The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Battling a social evil
Against genocide: A rally to protest against female foeticide in Bhopal

Different states and organisations have come up with unique strategies to battle female foeticide. While the district collectors of Hyderabad and Shivpuri (Madhya Pradesh) have taken it upon themselves to fight this scourge, whole communities have been roped in to push awareness drives in Punjab’s Nawanshahar district and some districts of Himachal Pradesh.

In Nawanshahar, the district collector has united several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under an umbrella organisation, Upkaar. The activists hold rallies and perform skits to condemn the killing of girls in the womb itself. This outfit also holds demonstrations outside the houses of women who have been accused of committing female foeticide. The district collector is now also trying to encourage students to join the outfit.

Upkaar’s activities, however, have alienated a majority of people, who are unhappy with the administration’s “strong-arm tactics”. Many women, especially those who have been “caught,” are afraid of Upkaar activists who censure them by a process called “social audit” ' noisy demonstrations outside their homes.

In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh Shimla and Mandi districts, the administration and anti-foeticide activists have launched a literacy campaign to stem this “selective genocide”. A network of volunteers belonging to Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti (HGVS), along with the Janwadi Mahila Samiti launched this campaign on Womens Day (March 8) by marching to ultra sound clinics all over the state.

In Shimla, about 300 activists stormed into clinics shouting slogans and warning doctors against sex-determination tests. The rallies did not spare government hospitals either. Now the volunteers are also visiting every house and talking to women about the need to stop female foeticide.

Says Anshumala Gupta, state executive committee member of the HGVS, “In Mandi, the literacy drive has been able to garner the government’s support. And now, our activities go beyond reading and writing. The volunteers are busy forming self-help groups and this helps in creating a wider base and awareness in the community.”

HGVS can certainly claim some amount of success as more and more women from remote areas are joining these self-help groups to fight injustices against the girl child and female foeticide. For example, take Lata Goswami. She lives in a remote town in Mandi called Joginder Nagar, which is notorious for its low sex ratio.

Thanks to Goswami and her comrades-in-arms Rema Thakur, Khem Singh and other office bearers of the HGVS’s block unit, doctors who have sex-determination clinics in this area are a scared lot. “We are constantly watching these clinics and our members are ready for action the moment they detect any misuse of the machines,” says Khem Singh. “We are also busy forming self-help groups of women volunteers. We are hoping to influence them to join the fight against sex-determination clinics.”

Geetha, another office bearer of the HGVS in Mandi, says: “Everywhere we tell women that female foeticide is illegal. We also tell our volunteers to keep an eye on pregnant women with one or two daughters and to counsel them against the malpractice. If we get information about any clinic or doctor indulging in female foeticide, then we take appropriate action against them.”

However, these brave volunteers still have a long way to go. Even as awareness of the illegality of female foeticide is growing, there is widespread admission of women going to these clinics for abortions.

Many women in villages like Dharampur and Gopalpur, which have some of the lowest sex ratios in Mandi district, admit that they go for sex-determination of the second child if the first is a daughter.

And they are even prepared to borrow the large amounts of money needed for these tests and to travel to clinics in the neighbouring districts of Bilaspur and Hamirpur.

“We need Rs 5,000 to get the sex test done. We borrow or even beg to raise this amount because we can’t go on having daughters till a son is born,” says a woman in Dharmpur.

And most of the women of her village echo her sentiments. They go to clinics in Mandi or to the ones in nearby Hamirpur district or Ghumarmi in Bilaspur district. “The doctors us ask to come at night. So we stay at a relative’s place. We also have to shell out whatever amount the doctors demand for the abortions,” says another woman.

But the HGVS workers haven’t given up hope. They are encouraged by the fact that almost every household has women who are part of the self-help groups started by the organisation for its literacy programme.

One of the women, 30-year-old Bimal, who has started a school in Dharampur while pursuing an MA in economics, says there are only nine girls in a class of 30 students in the first standard of her New Beam School. “If I come to know of a doctor doing tests to eliminate girls, I will expose him,” she declares.

Prem Kumari, a teacher and an HGVS volunteer in Gopalpur block, says: “We all know who are indulging in these sex-determination tests. Right now we don’t have the strength to take any action.” She, however, adds: “We have been talking about female foeticide and gender equality in every literacy meeting. Hence we will get results faster. The soil is ready and the seeds are sown. We can expect the fruits soon.”

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