By Arabinda Acharya
Recently, there has been a spurt of interest around the issue of female foeticide in India. Ironically, the persons taking interest in this particular malady seem to have committed an error of judgment by putting the blame squarely on sex determination tests and the failure of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of the Misuse Act), 1994. To be precise, there has been an over enthusiasm to pin the doctors at the alter.
The issue need to be addressed in the context of the socio-cultural milieu as against investigative witch-hunting t hat has appeared from some of the studies undertaken recently particularly with reference to the report published in the Times of India on 4th August 2001 titled ” How doctors sound parents on the girl child” by Priya Yadav. The journalist posing as the concerned next-door housewife and the decoy made elaborate explanations to the doctor as to the need to know the sex of the unborn child, as ‘her husband wants a son ‘while’ she feels that it might be a daughter.’ Examine the rationale of compulsions and larger social expectations that make the would- be mother come for the test in real life situations. There have been instances where the story runs along the lines that the woman is being harassed and even tortured for giving birth to girl child as against the wishes of the in-laws for a baby boy. More civilized parents have gone on delivering babies till eventually a son is at hand, without any concern about how to bring up the contingent. Once a boy is born, he then becomes the center of attention and subject of differential treatment that exposes his sisters to a world of inequality and deprivation. In rural areas the treatment of the girl child continues to be grim with her being denied access to education etc.
Passing a law and prescribing stringent legislation cannot work unless there is a change in social morals especially in a country like India where ignorance is rampant and literacy remain at a very low level. Besides the tests- ultrasound, amniocentesis etc serves other useful clinical purpose too.
In developed countries, the tests like amniocentesis is a sort of compulsion to determine the presence of any genetic or chromosomal disorder like Down’s syndrome etc or presence of any congenital physical deformity. In such cases controlled termination of pregnancy is prescribed as a preferred alternative to giving birth to an abnormal baby. Such tests in countries like India would have proven immensely necessary given the state of medicare and coping facilities available for both physically and mentally retarded children. Unfortunately however such tests were blatantly misused which forced the government to impose bans and restrictions.
A doctor would say how necessary an ultrasound test is for the baby in the womb under certain compelling circumstances. It need not be a doctor’s concern to intervene and educate the family about the equal importance of both the sexes. The job falls in the realm of the social activist. A change in the value that the family in particular and the society in general puts on the girl child is what is necessary. Even with growing instances of the girl excelling in education, the society remains prejudiced with the need for a son to carry forward the progeny in a blind sort of way. This has been due mainly to the over all insecurity- personal, economic- that surround the girl child. The larger society has a role in ensuring equilibrium, any knee jerk reactions or short term measures are bound to prove counter productive.