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Daughters Are Precious

The killing of unborn girls, or female foeticide, is an alarming reality. Party to the crime are families, some unscrupulous doctors and a social structure that encourages the desire for a boy child – at any cost. The frightening result has been the snuffing out of the lives of more than three crore unborn girls since Independence.

This episode introduces us to women who have lived through the pain of this social reality, having fought to save their daughters. It examines how large-scale female foeticide is impacting young men in some regions of the country as they are finding it difficult to get marriage partners. It sheds light on the collusion of medical practitioners with those who wish to perpetuate the abhorrent practice, resulting in a system that allows sex determination and female foeticide to flourish even though the law expressly forbids both. It tells us what happens when two journalists expose this practice on a mass scale, chronicles some inspiring stories of change and points out what the average person can do to change it.

A mother’s grief

After marriage, the prospect of having a child is a nightmare for women who are pressurized to produce a boy under pain of rejection and torture. The concept of a loving mother who nurtures and forms the foundation of lives is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. In reality, the way mothers are treated is sometimes shocking.

Amisha Yagnik from Ahmedabad has an eight-year-old daughter, Kamya. Before eventually managing to save her daughter’s life, Amisha had to undergo the nightmare of abortion after abortion when her husband and in-laws forcibly had her tested – and did away with the foetus when it was found to be female. The first time it happened, Amisha was given an anaesthetic, and realized that her pregnancy had been terminated only when she awoke.When Amisha was expecting Kamya, she was at her maternal home; she stayed there until she gave birth. That allowed her daughter to escape being killed while in the womb.

It is important to note that the woman is usually blamed for the sex of the child; this is incorrect, because it is the man who is responsible for the baby’s gender, not the woman.

Parveen Khan of Morena, Madhya Pradesh, gave birth to her first child, a girl, and then had to undergo two abortions in the span of a year – and also a miscarriage. Her husband was so adamant in his desire for a boy that in his anger, he assaulted Parveen one afternoon and actually chewed up her face, resulting in grievous injuries and disfigurement.

A problem for all sections of society
Anywhere between three and five crore girls have been killed before even seeing the light of life. Contrary to popular belief, this happens among urban, educated sections as much as, if not more than, in rural areas.
Census figures show that in the year 2011, for every 1000 boys there were only 914 girls. Video testimony from people all over India show that people think female foeticide is predominantly a rural phenomenon, but in reality it is practised more widely in urban India. 

The story of Dr Mitu Khurana, is an example of the approach towards daughters in middle class, educated India. Mitu alleges that when she refused to undergo a sonography, she was tricked into one in the guise of a kidney test. and was then pressurised to abort the twin girls she was carrying.The testimony of Rambabu Bhatt shows that as per his research, people from all walks of life – from IAS officers to health department officials – condone female foeticide. Doctors and clinics offer package deals of sonography combined with abortion. At the other end of the spectrum, as Dr Shaili Agarwal explains, are Adivasi people who, she has found, don’t want to know the gender of the gestating child. They are happy with their children, of whichever gender. 

Bharati, a vegetable vendor who lives in Ahmedabad is a young mother who has a daughter. She wanted a girl, while her husband wanted a boy, but she says that he is now happy with their daughter. She says she is aware of sex determination tests and foeticide, but says that she would “never commit such a sin”. 

The social conspiracy

Why is there no widespread outrage against female foeticide? Society, the law and the official machinery turn a blind eye and those who try to find a solution are harassed and persecuted. 

Dr Puneet Bedi, a well-known gynaecologist, explains how female foeticide began to happen in the 1970s when the rise in population was seen as the root cause of the nation’s problems, and various efforts were on to curb the population explosion. The issue began in a government institution, with a paper published by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which postulated that people, in the desire for a male child, were producing daughters until they got a son, almost as if the girls were a by-product in the manufacture of the boy child. The proposal was that if girls could be eliminated before birth, people would have less children and this would be one solution to the population problem. Hence sex determination tests were offered in major hospitals, with government encouragement. When some activists raised an objection, the government stopped the facility being offered in public hospitals. But by then the damage had been done. People had come to know that pre-natal sex determination could be done, and the technicians and doctors who had been trained for this started offering it in the private sector to meet the demand. Initially amniocentesis was carried out to determine the gender of the foetus, but this was expensive and involved a high level of risk. When ultrasound technology came in, about 1990, it was a gold mine for doctors as testing became easier and faster. It ended up being a Rs 2,000-3,000 crore industry.

