Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time to Act - Dr. Sharada's Address at the Creative Excellence Awards Event

As I am standing before you I am overcome by sadness and a sense of failure. I wish to share the same with you and with our health Minister Mr.Suresh Shetty who had agreed to join us today. The latest census data exposes the inadequacy of our efforts and our collective failure which let 7 million girls go missing from our population over the last 10 years. In spite of the activists and all those who are working for the cause shouting hoarse about the falling sex ratio there was hardly any urgency in the efforts of the government to curb the practice of illegal pre-birth sex determination.

Now we have a situation where pre-birth sex selection has ceased to be a phenomenon of a few states or districts. It has almost become a pan India phenomena. Except six states all the others have shown a decline in sex ratio.  Three of the six states Punjab (874), Haryana ( 830), Gujarat ( 886) had only minor improvements and are still far from the national average of 914 girls per 1000 boys.  While we were sure that sex ratio would further decline in Maharashtra, the figure 883 came as a shock to many of us.  Mumbai recording a fall of 48 points and reaching 874 girls per 1000 boys was a shocker. 

The media is covering the issue extensively and the government has launched a campaign to Save the Girl Child. Do we really need to be in such dire straits to wake up and put our act together? Do we need the foetuses to float in a nallah to push us into action.  I have a few questions to the Health Minister who is with us today on behalf of all of us. Why did the Maharashtra government take 3 years to constitute the State Supervisory Board? Why are the advisory boards not constituted or called for meetings as per the requirements under the law? Why does the government shy away from treating the issue as one of medical malpractice and illegal business by some doctors? How come whenever we speak of pre-birth sex selection the focus shifts to controlling abortions and monitoring and harassing of women?  Why don’t we try to understand what is it that has changed in our perennially son preferring society that makes the choice of eliminating girls and making a business out of it so easy. We did not have bad sex ratios even when we were a newly liberated country in 1960’s! What has changed now?

Our aspirations have changed thanks to liberalization and the visibility of prosperity all around us. Choices have become accessible and affordable thanks to aggressive marketing of technologies. But unfortunately, nothing much has changed with regard to the status of women. It is such a sad joke that whenever we say mind set change we only think of posters, banners and films. Do they really change our attitudes? Would I like to have a daughter just because I saw a poster, if I am not sure that she would get quality education in safe and sensitive schools which would help her become economically independent? Will I dream of sending her to work if I am not confident of her safety, security and equal opportunities at work place? Will I fight for my unborn daughter if I am not confident of the efficiency of the legal system, sincerity n honesty of the administrative system and support systems available for me – half way homes, child support, career n legal counseling, employment opportunities etc if I chose to leave the abusive family?

Mind sets change when we change the circumstances in which we live, communication helps but it is not adequate in itself. We have some of the most progressive laws but very little financial as well as human investments are made in implementing them effectively.

 The shortage of women will only make the atrocities on women increase making girls that much more vulnerable and unwanted, trapping us into a vicious circle. WE need the government to be proactive on many fronts and act with sincerity and accountability. It is heartening to that the Govt of Maharashtra has launched the  website for online registration of complaints and a help line as well to register complaints as well as to provide counselling services to women facing family pressure to go for sex determination. I request each one of you to be vigilant and complain online whenever you visit a clinic and find that it is not complying with the law or whenever you get to know that somebody had been informed about the sex of the foetus by a doctor. The things that you need to look into are:

·         A board at any ultrasound clinic saying sex selection is a punishable crime
·         2 copies of the PCPNDT Act should be available
·         Registration certificate of ultrasound machine
·         Registration certificate of doctor/radiologist
·         F and G forms to be filled up correctly
·         The sex of the foetus should not be revealed in any which way

We hope the government works on the complaints with alacrity. We have developed some real good communication material and hope the government uses it to promote the website.

We have launched the Million signatures campaign in 2009 and we have been collecting signatures to demand the government to initiate a few programmatic/policy interventions. Our demands include:
·         Reconstituting the advisory boards as per law
·         Conduct a social audit of reports submitted by the clinics
·         Make available online data of USG machines sold by companies
·         Institute a special fast track court
·         Appoint a special prosecutor at the state level
·         Initiate legal action against clinics for any violation of the Act

We have received 60,000 signatures so far. These signatures are received through SMSes, emails, and through signatures obtained at various events, colleges and organizations. I am sure many of you have signed the pledge card. Sir, we do not have much time, we need to act and act now. We have to keep our personal, professional and political agenda’s aside and fight for the rights of the girls. . Sir, we do not have much time, we need to act and act now. We have to keep our personal, professional and political agenda’s aside and fight for the rights of the girls. It is not just about her! It is about us as people, us as a society and us as a country.