May 102012
 

My column in today’s Lokmat

The biggest open secret inIndia was her disappearing daughters. As prosperity has increased, family size has reduced, and advances in medical techniques have led to families choosing only to have a boy, by terminating pregnancy when a girl child is conceived. The Government has banned sex selection tests through the PNDT Act, but as a people Indians  know how to get around or even break most laws. The very well to do take flights outside India to avail of end to end services that help them break the law, while the not so well to do go to shady fly by night operators and pay a premium to get the same done.   The end result is the same. Selection of boys over girls. Aamir Khan’s show “Satyameva Jayate” did something exceptional for a television show.  It got people across the nation to talk about the issue of female foeticide. The issue for the first time moved away from AC studios and news anchors to home and the neighbourhood.

Over the decades the sex ratio has been falling drastically. In the 1991 census there were 945 girls per 1000 boy in the 0-6 age group. A decade later in 2001, this figure dropped to 927 per 1000 boys. And in 2011, in a more prosperous, more educatedIndiathat figure has fallen even further – there are 914 girls per 1000 boys. What is even more appalling is that in cities likeDelhiand Mumbai the child sex ratio is worse. InDelhiit is 866 girls, Mumbai City 874 girls and Mumbai suburbs 910 girls to a 1000 boys. The rapidly dropping sex ratio on a decadal basis reflects one very stark truth about Indian Society. The girl child is unwanted. And, this holds true across the board, across communities and across socio economic groups. Maharashtrais no different. From an average of 913 girls per 1000 boys in 2001, the child sex ratio inMaharashtrahas dipped to 883. Thirty girls per every 1000 boys are missing.

When the census figure came out last year, the first reaction was disbelief. This cannot be happening inMaharashtra, there must have been a mistake, were the murmurs amongst ordinary citizens. The second reaction was denial – the drop in child sex ratio cannot be done by us, it must be ‘outsiders’. But, the truth is quite different. While cities like Mumbai and Pune that attract immigrants have seen a decline in Child sex ratio, the story is worse in smaller districts across the state. The worst impacted are districts like Beed (a drop from 894 to 801, 91 missing girls), Buldana (a drop from 908 to 842 – 66 missing girls), Washim ( from 918 to 859, 59 missing girls), Hingoli ( 927 to 868, a gap of 59). Everyone of the 35 districts in Maharashtra, barring Chandrapur, Satara, Sangli andKolhapur, saw a decline from the 2001 figures. But all these remained statistics until one event. Last year saw the discovery of female foetuses dumped in drain. That became the tipping point for multi pronged action against those who are adding to the problem of female foeticide.

 

In its attempt to redress the balance and save the girl child the Maharashtra Government has used a plethora of tools – from the legal to the technological, from the social to the financial. At the first level, the Government has strengthened legal and penal action against sonography clinics across the state. Most of us have been seeing and reading about increased action against these clinics, that help detect the sex of the foetus. The State has also gone after mobile sonography units that are mostly used for carrying out sex determination tests that precede female foeticide. The Aamchi Mulgi (our daughter) scheme launched by the CM Prithviraj Chavan set up a special help toll free help line to complain against such actions and offered a financial reward if information can prevent females being killed in the womb.

Also used to curb female foeticide is technology. The silent observer is a tracking device on ultra sound machines that logs activity. The idea behind this is to deter the medical practise from breaking the law and indulging in selective sex abortions. The technology allows recording of every activity done on a sonography machine and be used as evidence if needed. While it is possible to tamper with any technology – the fact remains that  has just become that much more difficult. There will always be people who break the law. There will be always be people who try and get around the system. But, it is important for law abiding citizens to know that the law exists and the State and the system is trying its best to do something about a very serious social issue.

 

The second is unprecedented cross party agreement and cooperation on ending this practise and redressing the gender ratio. We normally focus on isses where politicians are at each others throats to prove a point, but seldom do we see and hear those issues in which they work together for a greater good. Politicians like Sharad .Pawar who has one daughter in an era when large families were the norm, have led the way in showing that families with traditional values need not discriminate against the girl child. The state has brought in celebrities  like Ajay Devgn and Kajol, Sachin & Supriya Pilgaonkar who parents of daughters, to spread the message against female foeticide. Also the State has introduced a number of financial initiatives. But, most of these are for extremely poor families. The issue is not just about poor families, but families across social classes.

The State of Maharashtra, like all other states inIndia, is trying its utmost to save the girl child. But, it is not just about the State. When a person or people decide to break the law, there is very little the State can do, apart from catch them. But, that is too late to save the girl child. For every girl child that is killed there are atleast a dozen or more people involved. The family, doctors, technicians, nurses, support staff. How many people will you put in prison? The change has to come at the individual level. The State can at best be an enabler, but for true gender equality family and society has to try that bit harder.

 

May 062012
 

 

After almost 3.5 years I turned on my parents’ TV set today to watch Aamir Khan’s show Satyameva Jayate. I must confess upfront that i am not an Aamir fan – i find his films terribly self indulgent, I find his projected persona very tiresome & self righteous. I far preferred the fun Aamir Khan from the QSQT and Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar days. Its almost as though something has sucked away all the fun and spontaneity out of him, and left us with this pontificating figure.

Having said that, i was curious about Satyameva Jayate, especially given that industry at large was scratching its collective head at both the timing (11 am on a Sunday Morning) and the content (serious, chat show, with no embellishment. Real people, real clothes, little make up – a show that puts the real back in reality). Many I spoke to, some as late as yesterday evening, were not sure if the show will be accepted by the audience.

