Why is there no widespread outrage against female foeticide? Society, the law and the official machinery turn a blind eye and those who try to find a solution are harassed and persecuted.
Dr Puneet Bedi, a well-known gynaecologist, explains how female foeticide began to happen in the 1970s when the rise in population was seen as the root cause of the nation’s problems, and various efforts were on to curb the population explosion. The issue began in a government institution, with a paper published by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which postulated that people, in the desire for a male child, were producing daughters until they got a son, almost as if the girls were a by-product in the manufacture of the boy child. The proposal was that if girls could be eliminated before birth, people would have less children and this would be one solution to the population problem. Hence sex determination tests were offered in major hospitals, with government encouragement. When some activists raised an objection, the government stopped the facility being offered in public hospitals. But by then the damage had been done. People had come to know that pre-natal sex determination could be done, and the technicians and doctors who had been trained for this started offering it in the private sector to meet the demand. Initially amniocentesis was carried out to determine the gender of the foetus, but this was expensive and involved a high level of risk. When ultrasound technology came in, about 1990, it was a gold mine for doctors as testing became easier and faster. It ended up being a Rs 2,000-3,000 crore industry.
What is the solution for this? Dr Bedi suggests that some prominent doctors should immediately be made examples of, and punished so as to act as a deterrent. This has been done in Korea where in the ’90s, some selected prominent doctors were imprisoned and had their licences cancelled for female foeticide. This resulted in the practice being stopped, and eventually in correction of the sex ratio. In India there are an estimated 50,000 doctors involved in this practice, and it may be noted that there are a total of some 70,000 to 80,000 gynaecologists in all of India. But the Indian Medical Council has not cancelled the licence of even one doctor for female foeticide so far. In a way this is condoning the killing, and sending the message that female foeticide is not considered a crime.
Dr Rajendra Shukla, the advocate who represented Amisha Yagnik, says that during the bail hearing for Amisha’s husband and in-laws, the judge remarked in the open court that there was nothing wrong in desiring a male child, that everyone wants their bloodline to be continued. Shuklaji also said the judge pulled up the police officer who conducted the case, for being hasty in making the arrests.
Clearly, the crime is not taken seriously at all. Two journalists from Rajasthan tried to bring the issue into the open and expose the nexus behind it. Meena Sharma and Shripal Shaktawat carried out a sting operation on 140 doctors in 36 cities, revealing that female foeticide is available at the drop of a hat and on payment of package amounts, in an extremely organised way. But the result is that the exposed doctors are still practising, some have been promoted, and the journalists themselves have been facing continuous and severe harassment as well as the difficulty of travelling from place to place for the cases in different courts.
Aamir Khan says that he is initiating a campaign to send a letter to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan asking for a fast-track court to collate and handle all the cases against Meena Sharma and Shripal Shaktawat. He invites people to join him in the campaign.