Female Foeticide is one of India’s biggest and most profitable unofficial illegal industries, with profits reaching approximately 1,000 crore rupees. Though sex determination and illegal termination of pregnancy is strictly prohibited by law, this issue seems to be untouched by law and justice in its truest sense. The efforts taken by many NGO’s and social groups have brought slight change, which can be attributed to lack of political will by the Government and the unchanging mind sets of people regarding this heart writhing issue.
In the Indian state of Haryana, the sex ratio has reached genocidal proportions. In 1991, it was 947 females to every 1000 males. In 2001, it was 927 females to every 1000 males. Right now, the figure rests at 877 females to every 1000 males. Haryana accounts for 4% of female foeticide in the country. Haryana ranks 2nd in the country for female foeticide, after Punjab. Two districts in Haryana have the lowest sex ratio in the entire country, Jhajjar and Mahendegarh. Even the ancient city of Kurukshetra, a holy site where the Mahabharata is believed to have taken place, has a sex ratio of 770 females for every 100 males. The figures are beyond astonishing and angering.
The reality is different in rural and urban areas, though they produce the same result. Haryana has a large population of the Jat community. They have a history of patriarchal land ownership rules. This is one of the reasons behind the gender bias. This, along with grave unemployment creates problems. Girls are considered financial burdens due to the existing dowry system. Rise in inter-caste marriages and elopement, which are thought to bring dishonour to the family are other reasons behind committing this crime. Another important stake holder in this issue are the Khap Panchayats, who usually stand ignorant to this issue and thereby deny justice to the perpetrators.
In urban areas, expensive education and the one child policy followed by many in the society lead to the killing of female foetuses. There is an innate deep rooted desire for a son in the society on the whole, which is the major cause for committing this crime.
The first private clinic was opened in Amritsar, Punjab in 1979 where female foeticide started being performed. It slowly spread to neighboring states like Haryana. It began on a large scale in Haryana during the 1990’s, when portable ultra sound machines were made available for a cheap price and were easily accessible. Reproductive technology has indirectly led to reinforcement of patriarchal values. Medical professionals took complete advantage of the inefficient law enforcement and judicial system and ignored medical ethics and laws. This has led to disastrous effects in the state. This demographic violence has led to serious effects for the society which lead to larger issues like sexual violence and abuse against women, trafficking of women, child marriages, maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions and polyandry.
The extreme fall in the number of females has apparently led to a deficiency in the number of eligible brides for men in the state. So much so that women are bought, sold and resold as brides from all over the country and abroad (especially from Bangaldesh) through illegal contractors. These are the hazardous consequences of female foeticide and statistics say that it will only get worse with the current situation. The impact will be felt the hardest when those born in the 1990’s attain marriageable age.
The morality of this practice is subjective to each community but the legal stance on this issue is extremely clear and precise. The first law related to abortion in India was the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. It laid down the legally accepted reasons for termination of pregnancy, which were either due to medical risk to the mother or due to rape. But this law had a major loophole. It did not anticipate technological advances which enabled sex determination. And hence, the Pre-conception and Pre-natal diagnostic Techniques Act of 1994 was passed. The enactment of the law enabled the National Human Rights Commission to direct the Medical Council of India to take action against Doctors. The PCPNDT Act, 1994 was later modified in 2003 to target medical professionals with respect to this issue in order to combat the “supply-side”.
The Mumbai High Court recently upheld an amendment to the PCPNDT Act which bans sex selection treatment and stated that pre-natal sex determination would be as good as female foeticide and that it violates a woman’s right to live and hence, concluded that it is against the Indian constitution. But like most laws in India, this law has been neglected by law enforcement agencies and has never been implemented well to combat this issue. Unawareness of the law, corruption and the societal mentality has only escalated this issue in the state.
The situation in Haryana is deplorable. For example, in a rare case, the Health Department and Police officials raided a house in Yamuna Nagar, a Delhi suburb located in Haryana, where a doctor was caught red handed performing an abortion on a female foetus. The procedure was not even being performed in a hospital, but in the house of the doctor. The doctor had a BMS degree, a degree that does not permit the performance of such procedures. The doctor did not have the licence to use an ultra-sound machine either. The foetus was flushed down the toilet.
This is the state of girls in this country, even before they are born. Mothers bow down to family pressure or sometimes take a conscious decision to have an abortion once they determine the sex of the foetus. The procedure is carried out by doctors who hold no medical licence, performed in shady illegal clinics where the foetus is flushed down the toilet, thrown into the river or just put in with other trash. And no action is taken against them even thought this happens in broad daylight. Such is the state of governance. Chinese manufactured, small, portable ultra sound machines sold illegally come at throw away prices. They are easily accessible. No action is taken as the doctors as well as sellers, both of whom need licences, as get away through political connections, bribery and other corrupt mechanisms.
The Haryana State Government, in its feeble attempt to tackle this issue, put up posters, devised instructions, made several programs, created committees, made 21 fast track courts for such cases, posted a woman officer of the IG rank to assist the additional DGP and had Mahapanchayat sittings on this issue. But these steps, including government schemes and programmes, have had little impact so far. The appropriate State and district level authorities and monitoring bodies have been formed under the PCPNDT Act but there is hardly any representation from women or women’s organisations.
The role of committees are limited to cancellation of registrations of nursing homes and clinics that violate the law, but very few punitive actions are taken against doctors who are involved, like arrest and prosecution. A sum of 21,000 rupees is offered to anybody who provides information about any doctor who indulges in this practice. But the networking and lobbying that took place between the doctors, politicians and the people during the 90’s still stands strong and hence, renders that offer moot.
The situation was so severe that it attracted attention from everywhere. In 2012, the Planning Commission of India cautioned Haryana and asked them to ensure that “every girl child is allowed to be born”. In 2009, the National Commission for Human Rights and the United Nation Population Fund had also asked the Government of India to assess the real impact of the law on this issue. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed miserably to keep track and monitoring licencing among medical practitioners. In Haryana, an ultra sound cannot be performed without a commendation from a gynaecologist or a physician. While performing the test, relevant documents have to be submitted for registration. If the law is broken, even the radiologist can be held liable. But the system is so corrupt and the practice so deeply set that it creates a major set back in its elimination.
Haryana is soon due for State elections. The state has been run by Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress Party since 2005. Hooda has spoken repeatedly about developing infrastructure, education, industries and creating more jobs. His attempts to tackle this issue have had no major impact and this issue still remains unsolved. Proper practical implementation of laws is the only way to ensure that the society on the whole remains balanced in every sense. Good governance depends on the executive, as it has the responsibility for execution of laws and administration of the State. Corruption and inefficient steps taken by the government needs to change for the better drastically.
Such social evils will only hamper any kind of development and the chaos in the society will create an unstable base for governance and development. Economic, industrial and educational growth will be experienced only when the society is rid of such inhuman crimes. The choice now rests with the people of Haryana.
About the Author:
A ferocious dreamer, a confident speaker, a propagandist of rational thought, a determined debater, an incandescent poet and a voracious reader; she is a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She takes keen interest in International Law and Human Rights and wishes to pursue the same in the future. She hopes that her intricate eye for detail and innate ability to analyse will enable her in getting more out of new experiences in life. She also enjoys sarcasm, political humor, convoluted characters in novels, good music and a cup of hot black coffee during rains.