Female Foeticide-Haryana's Experience

Female Foeticide - Haryana's Experience
17 July, 2005 Manjeet Rathee
FEMALE infanticide has long existed in our society, especially in northern and western states like Punjab, Rajashtan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. But the point of concern is that in this modern age of 'development,' new technologies like ultrasound diagnostic methods are being used to identify the gender of the foetus in the women, leading to large-scale female foeticide. This kind of 'civilised' extermination of a particular sex and that too in the name of democratic 'choice' speaks volumes of the kind of values and human essence that is being created today in the global world of loberalisation. Both these practices of female foeticide and infanticide are the result of the deep-rooted son preference prevalent in most sections of our society today. This son preference is actually acquiring new dimensions and is being strengthened by certain economic and social processes underway today.
The situation is particularly bad in the agriculturally developed and high per capita income states of Haryana and Punjab which again puts a question mark on the path of growth and economic development that is being followed today. What kind of 'development' is this which is totally ignorant of all social indicators of growth and thrives on the negation of life for a particular section of the society?
Female foeticide in Haryana has not only led to an alarming fall in male-female sex ratio, it has added many cruel dimensions to the nature of violence and crime and is even causing great disturbances and imbalances at the family level and in inter-personal relationships. The situation has worsened sine 1991, particularly in the 0-6 age group. All districts in Haryana, except two, record a child sex ratio (CSR) of less than 850 girls to 1000 boys. Out of the bottom ten districts in India in CSR, Haryana alone accounts for 3, of them with Kurukshetra (the pious land of Mahabharata!) having the lowest - just 770 girls to 1000 boys.
Now what is the impact of this decline, especially on the status of women and on men-women relations? Common perception has it that if women are less in number than men, it would enhance their status as they will be much sought after by men. This is the facetious argument one comes across sometimes and has totally been believed in Haryana and other places. The experience of Haryana is a convincing counter to it in the sense that instead of increasing the demand for girls, it has led to manifold increase in violence and crime against them and made them more vulnerable in many ways.
The AIDWA unit in Haryana recently conducted a survey and came up with many shocking findings. The extremely adverse sex ratio in Haryana has made it very difficult for men to find brides locally. In almost every village one could find hundreds of boys/men who are not getting married at the suitable age due to lack of employment and little land left to sustain them. Suitable local brides becoming fewer in numbers, their families prefer to give them in marriage to the best suitor. But this has in no way led to any decrease in dowry demands or enhancement of the status of local women. Rather it has led to buying, selling and reselling of women, abduction of women and their sexual exploitation, marriages at a much younger age and implementation of very harsh 'control measures' to keep women in subservience and check.
Those who are not able to find wives locally buy them from other states with the help of 'brokers' who are thriving on this 'business', or even kidnap them in case they are unwilling to marry. Women brought from West Bengal, Bangladesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other parts through trafficking are being sold to men in these states. Many of these women from extremely poor backgrounds come in contact through migratory labour, through contractors or through people involved in transport business etc. As many of these 'bought up wives' have no proper marriage ceremonies or registration of their marriages, they have no legal status as wives. This renders them vulnerable to sexual exploitation by the husband's brothers, male relatives and other friends.
Besides, they have to face the worst kind of social isolation and cultural deprivation. The feeling of being an outsider or someone "other" in a land of natives haunts them like a nightmare throughout their lives and invites untold sufferings wherever they go and in whatever they do.
The status and position of such men who have to buy wives is also devalued in the sense that they become objects of laughter and disgrace and do not even get full property rights due to the social stigma attached to such marriages. There have been cases where some of these women are even kept in chains or under worst kind of restraints so that they do not run away. In certain other cases certain 'husbands' of bought up wives were forced to commit suicide because they could not pay the required amounts to 'brokers' or they had to face the humiliation of not getting married or their 'bought up' wives ran away from them for certain reasons.
Further, due to this decline in sex ratio, the trend of 'exchange' called "Atta Batta" meaning (a girl will be married in exchange of another girl for her brother) is on the increase in many of the communities, particularly Gujjars and others.
