Here, Blue Still Wins Over Pink

by Radhika Oberoi, The Times of India
August 5th, 2008
In Delhi, the child sex ratio is an alarming 868.
NEW DELHI: Pink booties or blue? If the child sex ratio of the country is anything to go by, a baby boy is still the preferred progeny. The 2001 census reveals a decline in the overall child sex ratio for the age group 0-6 years, from 945 (females per 1000 males) in 1991 to 927 in 2001. Contrary to the belief that the malaise is typical to rural, backward areas, urban centres – more literal and liberal – have shown a drop from 935 in 1991 to 906 in 2001.

In Delhi, the child sex ratio is an alarming 868. While the reasons for this vary from higher female mortality at a younger age (a result of neglect) to infanticide and foeticide, the dismal numbers are a telling comment on an educated society that refuses to rid itself of its regressive male bias.

Mitali (name changed) is a paediatrician. Married to Kuldeep (name changed) in 2004 and pregnant with twins in 2005, her life, she says, turned nightmarish when her mother-in-law allegedly insisted upon sex determination – performed by methods such as amniocentesis, chorion villus biopsy and the popular ultrasonography or ultrasound. While the techniques are useful in detecting genetic abnormalities in the foetus, their misuse is punishable under the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Regulations and Prevention of Misuse Act (1994). With rapid improvements in diagnostic technology, the Act was amended in 2003 – in order that it became more comprehensive, and was renamed the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.

An ultrasound was performed on Mitali in a leading city hospital on April 28, 2005, where she had been admitted for a food allergy. She alleges that she was duped into believing she was undergoing a KUB (kidney, ureter, bladder) test and a foetal ultrasound was conducted, without filling the mandatory Form F, required of every sonologist before performing an ultrasound on a pregnant woman. When it was discovered that she was carrying female twins, she was allegedly asked by her in-laws to drop one of the foetuses. When she refused, she was ill-treated during the course of her pregnancy that was marred from the very beginning with haematoma (bleeding).

In a letter to the District Appropriate Authority, she alleged: ”My husband demanded a DNA test because his mother said a priest had predicted the birth of a son. As I am carrying two daughters, he believes they are not his.”

Mitali’s daughters are now three years old. But her quest for conviction of her husband and in-laws under the PC & PNDT Act has opened up a can of worms. The response of the chief district medical officer is simply, “Investigations are on.”

Decrying the decree

To monitor the implementation of the PC & PNDT Act, the ministry of health and family welfare has set up a Central Supervisory Board (CSB) as well as state-level supervisory committees. A ministry report indicates that there are 420 ongoing court/police cases (as on April 21, 2008) for violations of the law. Of these, only 65 cases relate to identification and revelation of the sex of the foetus, 43 are against people who have advertised facilities for sex selection and the rest are for non-registration of clinics/facilities. ”The Act means well as most acts do, but it has lost focus on the core issue,” says Dr Sonal Randhawa, secretary, Sonological Society of India, an organisation that has actively supported Mitali in her bid for a conviction.

Referring to a spate of seizures of ultrasound machines, she says, ”It’s important to catch the wrong-doers. The ultrasound machine is an important diagnostic tool that has saved many lives. The state must understand that it isn’t the machine but the unscrupulous professionals who use it who must be punished – sex determination is also done in charitable clinics run by religious bodies.” Dr Rajesh Kapur, secretary general, The Indian Radiological Imaging Association, is also indignant at the indiscriminate vilification of radiologists: ”Don’t attack a community or a certain procedure; find checks and balances that sift the guilty from the innocent.” He reinforces that at the heart of the matter lies a deep social conditioning which will not go away unless the government is persistent in its efforts to inform and educate everyone – including the educated.

What ails the law

”Investigations are on,” says the chief district medical officer dealing with Mitali’s case. The response from the ministry is non-committal. IP Kaur, deputy commissioner, PC & PNDT division, says, ”Since the Act is decentralised, all we can do is refer the case to the district appropriate authorities.”

Apart from the nature of the Act, government inaction in most cases is due to the fact that the patient, her family and the violators of the law are hand-in-glove. ”If one can’t identify a complainant, how can one achieve a conviction?” asks Bijayalaxmi Nanda, who teaches political science at Miranda House and is a vociferous campaigner against female foeticide. The annual report (2006) of the PC & PNDT division also identifies the non-availability of evidence or witnesses as the chief hindrance to implementing the law.

A critical judgment in Palwal in 2006 enumerates the ways in which doctors and patients have developed their own sex determination code language, to circumvent the law. The convict in the case had orally conveyed the sex of the foetus to the family. For instance, if a doctor says, ”Collect the report on Monday,” the family is meant to infer that the unborn child is a boy. Friday connotes the girl child. Also, signing a report in blue ink indicates a boy, while red ink is meant for baby girls.

The annual report mentions the fact that the chief medical officer or civil surgeon is usually not empowered enough to bring violators to book. ”They are co-conspirators with radiologists,” says a cynical Nanda. Also, abortions to limit family size add to the difficulty of nabbing guilty.

Despite the loopholes, the government has exerted itself to advocate the girl child’s right to live. A website has been developed on the Act -www.pndt.gov.in – with the facility to file a complaint online, against doctors, maternity homes and clinics. Mitali’s struggle is far from over. But new government initiatives and the support of organisations like the Sonological Society of India prompt her to finally say, ”Justice will prevail.”

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