Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted

Posted Nov 13, 2014 by Savvy Soumya Misra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on November 7, 2014, adopted a village in his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi under his flagship Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Of the many things he spoke, sex selective abortion was one[i]. Though Varanasi, at 913, has a better child sex ratio (children between 0-6 years of age) compared to national child sex ratio of 885 girls per 1000 boys, it is still a worrying number.

India is schizophrenic in treating its women. We are a country, which boasts of a range of goddesses or Devi, synonymous with Shakti, embodying the active energy and power of male deities[ii]. But that’s for the temples. On the streets it’s a different story – forget goddess, women are not even treated as humans. It starts much before the streets; it starts in the womb.

I was in Odisha a few months ago to look at the work being done by Oxfam India in collaboration with communities to fight violence against women. The women, about 15 of them, (and a couple of men) from a gram panchayat had gathered for a meeting at the panchayat hall. Issues were discussed, songs were sung and pledges taken to fight violence against women. In all the animated talk, one lady stood up and said “but what about what happens at the government and private hospitals.” Everyone nodded and agreed something should be done.

The government facility, being discussed, was about 15 kilometres away, from the village we were at. I probed and the lady explained.“The government facility is in a nexus with the private nursing homes. They violate the sex determination law”. This is how it works. A pregnant lady goes to the government facility for a check up, the family is informed of a possible option to go to a private nursing home. At the nursing home, the examination room has two framed pictures on the walls on either side of the examination table. On one side, is the picture of Ram (Indian God) and on the other wall is the picture of Durga (Indian Goddess). The medical practitioner checks the woman, in the presence of her husband and her in-laws.

Under the law, pre-natal sex determination has been banned in India since 1994. Keeping that in mind, the medic doesn’t spell out the sex of the child. Instead they just tip their head towards the pictures on the wall. If it’s a boy, she looks at the picture of Ram and if the foetus is female, she glances towards Durga. More often than not a glance towards Durga is followed by a subtle go-ahead to abort the child. The male foetus on the other hand is nurtured and welcomed into the world.

The figures speak for themselves. The national child sex ratio slipped from 919 in 2001 to 885 in 2011. So if the girl child makes it to the world, she has many more battles to fight. She is seen as a burden and the only investment parents make for a daughter is that of dowry and the investment begins from the day she is born. Any expenditure on health, education and economic independence, if any, is grudgingly co-incidental. That is not just the story of one panchayat in one state in India. Odisha just happens to be an example here.

In 2012, PM Narendra Modi who was the then chief minister of Gujarat had presided over the silver jubilee celebration of Goddess Umiya Temple at Unjha Taluka. Unjha Taluka had the lowest sex ratio in Gujarat (despite being the abode of Goddess Umiya) and CM Modi during his visit appealed to the Kadva Patidar community in Gujarat to stop the practice. This appeal led to the community taking a vow in the holy temple of abolishing it[iii]. It would be interesting to go back and see how the taluka has fared since. The child sex ratio in Gujarat is down from 964 in 2001 to 890 in 2011.

In his previous avatar, the PM had pioneered the Beti Bachao campaign in Gujarat in 2004-05. So this is clearly something that is close to his heart. As reported by India Today recently, the prime minister in his speech at the Jayapur village in Varanasi said,"If we kill the girl child in the mother's womb, then what will happen to the world. If only 800 girls are born against 1000 boys, then 200 boys will remain unmarried…”[iv].

His concern for the cause shows is appreciable although his words betray the deep set patriarchal attitude India has towards the role of women in Indian society – that of a wife and a mother. But that’s for another day.





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