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An unfinished agenda

Let's raise our voice to ensure that women live to become mothers. Pooja Bedi writes.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2011 21:21 IST
Pooja Bedi

It's really a virus. People all over the country are suddenly fed up with the system and are demanding accountability. Not just in the cities, but in small towns as well. Old, young, rich, poor, corporate honchos and housewives have joined hands to beat corruption. What struck me as I saw the television footages, read the reports and heard the voices was that these were not the usual jholewallahs, they were ordinary folk like you and me. And they were bent on making a difference.

Corruption is an issue that hits us because it affects us directly. But there are other issues equally urgent and outrageous that somehow escape our scrutiny and often, even interest. They do not touch us in a real sense because we will perhaps never experience them. Issues like hunger, malnutrition, being ostracised because you belong to a particular caste or gender or dying while giving birth are far from the reality of our urban, progressive and fairly affluent lives.

Today, on India's National Safe Motherhood Day, let me share one statistic: India accounts for as much as 20% of the world's maternal deaths. Almost 70,000 women die in India every year in childbirth. This equals double the number of people that the Wankhede stadium can take at full capacity. A woman in India is 60 to 70 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman from a developed country. Without their mothers, children are 10 times more likely to die within two years. These are not just statistics. Each number represents a life. Together, they reflect the enormity of the problem.

You could ask how this is possible. We are, after all, a country that prides itself in being a thriving economic powerhouse. There are laws in place, government schemes like the National Rural Health Mission and other policies formulated to address the issue. Why then do women continue to die in large numbers?

Well, because we are letting it happen. What's missing is the outcry, the outrage from people like us. You might wonder what you can do here in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore about what is happening at the back of beyond. But this is precisely where you are wrong. You don't have to necessarily go out there to set things right, there is no circumscribed route of action. It's not just a certain kind of person, or a section of society that can affect change - it is ordinary folks voicing their anguish, anger, pain, frustration and even hope through their own modes of expression. Artists, theatrepersons, sportspersons, housewives can choose their medium and just go ahead and blog, write, speak or scream.

Recently, my foundation - the Grassroots Foundation - and I joined forces with the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, an alliance of volunteers mobilising communities to promote the cause and bring in more people. Ultimately, it is people who can make a difference and make things happen. Unless the noise gets deafening, change will not take place. Maternal deaths can and should be prevented. One woman doesn't need to die every eight minutes in our country. We need your voice, your hands, your feet and most importantly your heart to ensure that women live to become mothers.

(Pooja Bedi is a media personality who is deeply committed to social causes. The views expressed by the author are personal)