Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar has entered our awareness in tragic fashion. There she was requesting an abortion in Roman Catholic Ireland after she realised she couldn’t go ahead with her pregnancy. Denied an abortion, she died of septicaemia, a form of blood poisoning, and E.coli infection, in the intensive care unit of University Hospital Galway in the early hours of October 28.
When she requested that her unborn child be terminated, Savita was informed that under Irish law, it was not possible to do so as long as there was a foetal heartbeat. Terminations, even for rape and incest victims, can only be sanctioned if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. A surgery was performed after three days of foetal dead. Savita did not survive.
Observing that the tragic death of the Indian dentist illustrated a gap in Irish law, rights group Amnesty asked Ireland to ensure that its domestic policy on access to abortion is in line with international human rights law.
Cut to India, we all support the bereaved family and we weren’t ashamed of saying “Shame on Ireland”. This just brings one thought to my mind: What is our locus standi to wag our collective index fingers at the Irish, a hardy and tough people who have suffered much more at the hands of colonialism than us, when we merrily ignore the thousands of instances of female foeticide, dowry deaths, gender bias and honour killings?
Hypocrisy has crept into our genes. We speak of gender equality but continue to practice all this and more in the privacy, or call it secrecy, of our homes. Activists have repeatedly failed to bring about a change in society and the perceptions that people carry.
For ages, khap panchayats have been following their own laws and do not care if the Supreme Court feels, like it often does, otherwise. What role do we play then? It is easy for us to point a finger at Ireland and say their laws need to be clarified, whereas, we decide to keep mum when our own khap panchayats follow their own laws.
It is estimated that more than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India, says Wikipedia. This process began in the early 90s when ultrasound technology became accessible in determining the sex of the child. Female foeticide has also led to an increase in human trafficking. In 2011, 15,000 Indian women were bought and sold as brides in areas where foeticide has led to a lack of women.
In a highly patriarchal society such as India, a woman’s role is defined from before she is born. Because she is seen as a burden, the society seems to find ways to end her life. Bride burning, a crime has been treated as culpable homicide and if proven, is punishable accordingly. But in our society, these criminals are moving about freely and instead of stopping them, we gladly hand over our daughters or sisters to them.
No doubt there has been injustice in Savita’s case and no law is above human rights law, but it is high time we started combating social evils that are eating up India. For generations to come, we need to leave message to break the social norms that do not allow a human being to lead a life peacefully and without any fear.