Friday, May 4, 2007

Female foeticide: Unabated in modern India

by Pritha Roy Choudhury at www.merinews.com

FEMALE INFANTICIDE is one of the issues that is gaining much prominence from all quarters these days, but a recent report in one of the leading national dailies about a baby girl abandoned in a dustbin came as a shock…yet again.

One tends to question, what effect do the media awareness programmes and different initiatives taken by the government and non-government organizations really have? Are they really effective in bringing about any change in the outlook of the society? If not, where lies the loophole?

A baby girl tied in polythene bag and dumped in a public dustbin left to be torn away by wild stray dogs. An incident that took place nowhere else but in the very capital of our country.
To cite a couple of more examples, of many, the recovery of pieces of bones of newly born female fetuses from a hospital backyard in Ratlam district of Madhya Pradesh in February this year. And bodies of more than 100 fetuses found outside an abortion clinic in Pattran town in Punjab in August last year were both deplorable.

Case histories like these should make us think a hundred times before we call ourselves citizens of a developed progressive nation of the 21st century trying to live with the illusion that we are at par with the developed giants of the world. We have developed technologically, no doubt, but are we putting these technological developments in proper use?

Portable machines are taken to remote villages by motorcycle. As a consequence, infanticide has given way to foeticide. Reasons for selective abortions are many, from carrying the family name forward, lighting the funeral pyre to hoping for a male breadwinner in the family. But the reason, which tops the list, is dowry - a price paid by the parents to marry off their daughters.

“The laws are not being followed, I will say the agencies, the NGOs and the people are not at all aware on the issue. The root cause needs to be eliminated and that is the dowry system has to be done away with. Though Dowry Laws prevail, they are not being implemented properly,” said Manju S Hembrom, Member, National Commission for Women.

Dowry though illegal in India, but the law is almost universally ignored. For poor and middle class families it is a burden, which they are forced to bear.

“The police department specifically should be dealt with strictly and made corruption free. At times when the FIRs are filed by the girl’s family against her husband and in-laws for dowry related atrocities, the groom’s family manages to bribe the police and make an easy escape,” she added. A 2001 government census revealed that there were 795 women for every 1000 men in Punjab but the numbers were no better in the posh neighborhoods of South Delhi.

Despite a law banning sex selective abortion is in force for a decade, as many as half a million female foetuses are aborted each year in the country.

Hundreds of clinics in the lanes and by-lanes of the capital carry out sex determination tests illegally though a board outside the clinic reads “No Sex determination tests done here”. “The problem is that most of the clinics carry out such tests undercover. No one comes forward and complains in this regard. So until and unless the doctors stop adhering to such practices, things are not going to change,” Hembrom further added.

However, a handful of gynecologists, like Dr Archana Sinha who are into the mission of spreading awareness say they try every aspect to counsel each and every couple that comes for sex determination tests.

“There is a rise in awareness among people these days but there are many again who come to us for sex determination tests, we try all possible means to counsel them. Many understand but again there are people who insist and that is the time we have to warn them about the laws saying they might end up in jail. They do go back, but find out other means to abort their child. Most of the doctors are doing their best in this aspect, we might be able to see the outcome in the next 10 years,” said Dr Sinha.

According to Dr Nita Mathur, Reader, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU, India is a patriarchal society where there is preference for boys as they are considered a status symbol of the family. Another reason is that, a would be mother would like to have a kind of social security for her daughter, which is as good as non-existent in our country and due to that she prefers to go for abortion.

Dr Mathur advocates that only education or money does not necessarily bring about a change in the mindset of the society. It is the people particularly the men or the decision makers of a family who should be sensitized.

“It is men who have to be sensitized because in several families, it is men who take the decision. The education curriculum should be more gender sensitive,” said Dr Mathur.

Delhi ’s sex ratio began showing a sharp decline with the 1991 census figure of 827. The last two years have been the worst yet for the capital, with figures dropping steadily. A healthy ratio, according to world standards, is considered to be 952 females for every 1,000 males.

Gita Aravamudan's book on ‘Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide’ presents a chilling and in-depth account of the growing practice of female foeticide in the country.

The author has collected accounts of foeticide and infanticide from across the country. A midwife from a remote village in Tamil Nadu narrates how the practice has moved on from feeding paddy husk and poisoned milk to stifling the newborn with a cloth or a pillow.

According to the writer, though India has a history of skewed female sex ratio, what the country is witnessing today is the systematic extermination of the female child, with the ultrasound machine serving as an instrument of murder.

The book also makes it clear that if the macabre practice continues, it would spell doom for both sons and daughters and will have a disastrous impact on the future generations.

It is a shame that in a country like India where we worship ‘Shakti’ or the female form the very existence of the females is being threatened.

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