Saturday, July 24, 2010

PCPNDT- The Struggle for Equality


Since 1994, the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT) Act has deemed sex determination of the foetus as illegal. In countries like the United States, discovering the gender of one's child-to-be is within the confines of the law. However, India is another story. Preference for the male child has led to female infanticide, gender-determined abortions, and highly skewed sex ratios. The situation has gone from bad to worse in states like Haryana, where the shortage of girls has led to purchase of girls from other states. Practices like Draupadi-pratha are back, where five men share one woman because they can't afford a wife each. Hence, the government intervened and created this piece of legislation, making it illegal for doctors to use ultrasound machines as a gender-detection method.

Unfortunately, male-child preference remains prevalent. There's no dearth of demand for illegal sex determination (SD). And there's no dearth of doctors willing to do SDs on the side. This breach of the law is done very hush-hush, the end result being an easy five thousand rupees stashed in the overflowing pockets of the doctor.

We drove to Chittorgarh for a seminar on The Role of Civilians in Enforcing the PCPNDT Act, organized by Taraji's organization and her non-profit partners. Of the forty-six attendees, five showed up on time. Most showed up at least two hours later, and left after lunch. Other than representatives from NGOs throughout Rajasthan, the attendees included the principal of a local army school, and two doctors, the latter staying for no more than five minutes while the former arrived on the dot. It seems that the medical fraternity isn't too interested in criticizing its excessive greed and corruption when it comes to ensuring gender equity.

It was your standard seminar - lots of presentations, lots of talk, and little action. While the event did not strike me as particularly successful, it did give me food for thought. How does one enforce a law when the mother comes in wanting a sex selection and the doctor is willing to give it? Who's to blame? Clearly, the doctor holds more responsibility as a medical professional, one whom the patient trusts her life with. Perhaps the mother is also to blame, since it is her need the doctor is fulfilling. Perhaps she is pressured by her family to bear a male son after x number of daughters.

Surprisingly, the Center for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) found that SDs were just as common in rural areas as urban ones. In fact, it was the urban, more educated bunch which were getting more SDs, thus ruling out lack of education or poverty as causes for male-preference. The sad truth is that in a patriarchal society such as ours, the male is seen as the carrier of the family name, the breadwinner of his home, etc. On the other hand, the girl is an 'amanat', a liability to be transferred at the time of marriage, along with a hefty dowry. Obviously, my analysis is highly simplified and doesn't hold for every Indian household; many, many factors have contributed in making the sex ratio a point of extreme worry. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on how SDs can be curbed. A girl child deserves respect, not because she'll be someone's mother or sister or wife, but because of her role in bettering society through her skills and talents, because of who she is.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting facts- I wonder if the SD statistics look the same when comparing states in Northern India to those in the South. I suspect that states like Kerala which are actually culturally matriarchal, will show fewer of these symptoms. Maybe there are things we can borrow from there for mass education?

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  2. Growing up in the urban context, I've seen monetary incentives for families with daughters (public school fee exemption, reserved female seat quota for education, etc) but again, they aren't even in the ballpark of expenses incurred through practices like dowry.
    Curbing dowry seems trickier than curbing SDs though- all you need is one guilty party there, since the victim is silent by social design.

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  3. Harish: I spoke to a scholar from Kerala at the seminar. He spent four years working in Tamil Nadu villages on SD and found the level of male domination and male preference to be just as high.

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