Indian campaign confronts prevalence of female foeticide
UDAIPUR - Elsewhere, it would have been front page news: A couple on the run after being caught trying to bury their newborn baby girl alive.
But in India, where there are now 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, the case last week in Dausa, Rajasthan, warranted only 300 cursory words on an inside page. “Yet another incident of apathy towards the girl child”, said the Deccan Herald.
Call it apathy, call it attempted murder. The fact is, said Mr Zaheer Abbas, the Editor-in-Chief of the Udaipur Times, an online newspaper in southern Rajasthan, “most Indians are preoccupied with trying to eat two meals a day” – not fretting about how the country’s sex ratio has become the worst since independence in 1947.
Female foeticide has shot to prominence here, largely thanks to Satyamev Jayate, a hugely popular campaigning TV show fronted by Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan.
One episode was dedicated to the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses, focusing particularly on the western state of Rajasthan, which has one of the worst sex ratios in the country, having dropped to 883 girls per 1,000 boys last year, from 909 in 2001.
Within days of the programme airing, Rajasthan’s government sprang into action. Officials vowed to set up fast-track courts to punish those who practise sex-based abortion. They also cancelled the licences of six sonography centres and issued notices to 24 others for their suspected involvement in female foeticide.
A drive is also under way to install trackers at all sonography centres in the state within four months, which will allow inspectors to check how many female foetuses make it to birth and beyond.
These clinics are the battleground for campaigners fighting against sex-selective abortion.
Ms Pragnya Joshi, an expert on female foeticide from the department of women’s studies at Janardan Rai Nagar Rajasthan Vidyapeeth University, in Udaipur, said the dowry culture was primarily to blame for the ever-worsening gender ratio among children in the city and beyond.
Though prohibited by law since 1961, dowry is ingrained in Indian culture, she said. A traditional Hindu wedding blessing was “May God give you eight sons”, she said.
What Ms Joshi finds particularly alarming is that statistics show educated, urban women are more likely to abort a female foetus. “Literate women are becoming more prone to female foeticide,” she said, explaining that they could afford a scan and understand the advertisements for sonography clinics which urge: “Invest only 500 rupees (S$11.50) now and save your precious 50,000 rupees later.”
Ms Usha Choudhary, Programme Director of Vikalp (“Alternative”), a non-government organisation supported by ActionAid, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Oxfam, sees the contradiction of the low status of women in a country where two of the most powerful politicians – Ms Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party, and Ms Pratibha Patil, the country’s President – are female.
“Sometimes women say to us, why are you talking to us about women’s rights when our President is a woman?” she said. “I always tell them that two stars do not make light in India.” ~The Guardian