The horror of Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh is a case study of what can — and what does — go wrong in India’s half-baked attempts to arrest female foeticide. It will take some time before we get to the bottom of the 400 foetal bones recovered by the police from behind the Christian Mission Hospital in Ratlam. Five days since the shocking discovery, one can only speculate whether the hospital was guilty of being callous about disposing stillborn babies or whether it was covering up something more grave: the illegal abortion of female foetuses. Considering that only one doctor has ever been convicted for illegal foeticide since the inception of the law in 1994, the outcome of this case could also end up in that grim spot: nowhere. Investigating agencies and State authorities still do not have a template in place that can help them crack down on fertility clinics and hospitals where girl-killings contribute to under-the-table, burgeoning business.
Correcting India’s skewed sex ratio is an enormous task. Society’s continued preference — both in rural and urban areas — for sons has spurred on a medical mafia. Political leaders are clearly not bothered about the gravity of the situation. A Unicef report last December stated that 7,000 fewer girls are born in India every day than the global average. In February 2006, a survey in Lancet concluded that one out of every 25 female foetuses — about 500,000 a year — was aborted in India. This was derived from government data collected from a 1998 sample of Indian families in all the districts of the country. It is high time that the government sets up a dedicated cell that can ‘read’ the demographic data and work in concert with district level agents to implement the law. Sure, agencies exist. But why wait for the media to put two and two together? Political will and commitment are the only drivers to bring about change in society.
Female foeticide may have begun with the misuse of ultrasound technology, but female infanticide is nothing new in this country. It will take more than pamphleteering to change ground realities. Censuses show that the number of girls, relative to the number of boys, has been falling steadily for the past 20 years. The State must ensure that the goings-on at the hospital at Ratlam are thoroughly investigated. Whether it turns out to be foeticide or not, such skeletons should be forced out of their cupboards.