According to India’s 2011 census, the sex ratio in India was 943 women for every 1000 men. Yet a recent report by the United Nations reveals that the child sex ratio in India has declined from 927 girls for every 1000 boys in 2001, to 918 in 2011. Behind this statistic, the report points out, are the clinics and medical practitioners “directly mediating sex ratios at birth via sex selection.”
Historically, Indian couples tended to keep on having children until they had produced at least one son or two. In 1974, in an effort to slow down the growth of India’s rapidly booming population, Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences said that Indian women no longer needed to produce endless children until they bore the right number of sons. Instead, the institute encouraged the determination and elimination of female fetuses. Sex determination followed by abortion would at least dissuade couples from producing extra daughters. This stand might have been conducive to curbing accelerated population growth, but it certainly didn’t help the cause of saving female children.
In 1994, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act outlawed sex selective abortion. In 2003 it was amended to include sex selection even at the pre-conception stage. However, there are 40 000 registered ultrasound clinics in the country, and many more unregistered clinics. The skewed sex ratio may be due to an entrenched societal mindset, but the decisions to carry out sex screening and sex selective abortions lie in the hands of doctors, and those who staff the ultrasound facilities that carry out these lucrative practices.
The Mumbai High Court has ruled that authorities have the power to “seize and seal” ultrasound machines if they have been used for illegal sex determination tests. This is a start, but it is not the only answer. As medical technology progresses, ultrasounds have made way for non-invasive blood tests, which analyse cell free fetal DNA (cffDNA) in the mother’s blood to identify Y chromosome sequences and help determine fetal sex. This is possible during the first trimester of pregnancy.
India’s government could implement a policy similar to the seizing of ultrasound machinery for blood tests, but this is simply a short term punitive measure. Doctors and medical technicians themselves must realise the gravity of the situation, and refuse to carry out sex selective abortions and sex determination through any method.
Bollywood actor Aamir Khan discussed the tragedy on his television show, Satyamev Jayate, where it emerged that some doctors use a code to tell families whether the fetus is male or female. If it is a girl, they say “Jai Mata di” (“Hail the mother goddess”—a common greeting), and if it is a boy, the phrase is “Jai Shri Krishna” (“Hail Lord Krishna”). The illegality of sex selection is generally ignored, with the husband and his family able to make the decision on whether to abort the fetus if it is female.
This is clearly against medical ethics and women’s rights, but the culprit doctors are ultimately products of their society. Far from doctors setting a moral example, the UN report reveals that there are studies on the sex ratios of the children of medical doctors and gynaecologists, “whose skew makes it undeniable that they are guilty of practising sex selection for themselves.”
Appearing on the show Satyamev Jayate, Delhi based doctor Mitu Khurana recounted how she was harangued by her orthopaedic surgeon husband and parents in law to abort her twin girls after 20 weeks of conceiving.
IT’S A GIRL, a 2012 documentary movie on the gendercide and the widespread devaluation, abuse and neglect of women and girl’s in India, China and the rest of the world. Directed by Evan Grae Davis, this documentary is a compelling and shocking look at the war we have allowed to go on against women for so long.
On my regular hunt for new documentaries to watch, I came across It’s A Girl and knew I had to watch it. But I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The synopsis on IMBD for this documentary was indeed shocking but not in any way news to me, “every year in India and China, millions of babies are killed, neglected or abandoned simply because they are girls.” 1 in 4 girls in India don’t even make it till puberty.
However, before this film I had never heard of the word ‘Gendercide,’ which is mentioned in the documentary frequently. According to Wikipedia, “Gendercide is the systematic killing of members of a specific sex, in this case, women.”
It’s A Girl also highlights other cruel, shocking and dehumanizing issues including,
Female Infanticide- The deliberate killing of a newborn female child or the termination of a female fetus through abortion.
Dowry Death- The deaths of young women who are murdered or take their own life due to continuous harassment, abuse and torture from their husbands and in-laws in an effort to receive an increased dowry (money or property given from the daughters family to the her husbands in marriage.)
Sex Selective Abortion- Terminating a baby because of the predicted gender of the child.
