By Neeta Lal –
innovative bid to fight gender discrimination, Satara district in
Trussed up in their Sunday best, the girls were all smiles amidst the pop of camera bulbs. "My friends will be calling me with my new name now. And that makes me very happy. My earlier name made me feel worthless," 15-year-old Nakhushi, now renamed Muskaan or ‘a smile’, says into the TV camera.
But will changing girls names combat their internalized sense of
worthlessness and improve the status of women and girls in
Gender bias in Indian society is blatant. Apart from the extreme practices of feticide, infanticide and honor killings, discrimination against Indian girls persists through parental prejudices, lack of educational opportunities, and unfair resource allocation.
The discrimination against the girl child manifests itself everywhere - even in educated, well-off households. A few years back I was shocked when one of my colleagues, a well-qualified woman in her thirties with two daughters, confided in me that she “got her baby dropped” when she found out it was a girl. “I’ll keep getting pregnant until I have a boy. The baby will be born only once it’s confirmed that it’s a male,” she told me with finality.
Was she being coerced into this situation I asked her, concerned about the ease with which she narrated the episode to me. “Yes,” she replied. “My husband hinted that my mom-in-law is keen her son remarry if we can’t have a male heir.”
In the mid-1960s, sex-determination technology was introduced in
The Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques (regulation and prevention of
misuse) Act was enacted in 1994 and brought into operation in 1996. After over
two decades, it seems little has changed.
In Satara this equation is a grim 881 to 1,000 boys. For the northern state of Haryana, notorious for crimes against women, including honor killings, the picture is especially bleak - in Duleypur village, the sex ratio at birth is 400 females per 1,000 males.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that every
day 7,000 fewer girls are born in
The moment the UN report came out radiologists in Mumbai were up
in arms. “Ultrasound has been around for decades. If it’s such a widely used
tool for sex determination then girls should have disappeared in larger numbers
by now,” Indian Radiological & Imaging Association president Dr Jignesh
Thakker told one Indian daily. The city’s radiologists are already fighting a
bitter battle against the
Not that the national capital city of
“We need to amplify our voices about sonography's misuse so that public opinion can be built up and stringent action is taken against the wrong doers," says Pramila Kirk, an NGO worker. Kirk advises that if the state government makes software to keep track of all scans mandatory for ultrasound machines, it will dramatically augment the child-sex ratio.
Some doctors believe, however, that instead of spending about
USD800 per machine on installing silent observer software, the sum should be invested
in pro girl child policies. Experts add that the argument that prenatal
diagnostic tests give women a ‘choice’ to select a child of the desired sex is
specious. Women’s choices, especially in
This means that four decades after the passage of the landmark
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act that legalized abortion in
People suspect there are other interests behind the Commission's new proposal. According to human rights activist and lawyer Pramod Kamayani, "female feticide is organized murder. Parents do it because they want to get rid of daughters; the doctors do it for a quick buck and the government looks upon it as an effective and free population control method. With such a well-entrenched nexus in place, how can the situation be improved?”
Perhaps things can be improved by implementing imaginative public policies to set right the gender skew. Already, some state government schemes are providing incentives for parents to embrace girl children and make for more balanced birth rates. Measures like providing bicycles for school-going girls have proved to be efficacious in empowering the girl child.
While giving hundreds of nakhushis
a new name is laudable, real transformation will come about only if, along with
the name change, mindsets are changed too.