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Maharashtra’s vanishing girls

Female foetuses found abandoned across state,not just in Beed where doctor couple wanted for abortion that killed woman

Written by Swatee Kher | Mumbai |
June 13, 2012 3:49:16 am

For some time now,Maharashtra has straddled the line between being the first state to introduce 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies and continuing a tradition in some parts to christen the fourth or fifth daughter “Nakushi”,Marathi for “unwanted”. Now a spate of discoveries of aborted foetuses,coming close on the heels of the death of a woman in a hospital in Beed district while she was undergoing an abortion,has brought back into sharp focus the persisting problem of female foeticide in one of the country’s most advanced states.

On May 18,Vijaymala Patekar,30,was allegedly undergoing an illegal abortion at a hospital run by Dr Sudam Munde and his wife Dr Saraswati Munde,now on the run,in Parli in Beed. Around 9 pm,Patekar died due to severe bleeding. A postmortem at Ambejogai Medical College found the abortion had been done between weeks 18 and 20 of pregnancy,indicative of possible sex selection.

Police have charged the doctor couple,absconding for nearly a month,with culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing death with an act done with the intent to cause miscarriage. Police reports indicate the Mundes own 170 acres of land and assets worth crores of rupees.

The couple have four previous cases against them,three of these involving female foetuses allegedly found on their premises. Amid an outcry against the government to arrest the couple,even officials have admitted that such doctors thrive because of a nexus with health officials and the support of political groups.

In the weeks since Patekar’s death,foetuses have been found not only in Beed — which at 801 females per 1,000 males has the state’s worst child sex ratio — but also in Latur,Dhule,Solapur and even in Mumbai last week.

“Special teams have been formed to deal with cases under the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act. The government is trying to ensure that the medical community acts against such doctors in its fraternity,” said Health Minister Suresh Shetty,adding,“It takes time to change the mindset of people.”

Performance

Maharashtra’s child sex ratio,946 per 1,000 in 1991,plunged to 883. second worst in the country,in Census 2011. Some activists project from the ratio to an estimate that the state loses five lakh girls every year.

Foeticide was once restricted to urban pockets and Western Maharashtra but has now spread to most parts of Marathwada in Central Maharashtra and even tribal pockets of Nashik. The number of districts with a ratio lower than 900,nine in 2001,more than doubled to 20 in 2011. The worst performers were,besides Beed,the adjoining districts of Jalgaon,Ahmednagar,Buldhana and Kolhapur.

After the 2011 data were released,the government formed a committee of MLAs and experts to reverse the drop in the ratio. The state unit of the United Nation Population Fund conducted training and awareness programmes with the government for judges and lawyers. “We have completed the training of the judiciary and distributed details of cases to them. Currently,training of public prosecutors on the PCPNDT and MTP Acts is under way,” said Asaram Khade,assistant director,family welfare,who is in charge of PCPNDT cases.

Maharashtra courts have registered 342 cases so far under the PCPNDT Act,1994,but most of these relate to advertisement of services and non-maintenance of records. Only a handful involve an abortion or the offer to carry one out,usually exposed by decoys.

Maharashtra’s 42 convictions for sex determination and sex selection still mark the highest in the country. Of these doctors,26 were awarded jail terms up to three years and 16 got away with fines.

The Maharashtra Medical Council,defunct for a decade,finally had elections in 2011 and has since suspended the licences of five doctors,issued showcause notices to 18 and now promised to take suo moto action in “harsh” cases. “Under the rules,we can initiate action against doctors after charges have been framed against them in court. This takes time. The process will now be speeded up through a special coordination officer of the government,” said Dr Shivkumar Utture,member of the MMC.

Another suggested deterrent is provisions for action against relatives who force women into an abortion for the sake of a son. “As in the case of dowry,relatives should be made accused in these cases too. They are equally responsible,” said the health minister.

The doctor couple

Of the four previous cases faced by the doctors Munde,one was the result of a trap laid by activists in 2010. They got a pregnant woman to ask the couple to find the sex of her baby. The woman was allegedly charged Rs 500,to be followed by Rs 2,000 for an abortion,should it be a girl.

The case is pending with Dr Saraswati Munde having challenged court processes. Evidence is being presented in the case against her husband.

“No action has been taken against them. Even now,they have been able to file for anticipatory bail though police have not arrested them yet,” said Varsha Deshpande,lawyer for the Lek Ladki Abhiyan,the organisation that set up the decoy in 2010.

She alleged that Dr Munde had a team of 15 doctors who conducted about 100 operations a day with an income target of Rs 1 lakh per day. Dr Munde and his wife ran a 114-bed hospital when they are said to have permission for a nursing home with 14 beds.

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