THE Census 2001 highlighted the drastic decline in the male-female child sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males in the population) in several states in north and west India, and the continued decline in major southern states. This is particularly so in 0-6 age group, in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. In Punjab in this age group the figure is 793 girls per 1,000 boys; in Haryana it is 820; whereas in Rohtak it is 796.
THE Census 2001 highlighted the drastic decline in the male-female child sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males in the population) in several states in north and west India, and the continued decline in major southern states. This is particularly so in 0-6 age group, in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. In Punjab in this age group the figure is 793 girls per 1,000 boys; in Haryana it is 820; whereas in Rohtak it is 796. This should not be looked upon as something natural, nor has it happened suddenly. It is a problem of growing magnitude and needs to be understood in all its social and cultural implications.
During the last ten years, more than one crore girls have disappeared from our population? Where have they gone? The stark truth is that they have simply been killed in the most cowardly manner, before they could even open their eyes on this world. The violence behind this kind of barbarism goes totally unnoticed.
Recent stories show that eliminating girl children, whether before or after birth, is part of a pattern of violence that is linked to development paradigms that devalue women’s economic status. Consumerism has generated a set of values that encourage ostentation and create acceptance of the "get rich quick anyhow" syndrome. Combined with age-old patriarchy this leads to open extortion in the form of dowry and other related lifelong expenditures that make the woman appear a burden.
SEX SELECTIVE ABORTIONS
In such a social context, the recent technological developments in medical practice combined with a vigorous pursuit of growth of the private health sector, have led to the mushrooming of a variety of sex-selective services. This has happened not only in urban areas, but deep within rural countryside also - areas where the other dimensions of healthcare and development are yet to penetrate. Indeed the indications are that given these lethal combinations the phenomenon of sex selective abortions is growing nationwide and no state, not even Kerala, is exempt from this trend.
Furthermore, these discriminatory services are being provided and projected in the name of "democratic choice", as a measure of "upliftment" of women, since they are being saved from dowry deaths, burning and other forms of torture and violence which they would have undergone once they were born.
This pure greed for money is also equated, by a large section of doctors to "people’s demand". This needs to be contended very seriously since it is a unique form of violence which is directly and actively being promoted by some members of the medical profession, thereby providing a kind of social legitimacy.
Though obvious, nevertheless it needs to be emphasized that, it is the social structures, social pressures and rituals that are responsible for this status of women and the brutal discrimination and violence visited on them. Preference for a son is definitely not the desire of a mother, nor the cry from her heart as is usually portayed. She is merely the victim of the patriarchal and consumerist set-up and has little control over what transpires in her personal life or her desires. A woman who cannot protect herself, who is forced to submit to and subordinate all her desires to her patriarch, cannot protect her motherhood either. It is a hard reality that her place and prestige in the home as well as in society, is determined, ensured and enhanced only if she produces a male child. Consequently, the price for the special status and prestige that the boys enjoy from this unequal social setup, is exacted without compunction from the girls in our society.
BATTLE FOR AWARENESS
The Haryana unit of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Haryana has for long battled against this discrimation, in action as well as words, starting in, 1993-1994 with a year-long campaign for pressurising the government to formulate a law against female foeticide. There were protests held in front of a clinic in Sirsa, publication of a booklet on the female child and an awareness campaign among various communities, in schools and colleges.
In continuation of these earlier struggles another state-wide campaign, was launched this year it was a novel way, of celebrating our Independence Day when August 15 was observed as "Sankalp Diwas" where the broadest possible sections of the society were mobilised to take an oath against any kind of discrimination and imbalance on the basis of caste, creed, colour and sex. Thus the dignity, respect for and independence of the female child was brought to centre-stage, with activists all over the state demanding the right to life, and right to social security for the girl child and women.
In Rohtak about hundred people from various mass organisations got together in Mansarovar Park, where Professor Manmohan - professor of Hindi in Maharshi Dyananad University Rohtak, and renowned poet and critic, emphasised the need to bring to the fore the invisibility of this kind of barbaric violence. He warned that society pays a very heavy price for this kind of imbalance between the male and female population, for in such a society even boys will pose a big problem.
Dr Surajbhan, renowned historian and vice president, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti, dwelt on the causes and serious social implications of this drastic decline in the proportion of females in the population. Ms Manjeet Rathee, secretary JMS, Rohtak placed a resolution criticising the national convention of religious heads on female foeticide organised in New Delhi by the National Commission for Women - UNICEF and IMA in which religious heads and selected ministers of doubtful credentials, who all along have been propagating and supporting anti-women practices like dowry, sati and polygamy, alone were allowed to speak on "preventing sex selective abortion". On the other hand the various women organisations which have consistently been fighting for the equality and upliftment of women, other health organisations and committed individuals were totally ignored. This was followed by a ‘pledge’ by all the participants to fight against all those rituals and discriminating practices which propagate this evil and necessitate the birth of a son.
The programme in Rohtak concluded with a play "Save Education, Save The Country", by the SFI and Jatan Natak Manch. In Jind a seminar was organised jointly by JMS, HGVS, DYFI and SFI. The speakers included Nutan, secretary JMS Jind, Sohan Das from HGVS and Som Dutt from SFI. A play based on female foeticide was also presented. In Bhiwani about a hundred activists from JMS and other mass organisations first took the oath to wage a constant struggle against this heinous crime, and then staged a militant protest against two such clinics that had been practising female foeticide for quite some time.
Similarly in Hissar too a large number of activists gathered in Kranti Maan Park to pledge their support for the cause of a just and equal society. Shakuntala, Bimla and Jasbir Kaur gave voice to their views on this occasion. Similar actions were organised in Kaithal, Karnal, Panipat and Sonepat districts.
For the JMS Haryana, this action was a launching point for a continuing state-wide campaign. Ten thousand pamphlets had been distributed all over the state preparatory to it discussing the various aspects of this menace.
This action will be followed by joint seminars, a mass signature campaign, protests in front of selected clinics and a continuous awareness campaign at various levels.
We feel that if entire meaning of female foeticide is unveiled, it reveals to a kind of invisible fascism. It is simply the survival of the strongest and the fittest in a new global context. So any effective campaign against this needs to include the complete agenda of a civic society. A broader agenda of social transformation and cultural renaissance with a more democratic space and outlook is required where girls and women too can live with dignity and pride.