A newly painted two-storey house near the popular Vankhandeshwar temple in MP’s Bhind district stands haunted. People avoid even standing in front of the house. They talk about its former occupants as if they were scary ghosts.
Neeraj Pal and her husband Raju were arrested on August 30 for their alleged involvement in carrying out hundreds of illegal abortions, especially of female foetuses, over the past eight years.
When the Hindustan Times team reached the place, residents initially refused to talk. After much convincing, a teenager opened up.
“We thought Neeraj was a doctor and dealt with gynaecology problems. We knew she was doing abortions, but we didn’t know she was earning money from abortions only,” he said.
An 80-year-old woman, who did not wish to be named to avoid police interrogation, said, “Everybody knows that she was an expert in abortion and mostly families who didn’t want girl child used to come here. Even, government hospital nurses used to refer the cases to Neeraj.”
Neeraj doesn’t have a medical degree and she learnt how to carry out abortions by working at several clinics as a nurse.
Known as ‘hawk Neeraj’, she also did not hesitate in using Intrauterine Cranial Decompression, a risky method that could affect the cervix and other sex organs of patients, on women who were more than 20 weeks pregnant.
The clinic they ran adjacent to the house had been running for at least eight years in the residential area. Pregnant women used to go inside through a small gate.
Patients were not only from poor and middle class families, but also rich ones, arriving in SUVs and luxury cars.
“Once I asked a family member of a woman and he told me that madam (Neeraj) used to charge Rs 6,000 to Rs 40,000 for an abortion,” said Irshad Ali (50), a local resident.
They were into the business of killing foetus, he said, adding that even pregnant minors underwent abortion there.
Patients used to be referred to the Pals from clinics in Gwalior and other parts of state and also neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, according to police.
Neeraj, who now owns three or four houses and several other properties, used to give 20-30% to agents for referring customers to her.
How the hawk couple were arrested
Bhind has been having a very low sex ratio for long—843 females to 1,000 males.
“We came to know about infanticide in Mehgaon and Gohad areas. But the data of infanticide is not enough to justify the poor sex ratio, so we started working on finding strong evidence of foeticide,” Bhind collector Ilyaya Raja T said.
Police and district authorities received information of illegal abortions activities in the Pals’ clinic, prompting surveillance on it.
After gathering strong evidence, police raided the clinic but the patient was a minor girl who was pregnant for six months and the team didn’t get strong proof of foeticide.
But when police arrested agents they came to know the address of an ultrasound clinic from where the cases were being referred to Neeraj.
“Police then laid a trap at the clinic of radiologist Dr MK Pandey in Gwalior by sending a female constable as a decoy customer on Friday. When the paramedical staff present on the clinic got ready for sex determination, police caught them with an agent,” said Navneet Bhasin, SP, Bhind.
A joint team of district officials and police busted Pals’ network, arresting four registered medical practitioners, a homoeopath doctor for referring patients to Neerja’s illegal clinic, apart from the couple.
Action Against Sex Selection, state vice president Dr KK Dixit said demanded that the Pals be booked under section 304 of IPC (culpable homicide), besides Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act and Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. “Only strict punishment will create fear in the mind of people,” Dixit said.
Police said the nexus didn’t end here, there were many other people involved in it. Arrests will be made in UP too.
“This is just a tip of the iceberg of the huge inter-state network,” Bhasin said.