Dr Mitu Khurana is a doctor. Her parents are also doctors and she comes from a respected, educated family. Dr Mitu Khurana has been fighting against the discrimination towards her daughters and harassment towards her by her in laws. Dr Mitu Khurana is perhaps the first woman in India to have filed a complaint under P.N.D.T Act against Her husband, in-laws and others who deceived her into the sex determination test.
Dr Mitu Khurana has been fighting for 8 years now. When Dr Mitu Khurana started her fight, perhaps she thought that there are women friendly laws, and women friendly courts… that our country and judiciary is doing so much to ensure a just society for the discriminated half of the society. Her struggle has been documented by various national and international media and is very much in public domain. Dr Mitu Khurana`s story coverage in media encouraged and will continue to encourage other women to come forward and say no to female feticide and save their daughters.
The amount of evidence which Dr Mitu Khurana had gathered may not be available to many other women who may try to take up the fight…. And still the courts deciding against her based on technical grounds will discourage any woman from coming forward.
Exactly a month ago, Dr Mitu Khurana lost a 11-year-old court battle. This gutsy mother of twin daughters was the first woman in India to file a case under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act – the great legal tool which is supposed to protect the lives of our unborn daughters. Her lengthy battle came to end in just five minutes when the Supreme Court dismissed it on a technicality.
Dr Khurana’s case is a well documented one and has been covered quite extensively by the Indian and foreign press. She is a doctor, married into a family of doctors, and more importantly – a strong and determined woman who never gave up. She had said that in 2005 when she was under heavy sedation, her in-laws had got an illegal sex determination test done in a high-end clinic in Jaipur. She had proof that this was an unregistered clinic and that the crucial Form F which records the woman’s consent to have an ultrasound had gone missing… all punishable offences under the PCPNDT Act.
And yet she lost.
Meanwhile in other parts of the country, sonographers or ultrasound specialists who do the very important task of scanning pregnant women to check fetal health, went on a one day strike in protest against what they called the draconian PCPNDT Act. They wanted the Act amended because they said they were being persecuted for trivial reasons like a clerical error.
“Look at the piles of paperwork to be done for every single scan,” said an exasperated sonologist at a conference on sex selective abortion. “If I slip on even a single one, I can get arrested and my ultrasound machine can be locked. I came into this field because I was interested in fetal health. Now I regret it. This was once the most popular specialisation for gynaecologists. Now the youngsters are afraid to get into this field.”
At the same time Sabu George who has spent several decades researching and fighting against this form of gender discrimination pointed out to a newspaper that the child sex ratio has dropped drastically in a state like Karnataka, which was once considered comparatively “safe”. This he said is mainly because of poor implementation of the law against sex selective abortion. Today the child sex ratio in Karnataka is 943 per 1,000 males as compared to 973 in the 2001 census. And in thriving Bengaluru, the capital city the ratio is a pathetic 916 to 1,000.
But there are also districts in Karnataka where there are more girls than boys in the 0-6 age group. Udupi with 1,094 girls to 1,000 boys tops the list. Others included in this star list are Dakshina Kannada (1,020), Kodagu (1,019), Hassan (1,010) Chickamagaluru (1,008) and Raichur (1,000). So, does this mean that the PCPNDT Act is enforced better in these districts, or is there something else? Something more intangible? A different mindset? A matrilineal tradition? No dowry?
So where does the problem lie?
By now it is a well-established fact that our daughters are disappearing not from the families of the poor and uneducated but from educated middle and upper middle class families who have access to illegal sex selection and abortion clinics. We all also know that the main culprit is our patriarchal society which has brainwashed several generations of families into believing women are commodities of trade in a marriage and a girl’s life is better snuffed out before she is born, lest she grow into an expensive and unaffordable member of the family.
I have been investigating female infanticide and sex selective abortion for over 20 years now. In 2005, I started researching my book Disappearing Daughters, on the alarming consequences of sex selective abortion. At that time, the worst hit states were Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat. The PCPNDT Act was already in force and these states had “save the girl child” programmes, yet girls were disappearing by the thousands. Today the virus has spread all over India as these maps (see right) indicate.
The persistence of India’s outlawed dowry system and the availability of illegal gender-testing has resulted in millions more boys than girls.
It is having a profound social impact — finding a wife has become so difficult, some are turning to traffickers.
“I never thought it would be this difficult for us to get married,” said 32-year-old Vikram Hooda, taking a break from working his family’s rice paddy in the northern Indian state of Haryana.
“The villagers make fun of us because we aren’t married,” said Vikram’s younger brother Prakash, 23.
“They don’t understand that there are so few girls here.”
The Hoodas are a family of five brothers. Only one is married.
