Even before they were born, paediatrician, Dr Mitu Khurana, had to fight hard to save her twin daughters from death. She talks to Purabi Shridhar about her battle against her husband, her in-laws and female foeticide
“I married Dr Kamal Khurana, an orthopaedician in Delhi, in November 2004. It was an arranged match. Though engaged for nine months, we hardly met, as his family claimed to be conservative. Strangely, soon after the engagement his sisters sent me an SMS saying she hated me. He said she was depressed and everything would be fine. If only I’d known what was in store for me.”
‘They told me to abort’
“In January 2005, I became pregnant. An ultrasound in the sixth week showed I was carrying twins. My husband, at first, was elated, but then my mother-in-law started pressurising me for a sex determination test and he went along with her. I refused, but I hadn’t bargained for their deception.
“In April, I was offered some cake, which was apparently eggless. I am strongly allergic to eggs and they knew it. I ate it and got very sick. I passed the night in pain and was taken to the Jaipur Golden Hospital only the next morning-this, even though I was undergoing antenatal check-ups at another hospital. My husband and mother-in-law came with me. Only 16 weeks pregnant, I was taken to the labour room. The gynaecologist advised a KUB (kidney, urethra and bladder) ultrasound, but the radiologist did a foetal ultrasound and advised me to leave. When I pointed out that no KUB had been done, he hurriedly did one.”
‘He pushed me down the stairs’
“The ultrasound showed the twins were girls. My husband and mother-in-law demanded I terminate the pregnancy. In fact, she insisted I abort one child in-utero. I was kept without food and water and incredible as it sounds, my husband demanded a DNA test as an astrologer had said that he would only father one son!
“Around the fourth month, my husband pushed me down a flight of stairs. I started bleeding and was locked in a room. They hoped I’d abort naturally. I managed to call my father in the morning, who told my husband to bring me to their place or he would get the police to do it. My husband gave in. I was prescribed complete bed rest and had to undergo multiple hospitalisations. My daughters were born on August 11, nearly two months premature.
“My in-laws didn’t visit us for nine months. My mother-in-law was sure the girls wouldn’t survive. And when they did, she wanted me to give one up for adoption. My sister agreed to adopt one and the adoption papers were drawn up, but I just couldn’t do it. My father then took a decision-if I wanted to go back I could, but he wouldn’t let me take the girls.”
‘She kicked the baby’
“While pregnant, I’d filed a police case saying I feared for my life and those of my unborn babies. When the girls were four months old, my husband came to take us, assuring us that all would be fine. Another lie! I was left to manage single-handedly. Tired and fed up, on the third day, I decided to go back to my parents’. I came out with one girl in my arms and the other strapped in a baby basket, which my mother-in-law kicked down the stairs. My daughter survived, thanks to the straps and blankets. Fearing for our lives, I filed a criminal case against my husband. He was summoned by the police, at which point, he gave a written assurance that there would be no torture and no forced prenatal sex determination tests in future.
“Two years later, my husband and I moved away, into a rented place, in the hope it would help. But the same night, he threw me out saying he wanted a divorce, so he could remarry and father a son. I called my uncle who lived nearby. We went to the police station, where they refused to file an FIR and made us sit for hours. It was when I threatened to go to the media that they gave in. No action was taken, so I went to the police commissioner who set up a vigilance committee. Nothing has come of it.”
‘The CDMO told me to try again for a son!’
“While shifting, I found the Jaipur Golden Hospital discharge papers and reports. I filed a complaint with the Health Minister and the National Commission for Women. On May 9,2008, I filed a complaint with the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PNDT) Cell and an RTI application to follow up. In June, I got a reply saying the Central Monitoring Committee and the District Appropriate Authority had raided the hospital and found evidence of Form F-mandatory records clinics and hospitals have to keep of every woman who has undergone pre-natal diagnostic procedures as specified in the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, which prohibits sex selection.
“When I appeared before the District Appropriate Authority, the chief district medical officer (CDMO) actually advised me to reconcile with my husband, so I could get pregnant again and have a son! I was told that sealing ultrasound facilities at the hospital would hinder diagnosis of other patients. The enquiry committee report said no direct evidence of sex determination was found.
“Meeting the joint secretary of health and family welfare (central government) proved useless. I was told to file a case under the Domestic Violence Act. So I filed a private complaint under the PCPNDT Act against Jaipur Golden Hospital, the doctor, my husband and in-laws. But the authorities only registered a case against the hospital.
“I get threats saying I’ll be killed or my daughters kidnapped. I had to quit my job because of the pressure. But I will not withdraw the case! I fought to save my girls and I’m the first woman in Delhi to have filed a case under PCPNDT. I’m determined to see justice meted out.”
If you were her
Dr Mitu Khurana is determined to fight back. With strong parental support she is not giving in to pressure. If you have been pressured into undergoing a sex determination test, or know someone who has, here’s what you can do.
It is not your word against theirs
Bijayalaxmi Nanda, campaign coordinator, Campaign Against Pre-Birth Elimination of Females (CAPF), says, “The PCPNDT Act makes sex determination and sex selection a non-bailable offence. A victim can approach the designated authority, usually the District Collector or the Chief District Medical Officer.”
If you are unable to reach the appropriate authority, approach the PCPNDT cell of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the state government, the nearest police station or a women’s organisation like CAPF.
Kirti Singh, a women’s rights advocate, says, “The PCPNDT Act specifies authorities you can file complaints with. Do it immediately; follow it up and see that a case is filed.It then goes to a magistrate’s court for hearing.” Provide whatever evidence you have. “Do not think it’s your word against the culprit’s and nothing will come of it,” advises Kirti, “Your case will be taken up. There are lawyers’ bodies and organisations that will help if authorities don’t take any action.”
Challenge the track record
According to Kirthi Jayakumar of Fight-back, Chennai-an anti-gender violence organisation, “Do not give up. Instead, lobby for support. Take the help of the media and NGOs.” Kirthi admits that the implementation record for the PCPNDT Act is pathetic, and advises filing a case, directly appealing to the courts under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Sonali Khan, communications manager, Breakthrough, Delhi, thinks, “It’s not going to be easy for Mitu. She is taking on a big hospital, apart from her husband and in-laws. Every hospital has a huge sign against sex determination tests, which means we can’t ask for it and they are bound not to tell us. It is a punishable offence.”
Sonali suggests going public so more people know what’s happening and those putting insidious pressure will be warned. “She should approach human rights and women’s organisations, so she has more support than just from the family. She shouldn’t succumb to pressure and withdraw the case,” says Sonali.
Know your ultrasound
Can a pregnant woman avoid all medical examinations that may reveal the sex of the foetus? Unfortunately not, says Dr Juhee Jain, consultant gynaecologist, Fortis La Femme, Delhi, because at least two ultrasounds are crucial to determine the health and normality of the foetus. “If, during the ultrasound, the sex of the child is known, the person conducting the ultrasound should refuse to declare it. Sadly, that is not always so.”
As per the PCPNDT Act, Form F has to be filled out, stating the reasons for the ultrasound as well as the findings, and sent within a month to the authorities. “For the health of the unborn baby, refusing ultrasounds is inadvisable,” says Dr Juhee. “The only thing that can work is conscience-of the parents and of the person conducting the ultrasound.”
Campaign against Pre-birth Elimination of Females (CAPF)
All India Democratic Women’s Association
15, Talkotara Road, New Delhi
Call: 01123710476, 01123319566
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and
Call: Mumbai-02222875482/83, 02222832779
Photography: Madhu Kapparath