”Female Foeticide” Article Published in Kriti Kalp

Female Foeticide: A Cradle of Controversy

It was a bright sunny afternoon when I got a call from the labour ward, saying that Nisha was pushing her baby and I was needed now to facilitate this process. Scrubbed and ready to receive a new life, I encouraged her to push. A few minutes later I held a pink, healthy, crying baby in my arms and beamed at her with a loud congratulation. Nisha, her face streaming with sweat and her hair matted looked up at me with abated breath and anxiety writ all over. Her only question to me-‘doctor, is it a boy or a girl?’ I responded with euphoria-‘it’s a beautiful baby girl!’ To my chagrin, her face clouded over and she fell back on the bed with deep disappointment and a sense of defeat, as if she had just lost a competition. Nature, after all, had inflicted upon her, a terrible blow and tears began to flow down her face as she resigned herself to this bitter reality. This is the story of Nisha Nambiar, a young girl from an upper middle class background. Nisha is not alone. As an obstetrician I have the ignonimous task of facing the grim reality of gender bias on an everyday basis.

As I walked down the corridor to announce to the anxiously awaiting family that they had a new member to welcome, I reflected deeply on why are we facing this increasing menace of gender bias and what can we do to make a difference to bring a shift in attitudes.

That a woman can bear makes her different, privileged and superior to her male counterpart. Along with this gift of nature, comes a set of certain other characteristics quintessential to accomplishing the task of being able to bring another life to the world. While anatomically, she has been endowed with a womb to conceive and gestate a new being, she has been given the emotional capacity to nurture the offspring with love, care and tenderness. A man on the other hand is a passive player and though he understands this but chooses not to accept that his, is a minor role as far as the beginning of life is concerned. He gets to play second fiddle. His role is to make a world for the new one to venture into. He has been equipped with brawn to perform his duties. But he begrudges this equation and silently conspires to debase the superior sex.Ironically most men are unaware that they ‘choose’ the sex of their baby- a task that Nature left to them. But here is the solution to his problem. What a man does, he keeps it to the bare minimum. He shall allow an optimum female livestock to breathe out of the womb–rest being an unnecessary evil is smothered, muffled and murdered in the womb itself. The scourge has been invented by modern day technology. It is called ‘female foeticide.’It has become possible because it can be predicted, thanks to the advances of modern science .An ultrasound has now become available in the most remote rural area. In India, amniocentesis & its abuse can be traced back to 1974.Originally developed as a technique to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities by analyzing amniotic fluid,amnio and other such procedures such as Chorionic Villus Biopsy (CVB) were soon utilized to “diagnose’’ females who could subsequently be aborted. With this blatant use of technology, India is now engaged in a systematic annihilation of unborn girls with Punjab & Haryana as the worst offenders. Ironically Haryana has the country’s 2nd highest per capita income and it also has the second worst sex ratio. India does not like its girls- a well known fact hitherto hidden is finally out in the open. The British medical journal Lancet conducted a study, and stated that since 1994, more than 10 million female fetuses had been aborted and that “prenatal sex determination and selective abortion” account for half-a-million missing girls yearly. The figures support estimates by the Indian Medical Association, which has said five million female fetuses are killed in India each year. And this phenomenon is not just restricted to rural India. Metros too have recorded some terrifying statistics over the last few years.

Affluent south Delhi has more to it than flashy wheels, ostentatious houses and markets for the rich. Figures have revealed that there is a skewed sex ratio in the Capital. There are only 762 girls for 1000 boys and one in every four girls is aborted.

Hence infanticide is not happening in pockets amongst the poor & disempowered but rather amongst the rich, the powerful, the educated and those who are aware of family planning.

Thus we have the victim, perpetrators and murder weapon of this mass genocide. Victim is a girl child, i.e. potentialities of a woman. Perpetrators are plural- the man, the unethical medical community who aids and abets in the process, the conditioned woman and the resultant social norms that stem from such conditioning of ages. Murder weapon is ‘mala-fide use of technology.’

Task at the hand of those who understand and see through all this is to save the victim, bring the perpetrators to justice and institute methods to bring a shift in mass consciousness. Superior end to be served is to finally give a woman the acknowledgement of her greatness, gratitude for ‘creation’ and love as a return gift. Improving sex ratio shall be a bi-product, much the concern of economists. But the divine objective will be a new world where a woman occupies her high seat and showers her love on mankind all the more than ever.

Most of those in the medical profession, being part of the same gender biased society, are steeped in the same attitudes concerning women. It is scarcely surprising that they are happy to fulfill the demands of prospective parents. Medical malpractice in this area is flourishing, and bans on gender selection have had little effect as exemplified by a loud banner on a prominent hoarding in Mumbai declaring,” better spend Rs. 500 now rather than Rs.50,000 later!” with a girl child as a backdrop.A shopper’s choice which outrageously flaunts abortion  today cheaper versus future marriage tomorrow!

In 1994, the Government of India passed the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act with the aim of preventing female feticide. The implementation of this Act was slow. It was later amended and replaced in 2002 by the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act without ever having been properly implemented.

As a doctor committed to women’s health, I believe we have a unique and very pertinent role in effecting this paradigm shift. To send out a message to educated young women at the first point of contact in our clinics that a woman is an asset to the family, a source of pride and if they set an example by defying any social pressure to abort a female foetus,the less educated will follow. To inculcate a sense of pride in a woman of being a woman. This measure would be but half hearted if not supported by a vigilant and ethical medical community wherein each and every radiologist and gynecologist would pledge that they are vehemently against gender bias and the violation of basic human rights by inculcating a strong ethical code of conduct that prevents them from participation in this heinous crime.

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