Deviki Rana (name changed) is a housewife in Patiala. The mother of a seven year-old, she is a postgraduate in psychology and reasonably rich but does not have the freedom to have another daughter. She has already undergone four abortions because the foetuses were female. She has developed hypertension and is finding it difficult to conceive again.
Contrary to popular belief, the ignominy of killing the unborn daughter is not restricted to rural areas. It is in the urban areas where hospitals and clinics offer services like sex-determination, abortion and even sex-selection that the inglorious practice thrives.
With sex-determination costing between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000 and an abortion, between Rs 15,000 and Rs 25,000, it is those who have the means who indulge in their preference for a boy-child.
According to Dr Varinder Singh Mohi, CMO, Patiala, of the 10 MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) centres, cases have been registered against seven and that too in just one year.
And that is why Patran, near Patiala, assumes significance. The Sahib Singh ‘hospital’ where the foeticide dumping case occurred, stands on the main road that leads to the town. The pit in front where the foetuses were found buried has been covered with fresh earth. ‘Whistleblower’ Pooja Rani, is staying behind the ‘hospital’ where the second ‘foetus-dumping’ well stands. She talks of how the patients used to be called in after midnight for abortions and how midwives brought patients on a “commission” basis.
Ask Dr Mohi how ‘quacks’ like Pritam Singh flourish in the system and he puts it down to the fact that MBBS doctors are not willing to work in rural areas. “Healthcare is left to the midwives or these ‘quacks’ posing as doctors. Sometimes when we have gone on raids, the villagers come out in large numbers to protect their ‘doctor’.”
The absurdity is that, in the long run, Patran will add up to just another statistic against the unborn girl. Patiala has the second lowest sex ratio in Punjab, after Fatehgarh Sahib. In 1991, the child sex ratio for the district was 871:1000. Ten years later, in 2001, this figure fell drastically to 777 girls for every 1000 boys.
The Patran incident has certainly focused the spotlight on the need for action. According to Dr Mohi, Punjab Health Minister Surinder Singla has already appointed 1100 to 1200 “service providers with a basic MBBS degree”. Over the next one month, the government plans to appoint one ‘service provider’ for every five villages to prevent quacks from assuming responsibility for health of the villagers.
Just six kilometres from Patran is the village of Shutrana, sprawling and untidy. In one part of the village Anganwadi worker Kamla (name changed) says the same thing, people prefer boys to girls.
She goes door-to-door talking to people about the merits of having girls. Everyone nods but no one seems really interested. “People hide their pregnancies till they can determine the sex of the child. They go in for abortions if the child is a girl,” she admits after the round is done. What does she do when she finds out? “I go and speak to them but they get angry and say it is none of my business. They ask me if I will help them in getting the girl married.”
There are not many girls in Mirzapur village (Rajpura). It has two schools, one primary and another high school. In the first one, a group of boys are clustered outside the building, their arms up in the air, getting punished. More boys line the corridors, sitting cross-legged studying their textbooks. Very few girls can be seen.
At the other school, too, boys outnumber girls. Of the 266 students, there are 154 boys and 112 girls. But these children do not belong only to this village. The school caters to four villages around Mirzapur. Vice-Principal Harpal Singh hopes to change views by relating his experience. “I have two daughters and a son. We tried the third time because we wanted a son but he is mentally challenged. My daughters are wonderful, no less than sons. I really believe we made a mistake and are paying for it like this.”
Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like the Vice-Principal.
Those families that have only girls have kept ‘ghar-jamais’ (husbands living in the homes of their wives) so that they gain a boy – a practice that seems to be catching on in the rural areas.
In Dharamgarh, near Banur, there were births of nine girls and seven boys but Anganwadi worker Amarpreet Kaur says this does not in any way reflect a change in attitude. “The desire for a boy remains steadfast and because people are poor here they cannot go in for abortions. But dowry is a major issue here and no amount of education will impact this because the environment at home perpetuates the preference for a boy.”
A perfect example being Devinder Kaur who believes she can finally lift her head high. After four girls, she has had a son — the age difference between her eldest girl and the boy is 18 years.
Even her eldest daughter believes it is necessary to have a son. “I am so happy we finally have a brother,” she beams. “It is all a matter of having someone to tie rakhi on, even more important than education,” says their mother.
The girls were made to stop going to school after the eighth class because their father could not afford to send them. This, despite the fact that the school was willing to pay for their education
Devinder Kaur poses with one and a half year old son Gaganpreet on her lap. Sitting besides their mother are the three (of four) daughters. — Tribune photo by Parvesh Chauhan
To be continued
Tribune News Service
Patiala, September 14