhra adults for not reproducing enough. This while ignoring the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey, which has unleashed a torrent of statistics laying bare the last twenty years of paucity in governance of the state for all to see.

The newly cleaved Andhra Pradesh is the worst South Indian state in terms of female literacy, education, advancement and health, and significantly so.

This is not to say that Telangana is in real terms any better. Hyderabad does raise the bar a whole lot. A whole fifth of Telangana's population lives in Hyderabad and urban data minus Hyderabad is unavailable. At any rate, as the data across both AP and Telangana in the past two decades indicates, the laser precision focus of development has remained on Hyderabad, with systematic neglect of other regions, particularly rural areas. Within that, public education and health generally, and the situation of rural girls and women in particular, have suffered a significant attention deficit while brazenly illegal social ills rule the roost.

In all these observations though, it must be mentioned that undivided Andhra Pradesh was a larger governance ask than other states. It was not only the biggest state to govern in South India, it's demographic data was also relatively stark even two decades ago. That implies that it had a steeper climb across a longer trail compared to Tamil Nadu or Kerala, but that is not the full story either, since budgets, natural and human resources were also much higher for the state and its population density was and is far lower than Tamil Nadu.

When it is all squared away though, even as the most blighted state in the South, it is miles ahead of the North and ahead of the national average for these attributes.

Back to the South though, Karnataka has had some equally stark figures for certain attributes but has made better progress in those areas showing that it is possible. That brings it a full circle back to governance, it's focus and effectiveness.

As can be seen from the table, a little less than half of Andhra's rural women are illiterate and have never in their lives attended school. The percentage of literate rural women in AP is at a dismal 56%, which puts it a good 7% behind Karnataka and 15% behind Tamil Nadu.

While some of it can be explained by the fact that AP started with worse illiteracy, what augurs poorly is that the gap between male and female literacy is 17% in AP versus 13% in Tamil Nadu. This suggests a gender-biased development in the sense that it does not rotate enough to compensate for existing social bias against female education.

More than a third of rural Andhra girls get married before the legal marriageable age of 18. An unfortunate 35% of rural Andhra girls, and an equal number of Telangana girls suffer this fate, compared to half that in Tamil Nadu and 27% in Karnataka.

Indian weddings are not secret affairs and the fact that this involves over a third of rural weddings in Andhra speaks not only to social sanction of underage marriage, but also to lax law enforcement. It must be mentioned that this data pertains to women who just entered their twenties, and hence is particularly relevant to the last two decades of governance.

A linked, and damning, statistic is that about 13% of rural Andhra girl children between 15-19 years of age are pregnant or already mothers, again rivalling only Telangana. The number is about 6% for Tamil Nadu and 10% for Karnataka. This motherhood is almost entirely within marriage, according to the survey, casting a blot on successive governments that have done little to ameliorate social ills, and nothing to enforce the law on child marriage.

How can a state progress where over half the women have never attended school, more than a third are married off as children and more than a tenth become mothers before they finish school? Make no mistake, all states across India have a long way to go, some much longer than others. However, the development of rural Andhra girls and women is a critical, and indeed, emergency need for the state if it is to live up to its potential and the perception of its being a relatively developed state.

Are boys alone, “future assets of the nation”, as the Chief Minister recently said? For if he looks to women mostly for child bearing, why should they oblige in their blighted state?

While the CM is unable to shore up data to evince special status for Andhra Pradesh, the data on rural women in Andhra speaks loudly and casts an ugly shadow.  It is time to accord them special status and divert resources to realize their human potential and fix the gross asymmetry.

Tara works on Public Policy & Education and is passionate about Filter Coffee, Telugu Jaavalis, Caste, Race and Gender Politics. Her sunny hours are sold to Oracle Corp. She can be reached at @tarauk.

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