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Mahila Mukt Bharat?

Mahila Mukt Bharat?

There was not a single girl among the 216 newborns in 132 villages in Uttarkashi district in Uttarakhand in the last three months, according to official data. No girl child was born in these villages since April 2019! “It cannot be just a coincidence as it clearly indicates female foeticide is taking place in the district and the administration is not doing anything to prevent it,” Kalpana Thakur, a women’s rights activist and social worker, said.

According to reports, the Uttarkashi district administration has marked the 132 villages as a "red zone" and a team of 25 officials has been formed to investigate the matter.

India’s last population census in 2011 revealed sex ratio of 943 girls for every 1,000 boys. After that it reduced to 898. New data from the Civil Registration System of the Registrar General of India point to the hardening of the pattern, with a fall in sex ratio at birth from 898 girls for 1,000 boys in 2013, to 887 a year later. The decreasing factor still continues. It is a cruel irony of a fast-growing India that there are fewer and fewer girls as a ratio of total births, as a result of complex factors that include parental preference.

We have to presume that sex-selective abortions, though illegal, are common. The Police, local government authorities and medical personnel are alleged to be accomplices in this crime. Anushree Bernard of the Vanishing Girls campaign said, “Changing mindsets alone cannot improve the declining Child Sex ratio. We need a fierce implementation of appropriate laws to ensure that the perpetrators who conduct sex determination do not get away”. Many legal experts feel that the implementation of certain existing laws is very slow.

India has a long history of female infanticide: of baby girls poisoned, suffocated, drowned, starved or simply abandoned and left to die. A United Nations report in 2014 said the dwindling number of girls in India had reached ‘emergency proportions’ and was the primary cause for the exponential rise in the number of rapes and other sexual crimes against women in the country. Sanjay Parikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court noted that unless the appropriate authorities and nodal officers at all levels take stringent action, no results will be achieved. 

The previous BJP-led government (Modi 1.0) “pretended” to respond to this silent crisis with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, focusing on the prevention of sex-selective abortions, creation of opportunities for education and protection of girl children. In 2019 Election Manifesto the BJP promised that the government will pay more priority to women’s security. This was absolute ‘eyewash’. In reality, the anti-girl children/anti-women incidences occurred during the BJP regimes as well and still continue to occur.  

As per the recent media reports, Odisha is fast turning out to be one of the most unsafe places for minor girls. As many as 602 children, including 502 girls, have gone missing in the first six months of the current year. Of the 502 girl children who went missing during January-March this year, the police could trace only 79. The trace-out rate in the state stood at a measly 15%. Similarly, the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) says the number of adult women gone missing in the same period in the State is around 1,450, with a trace-out rate of below 20%.

The fact is missing children in Odisha is now numbered at a massive 10,258 vis-à-vis 864 in Jharkhand. According to the Women and Child Development Ministry report, the tracing-out rate of children in West Bengal in 2018-2019 stood at 95%, Andhra Pradesh had a rate of 52% and Chhattisgarh 86%. As per a Child Welfare Committee study, the lackadaisical functioning of juvenile unit of State Police is responsible for increased trafficking of females from the States. Rutuparna Mohanty, a noted women and child rights activist, regretted that the police administration does not show sensitivity to address the trafficking issue.

For more than two decades, the goal of reducing gender inequality has held a prominent place in international organizations and in national strategy statements. Millennium Development Goal-3 reflects the global attention to the issue of gender inequality and has been providing the impetus for governments to eliminate gender inequality in primary and secondary education by 2005 and in all levels by 2015 (Gender Inequality, UN).

Women, one half of the nation, are still under social bondage and have suffered greatly in Indian history. They have suffered from lack of social liberty. They have faced social evils like child marriages, polygamy, and enforced widowhood. Women still are much less educated than their male counterparts. The position of women in society is not exactly what it should be. In the social and cultural fields, they have lost their position. In the economic sphere of activity, though they play a major role, their contribution is not recognized, and as a class they continue to occupy a secondary position. Unfortunately, their helplessness in different walks of life has led to their exploitation at almost every step.

Lots of women in the society are subjected to cruelty and exploitation. What is most degrading for women is that they are not only being neglected in the social milieu but are subjected to harsh cruelties and atrocities as a class. These atrocities are of many types ranging from mental torture to psychological assaults, which often result in murder or suicide. Deprived of all education, confined within four walls of the house, seeing little of the world and knowing little of it, our women are not better than slaves.

Half-measures cannot produce a dramatic reversal of the shameful national record. All good and responsible citizens and grassroots NGOs have to come together to make an impact and initiate a change in the mindset of people. We need to go beyond slogans and make the State/Central Governments to institute tangible schemes. Enforcement of the law that prohibits determination of the sex of the foetus must go hand in hand with massive social investments to protect both immediate and long-term prospects of girls - in the form of cash incentives through registration of births, a continuum of health care, early educational opportunities and social protection. Are we ready to save the girl children?

(Published on 12th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 33)