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.