Daughters Are Precious
The killing of unborn girls, or female foeticide, is an alarming reality. Party to the crime are families, some unscrupulous doctors and a social structure that encourages the desire for a boy child – at any cost. The frightening result has been the snuffing out of the lives of more than three crore unborn girls since Independence.
This episode introduces us to women who have lived through the pain of this social reality, having fought to save their daughters. It examines how large-scale female foeticide is impacting young men in some regions of the country as they are finding it difficult to get marriage partners. It sheds light on the collusion of medical practitioners with those who wish to perpetuate the abhorrent practice, resulting in a system that allows sex determination and female foeticide to flourish even though the law expressly forbids both. It tells us what happens when two journalists expose this practice on a mass scale, chronicles some inspiring stories of change and points out what the average person can do to change it.
A mother’s grief
After marriage, the prospect of having a child is a nightmare for women who are pressurized to produce a boy under pain of rejection and torture.
The concept of a loving mother who nurtures and forms the foundation of lives is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. In reality, the way mothers are treated is sometimes shocking.
Amisha Yagnik from Ahmedabad has an eight-year-old daughter, Kamya. Before eventually managing to save her daughter’s life, Amisha had to undergo the nightmare of abortion after abortion when her husband and in-laws forcibly had her tested – and did away with the foetus when it was found to be female. The first time it happened, Amisha was given an anaesthetic, and realized that her pregnancy had been terminated only when she awoke.
When Amisha was expecting Kamya, she was at her maternal home; she stayed there until she gave birth. That allowed her daughter to escape being killed while in the womb.
It is important to note that the woman is usually blamed for the sex of the child; this is incorrect, because it is the man who is responsible for the baby’s gender, not the woman.
Parveen Khan of Morena, Madhya Pradesh, gave birth to her first child, a girl, and then had to undergo two abortions in the span of a year – and also a miscarriage. Her husband was so adamant in his desire for a boy that in his anger, he assaulted Parveen one afternoon and actually chewed up her face, resulting in grievous injuries and disfigurement.
A problem for all sections of society
Anywhere between three and five crore girls have been killed before even seeing the light of life. Contrary to popular belief, this happens among urban, educated sections as much as, if not more than, in rural areas.
Census figures show that in the year 2011, for every 1000 boys there were only 914 girls.
Video testimony from people all over India show that people think female foeticide is predominantly a rural phenomenon, but in reality it is practised more widely in urban India.
The story of Dr Mitu Khurana, is an example of the approach towards daughters in middle class, educated India. Mitu alleges that when she refused to undergo a sonography, she was tricked into one in the guise of a kidney test. and was then pressurised to abort the twin girls she was carrying.
The testimony of Rambabu Bhatt shows that as per his research, people from all walks of life – from IAS officers to health department officials – condone female foeticide. Doctors and clinics offer package deals of sonography combined with abortion. At the other end of the spectrum, as Dr Shaili Agarwal explains, are Adivasi people who, she has found, don’t want to know the gender of the gestating child. They are happy with their children, of whichever gender.
Bharati, a vegetable vendor who lives in Ahmedabad is a young mother who has a daughter. She wanted a girl, while her husband wanted a boy, but she says that he is now happy with their daughter. She says she is aware of sex determination tests and foeticide, but says that she would “never commit such a sin”.