If the Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury has her way, India might well be on the way to engaging in a new type of census, one of tabulating pregnancies. The minister proposes that the route to curbing India’s appalling levels of female foeticide and infanticide would be to register pregnancies and abortions. Reacting to a Lancet report last year that 10 million girls have been killed in India in the past 20 years, either before they were born or immediately after, Ms Chowdhury had described it as a ‘national crisis’. Yes, it is. But what have we done about it so far? Have the ambitious gender sensitisation drives worked? Not well enough, if the Lancet figures are anything to go by. The skewed sex ratio, even in so-called progressive states like Kerala, says it all. The mindset against the girl child is still negative and this cuts across the socio-economic spectrum.
The good minister wants women to provide valid and acceptable reasons as to why they want an abortion. By what stretch of the imagination will the registration of pregnancies help in stopping foeticide? Or is this tacit admission that the implementation of anti-sex selection laws has been patchy? Abortion is legal in India under certain circumstances. With newer technologies, many may opt for abortions to get rid of the female foetus. This is reprehensible. But, can the government, or anyone for that matter, decide on the autonomy that every woman should have over her body? It is a woman’s choice, whether she wants to continue with a pregnancy unless, of course, it becomes dangerous to her life. There are many mitigating circumstances in the law that permit a woman to have an abortion. Rape is one, the inability of an unmarried woman to care for a child is another. Any pregnancy that causes mental anguish to a woman can be legally terminated even against medical advice. The minister ought to be looking at the root cause of female foeticide, not try to enter a personal domain.
Surely, the concerned ministries should be more worried that the medical fraternity is not averse to cutting corners when it comes to disclosing the gender of an unborn child and facilitating foeticide. In the weeks after the shocking Lancet study, a doctor was convicted for divulging the gender of a foetus. Of course, we have heard nothing more on that. That is where the fault lies, minister. Playing Big Brother will do nothing to remedy the situation except to force abortions into the back alleys and into the hands of quacks.