Maneka Gandhi's Sex Determination Proposal Is All Manner Of Wrong

04/02/2016 2:47 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI -- At a loss of how to deal with the crisis of female foeticide, described by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a "national shame," Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi recently suggested mandatory sex determination and registration of a foetus, which could be tracked to prevent abortion.

Following a public uproar against the proposal, Gandhi's ministry clarified that this was a proposal that had come from the stakeholders and there was no plan yet to make this a policy.

This was an example of a classic malady of Indian policymaking--the propensity for reactionary legislation to cover up the state's inability to address endemic ailments.

A number of public health specialists and activists have slammed the suggestion for its inherent presumption that all pregnant women are potentially guilty and the invasion of privacy involved in tracking them.

'Her Idea Is Totally Wrong'

Objections to Gandhi's anti-feminist idea include: shifting the culpability of sex selection from the medical professionals to women and violating women's right to their bodies.

"We have already criminalised sex selection so her idea is totally wrong. They will be checking women instead of doctors. It violates the whole feminist principle of women's right to their bodies," said Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

So far, neither the law against sex selection nor cosmetic exertions like the #SelfieWithDaughter campaign have arrested India's dipping sex ratio, which stands at 918, dipping further from 927 in 2001, and reaching the lowest level since 1961.

With the snowballing of ultrasonography technology since the nineties, states with skewed sex ratios have become worse, and sex selection has spread far and wide.

Usha Ramanathan, a prominent civil liberties lawyer, said that interference by the Indian state in the lives of the people is becoming a "theme song," and instead of targeting the "managers of technology" (medical professionals and quacks in the case of female foeticide), Gandhi's proposal targets the "subjects of technology" — the public.

"You can't put a pregnant woman under surveillance," she said. "Instead of going after corporates and government institutions, it is easier to target people, who are the most vulnerable."

In an interview with HuffPost India, Ramanathan said that Gandhi's proposal would drive institutional deliveries, but the conditions in government hospitals is so bad that women often lose their babies because of blood loss.

"So now a woman would have to prove...'no, no I wasn't getting an abortion. I was just bleeding'... such an idea sees everyone as potential criminals," she said. "Instead of asking why do we have a problem to start with, you are presuming the woman is a criminal and trying to get into her private life."

'Anger and Frustration'

The skewed sex ratio is the root of problems ranging from poor health for mothers who get frequent abortions to the trafficking of girls to parts of the country with an acute shortage of brides.

Official data on female foeticide is unreliable. In 2014, Madhya Pradesh accounted for the highest number (30) of the total 101 cases of female foeticide reported in 2014, according to the National Crimes Record Bureau. In 2006, the United Nations said that 7,000 female foetuses are aborted every day in India. Last year, Gandhi said that 2,000 girls are aborted in the womb, everyday.

The Indian government does not maintain gender-wise data of foeticide. In 2011, however, a study published in British medical journal The Lancet found that at least 12 million Indian girls were aborted since 1981.

Reports on how much the sex selection industry is worth varies from Rs15crores to Rs1000 crores, but there is lack of official data on the this figure or the on the nationwide number of arrests and prosecution for female foeticide.

"This view is coming out of her (Gandhi's) anger and frustration at not being able to implement the law," said Kumari.

Also on HuffPost:

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