What is the solution for this? Dr Bedi suggests that some prominent doctors should immediately be made examples of, and punished so as to act as a deterrent. This has been done in Korea where in the ’90s, some selected prominent doctors were imprisoned and had their licences cancelled for female foeticide. This resulted in the practice being stopped, and eventually in correction of the sex ratio. In India there are an estimated 50,000 doctors involved in this practice, and it may be noted that there are a total of some 70,000 to 80,000 gynaecologists in all of India. But the Indian Medical Council has not cancelled the licence of even one doctor for female foeticide so far. In a way this is condoning the killing, and sending the message that female foeticide is not considered a crime.

Dr Rajendra Shukla, the advocate who represented Amisha Yagnik, says that during the bail hearing for Amisha’s husband and in-laws, the judge remarked in the open court that there was nothing wrong in desiring a male child, that everyone wants their bloodline to be continued. Shuklaji also said the judge pulled up the police officer who conducted the case, for being hasty in making the arrests.

Clearly, the crime is not taken seriously at all. Two journalists from Rajasthan tried to bring the issue into the open and expose the nexus behind it. Meena Sharma and Shripal Shaktawat carried out a sting operation on 140 doctors in 36 cities, revealing that female foeticide is available at the drop of a hat and on payment of package amounts, in an extremely organised way. But the result is that the exposed doctors are still practising, some have been promoted, and the journalists themselves have been facing continuous and severe harassment as well as the difficulty of travelling from place to place for the cases in different courts. 

Aamir Khan says that he is initiating a campaign to send a letter to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan asking for a fast-track court to collate and handle all the cases against Meena Sharma and Shripal Shaktawat. He invites people to join him in the campaign.

A world without women – the grim reality

A dearth of women due to female foeticide will result in them being traded like commodities. The horrible truth is that this is already happening.
When such pains are taken to produce only male children, what happens to those children when they grow up? A conversation with a group of young men from Haryana reveals the truth. They are all over 30, all unmarried, and are unable to find life partners because there simply are no girls. 

The situation is so dire that in the next 10 years, there will be 2 crore men who will be unable to find spouses. The end result is a marriage bazaar where women will be bartered and traded, and crimes against women will only grow and become more heinous. Does this sound like fiction?

Social worker Virendra Vidrohi from Alwar, Rajasthan, tells the story of his region’s “brides” – some 15,000 women who have been brought from places such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh because the men of Alwar district cannot find women in their own area. These women, who are from poor families, have been purchased, and Virendra ji says that 15,000 is not even an alarmingly large number as there are 1,900 villages and towns where this practice is carried out.

Anandbala Todarmal from Bhilwara adds that in her community of Jains too, the shortage of women due to female foeticide has resulted in brides being procured from other states. 

Karminder Kaur, who is a state protection officer from Haryana, highlights that the buying of women has led to a further degradation in their status and condition. Far from being treated like brides, they become commodities and are used by all the men in the household. Moreover, they cannot protest as they are told they will be thrown out and other women will be bought in their place. The other problem is that women from Haryana itself are extremely unsafe. Any woman who goes out of doors – be it for studies or to the workplace – faces the possibility of assault, kidnapping and rape from the men of Haryana. In such a grim scenario, it comes as a ray of hope that there are actually people who have managed to change the situation.
What can be done?

The law is in place but implementation is lacking. The solution lies in changing the system, changing official and social attitudes, and in taking individual action. Nawanshahr in Punjab is an example of how female foeticide can be stopped, and the sex ratio can be corrected by the sheer will of the people. In 2005, there were just 785 girls for every 1000 boys, and the new district deputy commissioner, Krishna Kumar, organised a seminar for doctors, midwives and educationists, to warn against female foeticide. Action was taken against transgressors, and a phone helpline was set up for expectant mothers. Through rallies, public meetings and street plays, awareness was generated and the sex ratio changed by 71 points from 2001 to 2011.

If Navanshehar can do it, the whole country can do it. The deaths of 10 lakh girls in the womb every year is not merely a statistic, it shows us a shameful facet of our thinking, and raises a very fundamental question about our sense of identity. 

It is possible for each one of us to do something, right now, to ensure that India does not become the mother of only boys, that India’s daughters are not denied the right to live. Satyamev Jayate will ask you a question every week, which you can answer by SMS. Each SMS costs Re 1, which is donated after tax to the charity Snehalaya

Today’s question is: Do you want the Rajasthan government to set up a fast-track court to process the cases arising from Meena Sharma and Shripal Shaktawat’s sting operation on doctors carrying out female foeticide? SMS Y or N, for Yes or No respectively, to 5782711.Change is possible, change is in our hands.

Watch full video of Female Foeticide here

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