Forced Abortion/ Forced Sterilization- Forced abortion is when a woman is forced against her will to terminate a child through threat, force, or coercion.
Child Trafficking- The selling or trading of children for the purpose of exploitation.
Abandonment- In this case, deserting or leaving female children because they are seen of a burden to a family.
Illegal Pregnancy- In China there is a one child law where it is illegal for parents to try and have more than one child. Many who only have girls wish to try for a boy.
I feel so connected to all women around the world, therefore it is very hard for me not to be deeply moved and angry listening to the stories of the women interviewed and the issues raised in this film. Seeing the blatant disregard for women and girls lives on the basis of gender, something you cannot decide, is completely shocking.
I remember reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, and reading about one of the women who prayed and asked Buddha to bring her back as a dog or an insect, anything but a woman. Even thinking of this now brings tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine how many women there are in the world who pray for this every day, how many mothers pray and wish for their unborn child not to be a girl so that they will not suffer in the ways that they have.
Despite the serious and shocking issues the film covers, it also manages to be very inspiring. I found Dr. Mitu Khurana to be particularly inspiring and powerful. From a “victim to a survivor” when she became pregnant with twins, her in-laws and her husband tortured her and bribed a doctor to perform an illegal ultrasound which revealed both twins were girls. They then tried to force her to get an abortion, but Dr. Khurana managed to escape back to her parents and give birth to her daughters. Now she fights for women’s rights and is making legal history in her brave attempts to strengthen the law which forbids gender testing. It’s hard not to be affected by her story.
The film also featured inspiring and passionate women’s rights activists, like Rita Banerji, founder of the 50 Million Missing Campaign and Reggie Littlejohn, President of the Womenʼs Rights Without Frontiers. Despite all the work that needs to be done in the world and the constant pain that is brought on women, it always makes me feel proud to have sisters like this in the world who dedicate their lives to making a better world for women. As Rita Banerji said, “everyone is involved” in this fight for women, as human beings, we are all connected.
A mother in India gives life to her twin daughters despite immense adversity
When Mitu Khurana found out she was carrying twins, she could have easily joined millions of other Indian women and gone for an illegal sex determination test to ensure they were sons. Daughters are a disaster for families in India, because when they grow up, they join their husbands family upon marriage and take with them years worth of income in the form of marriage dowry.
But Mitu was a pediatrician, and one of two daughters of her father, who had no sons. So maybe Mitu grew up with a different idea of the value of girls. Whatever the reason, when Mitu’s husband and parents-in-law insisted she get an illegal ultrasound to ensure she was carrying boys, Mitu refused.
Mitu was locked in a room for three days with no food. When she still did not relent, her husband and in-laws, who knew she was allergic to eggs, devised a plan. They gave her a cake, made with egg, and when Mitu became ill, took her to a nearby hospital. They convinced the doctor to perform an ultrasound under the guise of ensuring her kidneys were not damaged by the episode. The doctor delivered the news they were most afraid to hear: the twins were girls.
A violent campaign ensued to convince Mitu to abort the girls and try again for a son. Mitu held her ground. After an argument, her husband, in a rage, pushed Mitu down a flight of stairs. Mitu was then locked in a room, hurt and bleeding, in hopes she would miscarry.
En la mayoría de los medios de comunicación del mundo le dijeron que sus trabajos eran demasiado fuertes para ser publicados, pero son imagen de decenas de campañas de sensibilización para prevenir la violencia contra la mujer. Son los mismos medios que no dudan en convertir a una mujer en objeto de deseo a través de la prostitución y las publicidades sexistas que exhiben. Walter Astrada no es ajeno a la gente que lo rodea cuando derechos se vulneran. Y lo denuncia a través de sus fotografías.
Este fotógrafo argentino –que supo dar sus primeros pasos en el diario La Nación- ha recorrido numerosos países del mundo para retratar la violencia. Supo cómo acercarse a ella para describirla en crudo. Reconocido mundialmente y actualmente viviendo en España, no para de recorrer el país y distintos sitios del mundo, para exponer sus trabajos y brindar charlas y talleres. Antes eran sólo formación para fotógrafos, pero la propuesta incluye ahora también a periodistas.