Today’s episodes was on the desire for a male child and the accepted, though illegal,  practise of female foeticide. It is one thing knowing the data. It is quite another hearing a woman talk about her in-laws who forced her to abort 6 foetuses because they were female. It is one thing to know about a woman being hit, it is quite another to see the scarred face in extreme close up as well as pictures that showed the face when it was all stitched up. The woman’s crime – giving birth to a girl. The show also took head on the myth that female foeticide is rife in villages. It is not. It is practised just as much amongst my neighbours as yours. Statistics show that the richer localities have fewer daughters than the poorer ones. A clip during the show revealed the prevalence of an organised cartel in Rajasthan that provided end to end service in female foeticide. But it was not just about the doom and gloom – it talked about how one DC of Navashehar in Punjab reversed the trend. Solutions are important. Problems are known but is it all beyond hope? no. and that is what is refreshing about this show.

Nothing presented in the show was new. What was new, however, was the approach. First person accounts of brutality suffered or loss endured are infinitely more powerful than experts in studios pontificating. Our journalists should take a leaf out of Aamir’s interviewing style – let the other person talk. The stories were heart breaking. Yet, the courage of these women was totally inspiring. There was nary a trace of self pity or negativity. these are women who give me hope and courage. Sometimes it takes a celebrity to drive a point home. Just as it took Amitabh Bachchan to drive home the point of giving kids polio drops.

The other thing that was very interesting was the treatment, starting with the  nature of the Set.  This is not a chrome and steel, post modern set with sharp edges. It is an old fashioned set in comfortable, non obtrusive  colours and with soft curves. Aamir is apart from the audience and yet is a part of it. The use of space and spatial distances – either by default or design – is very well done. Also interesting was the way it was shot and edited. No jerky camera movement, no ramped up shots. No extreme close ups. The technique was almost old fashioned. No jumping cameras, no racing trollys, no jimmy gibs, clean shots, clean edits… soft dissolves. a hark back to older, maybe nicer values.

This show is setting an agenda by using three things – a) Star value of Aamir Khan b) Star value of Star TV to reach an urban and semi urban household via satellite and cable, and finally c) Doordarshan for reaching households that don’t get satellite and cable. Hopefully a substantial chunk of the audience would be covered. For those of us who consume news on a regular basis most of the revelations are passe. but most of India does not consume news. At the height of the Anna movement last year, news consumption peaked at 11% of the total audience. While people may be aware that there is female foeticide in their family or neighbourhood – the stories don’t really hit home.

What is the reaction to the show? At home rapt attention. Friends of mine have liked it. many I know have spent their Sunday morning watching TV after almost a decade or so.  On twitter, a whole bunch liked the show. In fact most on my time line did. Then there were the moaners, those who wondered about the cost per 10 seconds and Aamir’s fees and the cost of production … not any issue with the show perse … am not even sure if they watched – but issues with the motivations of others.  Yet others were asking questions about Aamir’s religion and secularism . (yeah, there are those kinds as well). Reminds me a bit of the old Hans Christian Anderson Story of the Snow Queen - people who have a splinter of the mirror stuck in their heart and can only see an ugly world. But, hey it is a free country – and people are entitled to their misery and cynicism. And i am entitled to turn away from them and look at the sunshine streaming onto my face.

I am glad that Aamir Khan  has decided to produce & anchor a show like this. Am glad that the number one channel in this country has decided to move away from high pitched drama into sombre programming. I am grateful that it runs on Doordarshan. It has been a long time since Indian Broadcasting worked in the public interest – i hope that this marks the point at which the which an adoloscent industry goes towards adulthood by not just creating content aimed at titilating the lowest common denominator, but also at bringing the lowest common denominator a notch higher

And finally, Ram Sampath & Swanand Kirkire – o ri chiraya

Jul 312006
 

I think that the Government has hit the nail on the head in asking religious leaders to intercede in stemming [tag]female foeticide[/tag].

The union ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has written to Sri Sri Ravishankar, Mata Amritanandmayi, Dinkar, Asaram Bapu and even popular yoga guru Baba Ramdev to spearhead a campaign to save the girl child. The MWCD has also sought help from Radhasoamy Satsang, Nirankari Gurukul and Churches of North and South India. “Since religious gurus have a huge following, a campaign by them will surely help people change their mindset about having daughters,

In a country ruled by various forms of orthodoxy -? and a general dislike of obeying the law, the concept of committing a sin may deter people more than the concept of committing a crime. And it is about time religious leaders looked beyond their religious texts and preached about living life as good citizens – following the [tag]rule of law[/tag]

Apr 042006
 

…. believe it or not, is a Hindi film from the 1960′s (or was it the late 50′s). A channel that i had consulted for had it as part of their library, and that is the first time ever that i had heard of the film. But, obviously for the guys who set the curriculum and write the text books in Rajasthan, the film has some sort of sacred symbolism. This from the ToI

"A donkey is like a housewife. It has to toil all day and, like her, may even have to give up food and water. In fact, the donkey is a shade better, for while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off to her parents’ home, you’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master,"

Ouch! incidentally Rajasthan ranks 5th in the country in terms of violence against women. Well, maybe to reach the top of the table – they should start such lessons at a slightly lower class! Charu in the mean time has looked at the other side of this kind of socialisation- a skewed (and screwed) male female ratio – caused by female foeticide. With female population in some villages (co-incidentally in the state of Rajasthan) dipping as low as 50% of the male population, families only get their daughters married if her prospective husband has a sister who can marry the son!. And dowry of course is disappearing. I can almost hear a chorus saying – man, this is the ultimate proof of the efficacy of the free market, as supply decreases – value increases!! And, the market? rectifies it self. And, i suppose that too is a point of view. Finally, i guess that in a societyfemale foeticide is the norm and not the exception, and where both urban and rural societies, north and south india are united in their preference not to have a girl child – there needs to be some sort of mass social reformation movement to ensure that balance is restored.