Even posh Delhi families kill their unborn girls. A health ministry survey booklet has revealed that in southwest Delhi, the number of girls to 1,000 boys is 845 — 55 less than the number in most other districts of Delhi, and also much less than the 1991 census figure. The punch in this finding seems to be that southwest Delhi happens to be one of the most affluent areas of the capital, and the dip in the sex ratio is definitely attributable to female foeticide. The destruction of females before birth is often directly proportional to both technological advance and the growth of urban wealth and consumerism. This is one of the most brutal facts of Indian modernity. In fact, the health ministry booklet simply endorses more sharply a well-established fact. The progress from female infanticide to foeticide is parallel to the refinement of ultrasonography, and also marks a movement from country to city — from rural Punjab and Haryana to affluent Delhi and suburban West Bengal.
The persistence of this social evil is the most compelling illustration that the presence of a law or judicial activism is no guarantee of social change. Indian society has devised various ways of getting around the existing Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation, Prevention and Misuse) Act, implemented in 1996, particularly in the advertising of sex determination kits. Moreover, since the inception of the PNDT Act there has not been any case filed for its violation. Most states have also not bothered to implement the Supreme Court’s directive — following the alarming 2001 census — to register clinics using ultrasound equipment. But awareness-building and vigilance in eliminating such a deeply rooted social disease requires the relentless participation of every level of civil society. The Sikh clergy, for instance, had issued a hukumnama punishing female foeticide with excommunication. In India, and particularly in a city like Delhi, the worthlessness of female lives finds many brutal forms — gang-rape (often followed by the killing of the victim) or the system of dowry with its own frequently tragic consequences. The consolidation of wealth through the nuclear family also contributes to the perception of girls as a social and economic liability. The Indian middle and upper classes are now the repository of the nation’s most dangerously regressive values, be it sectarian prejudice or sexual discrimination of a criminal variety. Targeting this will have to go beyond the merely legal, and must be directed at every form of social consciousness-raising — including the means of ensuring that nobody’s neighbour can get away with murder.