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Abortos selectivos en India, a través del lente de Astrada
“Mi esposo me odia. Y él no quiere vivir conmigo. Quiere volver a casarse, porque él quiere tener hijos, que yo no le haya dado. Así que, según él, yo era una esposa inútil”.
Mitu Khurana esboza las palabras con dolor. Ella se negó a abortar a sus hijas gemelas, y describe crudamente la violencia y discriminación que las mujeres sufren en India, desde que nacen. Mitu pagó con torturas haber decidido tener a sus niñas. También fue abandonada por su esposo y su familia. Y es una de las pocas mujeres en India que presentó una queja formal en los Tribunales.
“En India las mujeres se enfrentan a la violencia desde que son niñas hasta que estén casi hasta morir”, lo resumió Astrada, quien realizó un impactante trabajo donde se sintetiza este sistema de expulsión y violencia. El aborto por razón de género no es legal en India, sin embargo se utilizan máquinas de ultrasonido, de manera clandestina, para determinar el sexo de un bebé en camino. El resultado, son 7.000 niñas abortadas cada día.
1. Tell us about your childhood in India. What was your relationship with your parents like? What did you think growing up, getting married and being a mother would be like?
I had a very happy childhood. I remember being told time and again by my parents that they wanted two daughters and that they had prayed for their wish to come true. So I and my sister were a dream come true for them.
My father always said to us, “You have brought luck into our lives.” In fact, someone asked my father recently about how he feels having just girls, and he responded, “I asked God for two daughters, and He has given me five daughters,” (my sister, my daughters,my sister`s daughter and me).
Never was I made to feel unwanted because I am a girl. My sister and I grew up in a totally sheltered atmosphere. We both did everything and anything that we wanted to. Never were we told that we couldn’t do something because we were girls. I studied to become a doctor.
I never knew that life for girls could be any different than the life I had. My sister and I were sheltered from the stark realities of life. All our needs were met even before we asked for them. The only thing my parents wanted from us was that we study well and complete our education before getting married. They had no other expectations of us. In our family, we all lived for each other. If one person was fasting on a particular day, the rest of the family would eat vegetarian food on that day.
2. You had a happy and loving childhood but things changed after you got married. Please share with us what happened with your dowry, the abuse and violence you faced, the harassment you faced to abort your daughters, and your in-law’s treatment of you and your daughters after they were born.
I guess the last time I was happy was on the day of my marriage. That day was an end to a carefree, sheltered and pampered life. It was the beginning of a struggle, one which would change me from an over-protected daughter to a fighter, from a pessimist to an optimist, from someone who always gave up to someone who learned to persevere through any situation.
Marriage was a turning point in my life which would expose me to the stark realities of life outside of my loving and supportive family:
• The reality that despite all our advances, women in our society continue to struggle. We struggle to be born, to live, to eat, to study, and even to live with self-respect. And the struggle is so often with those very people who are supposed to ensure these most basic rights.
• The reality that life is very different from what we all are led to believe.
• The stark reality that despite all the talk about the empowerment of women, it is a far-off dream. The reality that, really, no one cares or wants to do anything about it; everyone is happy with how things are, or, even if they are not happy, it is a “chalta hai” attitude which is running this country.
• The reality that there are laws, yet still justice is more often than not out of reach of common women.
• The reality that the very authorities who are mandated to enforce the so-called “women friendly” laws are not willing to enforce them.
• The reality that though laws are there, the implementing system itself makes it more of a harassment to fight abuse than to live with it.
• The reality that most of us have accepted abuse as our way of life, and we do not feel that we can do anything about it.
The day I stepped into my in-laws’ house, I felt unwelcome. After all the rituals, I was shown my room. It was on the top floor of the house. The bed and the minimal furniture which my parents had given in dowry were there. Other than that the room was essentially empty. It had not even been dusted. The mattresses still had their covers on. Thank God at least someone had bothered to cover them up with a torn old bed sheet. This was the room which greeted me, the new bride, into the home.
From the next day onwards taunts started appearing: taunts for insufficient dowry, for bringing an old used Santro (car) instead of a Honda city car, and for not getting a flat (apartment). I thought that things would change with time; they did change, but only for the worse.