“If you go by the statistics, the number of girls killed in India, by female foeticide, is much more than any genocide of this world,” Dr Mitu Khurana said.
Dr Khurana is raising twin daughters alone. She said her former husband tried to force her to abort one or both of them after an ultrasound was carried out, unbeknown to her, while she was in hospital suffering from food poisoning.
The Lancet suggests the gender disparity indicates the abortion of between 3.1 to 6 million female foetuses between 2001 and 2011.
The Quint: Decade-long war Against Female Foeticide Dismissed Within Minutes
A group of civil society bodies will launch an online campaign in support of a woman doctor, whose eight-year-old struggle for justice against “illegal sex determination” of her twin daughters, ended on a bleak note.
Mitu Khurana, 40, said to be the first woman in the country to file case against her husband and in-laws under the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC-PNDT), 1994, has exhausted her legal recourse after the Supreme Court recently dismissed her case.
“My in-laws had illegally determined the sex of the foetus, and after finding that I was carrying twin daughters, forced me to abort them,” she alleged.
“I fought this battle from the lower court to the Supreme Court. My fight was not just for myself but also for my daughters and for many women who continue to suffer harassment. Was it my fault that I fought back and struggled for justice,” she said.
A few representatives from different civil societies and women rights bodies today held a press conference here in the presence of Khurana, a physician, and appealed to people to support her cause.
“After losing in court, we would now go to peoples court. Some of the organisations fighting for womens right have decided to rally behind this cause and very soon we are going to launch an online campaign seeking justice for her,” President, Forum Against Corruption and Threats, Indu Prakah Singh told reporters.
Last Friday, after a hearing that barely lasted a few minutes, the Supreme Court dismissed Dr Mitu Khurana’s case. It was a bitter end to the Delhi resident’s eight-year-old battle against the doctors who allegedly conducted an ultrasound to illegally determine the sex of her twin daughters, apparently in collusion with her husband and in-laws.
Earlier, in April, the Delhi High Court had quashed the proceedings against the two accused doctors – Dr Harsh Mahajan of Mahajan Imaging, and Dr Nitin Seth, the radiologist who conducted the ultrasound – as it felt the case had exceeded the period of limitations of three years, a stipulation under criminal law.
Khurana’s case, activists said, is a huge setback to the women’s movement against the country’s rapidly declining sex ratio. At last count, according to the 2011 Census, the child sex ratio had declined from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys to 919 girls to 1,000 boys.
How it all started
Khurana’s story began in 2005 when, a year after marriage, she became pregnant. Her doctor husband Kamal Khurana and his relatives, she said, pressed her for an illegal sex determination examination, which she refused to do. They later tortured her and tried to force her to terminate her pregnancy, allegedly on finding out that she was carrying girls.
Sick with stomach pain and nausea – after she was allegedly fed cake with eggs, which she was allergic to – she was admitted to Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi. Here, she underwent an ultrasound examination – without her consent and while heavily sedated, she claimed.
In 2008, she found the ultrasound report and suspected it was actually a sex determination test. She filed a complaint with the National Commission for Women, the health minister and the appropriate authority under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. When no major action was taken, she filed a complaint before a magistrate.
When the magistrate court summoned the accused doctors in 2011, they, in turn, filed a case in the Delhi High Court.
Khurana – said to be the first Indian woman to sue her now former husband and his relatives under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994, that bans foetal gender determination – lost the case despite having documentary evidence against the doctors.
During the trial, Dr Mahajan admitted in an affidavit to running an ultrasound imaging centre without registration, in direct contravention of the 1994 law.
Government health authorities, too, backed Khurana. They said the imaging centre had failed to submit her Form F – mandatory under law to be filled by the pregnant woman undergoing such an ultrasound test – to them. Her form, in fact, had gone missing.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, which aimed at stopping female foeticide and arresting declining sex ratio in India by banning and penalising sex determination of unborn babies, is not being implemented effectively and there is a huge need to sensitise society on it, say experts.
“The act was brought in as a socially beneficial legislation, aimed at eradicating the persistent evil of sex-selective ultrasound tests but the proper and effective implementation of the law has run into rough weather for a variety of reasons,” advocate Indira Unninayar said in a press meet which stressed “how sex-determination test offenders are getting away with murder” here on Tuesday.
Unninayar, along with other activists and lawyers, drew attention to the glaring loopholes in implementation of the law, and how certain hospitals and ‘imaging centres’ exploit them to indulge in gross illegalities and enjoy impunity.
Referring to the case of Mitu Khurana, who has been fighting a courageous battle against her being deceived into having a sex-determination test, she said: “Both the government and prosecution are reluctant to, and/or have shown insufficient interest in ensuring that the law is enforced in both letter and spirit.”