Another very disturbing trend is that most of the women, almost all of them in rural areas, in an attempt to have first male child, take all kind of medicines from quacks and local practitioners and this is leading to various deformities in the growth and formation of foetus of the child. For example in many cases, the head of the child is seen to be bigger than the normal child. In almost all the villages, the number of quacks and other such practitioners is on the increase and all kinds of superstitious beliefs, practices and exploitations are underway, making these women more and more vulnerable. This is seen in many cases that bride is sent to her parant's house during the first delivery and if it is a girl child, she is forced to go for abortion. This trauma plus the expenditure involved leads to all kinds of tensions within the family and of course the girls pay the heaviest cost.
In some other cases where the bride, due to certain physical or other reasons, doesn't go for abortion and gives birth to a female child, either she is not brought home by her in-laws or the female child is stealthily thrown away during night in the bushes or other isolated places. That is to say, invariably there is some 'trouble' or the other, the worst kind of physical and mental torture in case of birth of a female child, and the mother invariably has to undergo a horrendous experience.
With the decline in sex ratio the parents of even the educated families prefer to marry their daughters at an early age for the reason that it is difficult to find highly educated boys at a later stage and the girls are not safe and secure in the society. So the earlier they are 'disposed off', the better it is. What is the government doing?
After getting discredited throughout the country for this decline, the Haryana government has in the past few years made some limited attempts at the level of awareness, has brought out some posters, issued instructions at various levels, and constituted state and district level committees. But looking at the magnitude of the problem, the government certainly falls short of the political will that it requires to tackle the whole issue and make effective interventions in this area. For instance, the appropriate state and district level authorities and monitoring bodies have been formed under the PNDT Act but there is hardly any representative from women's organisations who have been genuinely working on this issue for a long time.
Further, the role of the committees is mainly limited to cancellation of the registrations of various nursing homes and clinics violating the act and there has been negligibly few punitive actions against the erring doctors like prosecution and arrests. On the other hand, one can find strong lobbies of the medical profession who have repeatedly used their influence to ensure that criminal cases are not filed against the doctors violating the act.
The government has also issued instructions for oath taking against dowry and female foeticide in schools, college, anganwadis and other departments but that is reduced to a mere formality. Moreover, looking at the content of the oath and posters etc, it is the mothers who are always appealed to as if they alone are responsible for the heinous crime.
It is true that doctors are not doing the tests openly due to the PNDT act and some limited efforts on part of the government, but there is enough evidence that the abortion tests are being conducted in an underground manner in many of the clinics, with much more caution, and a kind of code words or code language has been developed to convey the right messages. Surprisingly, not only the doctors but the whole laboratory staff is involved in this 'decoding' business and making money in the process. In many areas the tests are being conducted at the residential places of the doctors; mobile vans are still in use to cover the far-off rural areas. All in all, it requires far more serious efforts on part of the government to implement the act in letter and spirit and at the same time to create an environment where young girls and women can play their social, economic and political roles without fear and favour.
The AIDWA is the only women's organisation working in Haryana against this most cruel form of discrimination at various levels since the 1980s onward. We have been, to some extent, successful in bringing into focus the exploitation and devaluation of women linked to the structural, social and political levels. We were the first to launch a massive campaign against female foeticide in the late 1980s. We wrote letters to various Haryana MLAs and the then chief minister of Haryana, targeted certain clinics who were conducting these tests openly, held awareness meetings at mohalla levels, held district and state level seminars, attended various meetings of the women cells on this issue as resources persons. We were also invited as consultants by the state government during the formation of the law against foeticide.
Apart from this, the AIDWA also carried out a campaign against dowry, which is the main reason behind the sex selective abortions, conducted a survey in this regard and formed joint platforms to fight against the menace of dowry and its expanding dimensions. In our campaigns, we focus on simple marriages with very little expenditures, we are against dowry display, we appreciate and honour families with girl children, make all efforts for girls to come out in social roles and assert for their rights. In one of the districts (Rohtak), we were successful in getting included one of our representatives in appropriate district authority and are trying for our representation in the state authority as well.
The AIDWA is also trying to identify various discriminatory areas at the level of rituals and socio-cultural ceremonies like marriage, death, birth, etc. where male child's presence is considered a necessity. It is in the process of collecting songs, sayings, proverbs etc. where girls are seen as a liability or a burden or are portrayed in an inferior light, and trying to replace them with a positive image for girls. We are also fighting against the demeaning portrayal of women in media - in films, serials, posters etc --- where they are either commodified or shown in stereotyped roles. We feel that any campaign against female foeticide will have to include all these areas since it is basically linked to equal status of women and their recognition as independent citizens of society.