While millions in the country bow their heads and pray to numerous female goddesses and deities on a daily basis, crimes against women, female foeticide and sex-selection is so rampant in our deeply-patriarchal traditional society, we hardly even see it anymore. The child sex ratio has been on an incredible decline since 1991, the worst since the time of independence as the the 2011 census reports for every 1000 boys, there are only 918 girls. While sex-selective abortion has been ruled out of many hospitals, the dire reality is that it still very much exists even though awareness campaigns and initiatives against the practice of foeticide are run by several NGOs and human rights groups. As reported by The Times Of India, a United Nations report of 2012 held India to be the most dangerous place in the world for a girl child. “Newly released data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.”
The statistics are astounding and shameful, especially for a country that claims modernity. But we cannot generalise, and it would be unfair to point a blaming finger to society as a whole as more and more people step up to make a change in mindsets and improve life for Indian girls. One such hero is Dr. Ganesh Rakh, who runs the Hadapsar’s Medicare Hospital in Pune and is on a mission to fight against female foeticide in his own unique way. Starting from 2012, he has ensured that his hospital does not charge any fees for the delivery of a baby girl. Instead, they turn it into a celebration with flowers, cake and sweets distributed in the entire hospital.
“Female infanticide is rampant because regressive social norms are not only anti-women but are even anti-girl child,” Dr. Rakh tells Deccan Herald in an interview. “As a medical professional I have seen the torture that a mother undergoes when she comes to know that she has delivered a girl.” He tells BBC that people "would celebrate and distribute sweets if a male child was born, but if a girl was born, the relatives would leave the hospital, the mother would cry, and the families would ask for a discount. They would be so disappointed...Many told me that they had taken treatment to ensure the birth of a male child. I was surprised, as I wasn't aware of any such treatment. But they spoke about consulting a holy man, or would talk of putting some medicine into the mother's nostril to ensure she delivered a boy."
The preference for a male offspring in India has been long-standing and is popularly known, be it to carry on the family name or the inheritance of property, within households girls stand in second place even today. It's a sad reality that Dr. Rakh acknowledges, but little did he know that his 'tiny contribution' would in time grow into a full-blown social movement in a way. “After reading media reports about my work, I was contacted by nearly 17-18 gram-panchayats and hundreds of doctors who have not only promised to stop sex determination tests and abortions but welcome girl children by motivating families,” Dr. Rakh tells DNA. As of today, close to 3,000 doctors from various parts of Maharashtra have joined his cause to fight the unjust social biases and prejudices against the girl-child.
Since he began the 'Save The Girl Child Campaign' that's even featured on the hospitals website, be it a regular delivery costing about Rs. 10,000 or a Rs. 25,000 c-section, Dr. Rakh says charges have been waived for close to 464 girls born at his hospital. Arjun Buddhwant, the sarpanch of Karadwadi village in Ahmednagar, told DNA, “we held special village meetings and invited him (Rakh) to talk about saving girl children. We also resolved to monitor pregnant women and report to the police if any villager indulges in female foeticide.” The work of Dr. Rakh and his hospital staff is worthy of applause, especially in an age where few people take up a good cause when it's at the cost of personal expenses. While laws may be in place, the ground-reality is very different and it's the work of people like him that slowly but surely make a huge difference in changing the mindset of people that's ridden with traditional notions of bias and discrimination. "I want to change attitudes - of people, doctors. The day people start celebrating a daughter's birth, I'll start charging my fee again. Otherwise, how will I run my hospital?" he says.
Feature image courtesy Anushree Fadnavis
Words: Sara Hussain