For too long women have waited for their right to education, their right to consensual marriage and pregnancy, their right to control their own bodies and, most importantly, their right to be born. In Rajasthan, as in the rest of the country, this last right has been denied through sex selective abortions with a strong preference for a male child driving the dip in the child sex ratio (CSR).
The decline in the national CSR from 927 in 2001 to 919 in 2011 shows that even 20 years after the 1994 Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT) Act was legislated to end sex-selective abortions, the wait for its proper implementation continues.
But in Rajasthan, where the CSR fell from 946 in 2001 to 888 in 2011, women are no longer waiting. Pregnant women are volunteering to participate in inspections carried out by the state government on diagnostic centres to penalise guilty medical practitioners. So far, 21 inspections have been carried out with the help of 185 women. For a state where women are rarely seen or heard, this is a big achievement.
According to official figures, 2,149 cases have been filed under the PCPNDT Act with 562 in court. Over 340 licences have been cancelled and 371 ultrasound machines have been sealed. Being the first state to have a designated police station to pursue cases filed under the PCPNDT Act as well as take action against companies selling ultrasound machines, Rajasthan has seen a positive impact.
The real heroes are the pregnant women volunteers. Asha Singh of Jaipur district, who was almost wheeled in for a sex selective abortion when the inspection team got delayed in a traffic jam, doesn’t regret she persuaded her mother-in-law to allow her to become a decoy when she was pregnant with her first child. Having overcome the heart-stopping experience of having to lock herself in the bathroom until the team arrived, Singh is ready to go the last mile in the fight to save girls.
It has taken several years of hard work by Shikshit Rozgar Kendra Prabandhak Samiti (SRKPS), a local non-governmental organisation, which has conducted 17 of the 21 sting operations in collaboration with the state PCPNDT cell, to motivate women and their families not to succumb to the pressures of producing male heirs. It collaborated with Plan India in implementing targeted interventions that have reached out to more than 25,000 people to raise awareness of the value of the girl child.
It was an awareness campaign that got Sunita Sharma, a resident of Durana village, on board. Sunita withstood her mother’s pressure to undergo a sex determination test when she was pregnant with her third child and gave birth to her third daughter. Now as a part of a core team of 11 women decoy coordinators, her experience comes in handy to motivate pregnant women to help the cause.
Although the state CSR remains skewed in favour of boys, more daughters are being born thanks to the courage of pregnant women volunteers.
Swapna Majumdar is an independent journalist who writes on development and gender
The views expressed by the author are personal