Sunday, May 18, 2008

Deleting girls

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, May 18, 2008

The Other Half

Now, even Amitabh Bachchan is speaking up for the “girl child”. Or so I am told. At a book launch in Mumbai last month, the Bollywood icon apparently spoke about the skewed sex ratio and unwanted girls. The five-star audience that had com
e to celebrate shining and successful India, the subject of the book, might have considered this a little odd. Success at ensuring that girls are not born is certainly not a reason to cheer. But it is also something people don’t like to be reminded of when they are fixated on “super power” India.
So whether it is a statement by Amitabh Bachchan today or the Prime Minister yesterday, the “girl child” issue, or that of sex-selective abortions, keeps popping up with uncomfortable regularity. No amount of cheering about India’s progress can detract from such an unsavoury reality about our country.

Complex issue

Although the issue seems simple — don’t select and delete girls — in fact it is far more complex. The campaigns against sex-selective abortion tend to simplify the issue. They emphasise one aspect so that people are shocked, or feel guilty. It is hoped that such a strategy will actually lead to change. But does it?
Take, for instance, images of a foetus in a womb with a noose around the neck. This is supposed to create a sense of revulsion and guilt about the use of sex-selective abortions. Perhaps it does. But is it also indirectly giving a message against all abortions? Is targeting the act of aborting the foetus the issue, or the fundamental reason why the woman has had to do this? The difference is important, as abortion rights are part of the larger debate on reproductive rights, while the motivation for sex-selective abortion is the prevalence of son-preference, which concerns the status of women in our society.

Need to be specific

Although the problem of sex-selective abortions and a declining sex ratio is spreading, it is confined at the moment to distinct parts of the country. Campaigners on women’s health and reproductive rights have argued that messages on this problem should be clearly targeted rather than universalised, particularly as they could have the adverse effect of making women feel guilty about having an abortion even for a legitimate reason.

India is one of the many countries where abortion is allowed on several grounds and can be done in safe conditions in government hospitals. Yet, although women have been given this right, only a small percentage of them go to government facilities for abortions. Most of them go to private practitioners or to quacks. Often this is due to ignorance. Poor women in particular are unaware that abortions are permitted and available in government facilities. The worst affected are poor, unmarried women who seek abortions for unwanted pregnancies. In government hospitals they often encounter uncomfortable questions. As a result, they are left with no choice but to risk infection or even death by getting an abortion in unsafe conditions.

Against this reality, where literally lakhs of women seek safe abortion because they are denied effective contraception, or are victims of sexual crimes, it becomes imperative that the campaign against sex-selection does not indirectly result in the curtailment of a woman’s basic right to decide whether and when she wants to have a child. The heart of the matter is a woman’s right over her own body. She should be allowed to decide. She should be given a choice. And she should not be made to feel guilty or like a criminal if she chooses not to bear a child.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

1 comment:

Reemas said...

As a mother a womenn thinks differently and the same women thinks the other way when she is not a mother (Ulti Khopdi as you say), basically this concept has to be empasised and educated.