Friday, May 11, 2012

Can a TV show save unborn daughters?

When society depends on a television show to probe into their lives to find the dirt, speak out loud what was spoken in hushed tones, find a remedy and bring a revolution, isn't it really expecting too much?! Or is it?

Sunday, 7 May 2012: 11 am

A young mother was forced to abort her baby 6 times in succession within 8 years when it was discovered that she bore a girl. A husband bit his wife’s face (yes, vigorously with his sharp teeth till the flesh tore off and until it completely disfigured) for giving birth to a girl. Finally top it off with a rich, highly educated mother-in-law kicking the baby’s cot down the stairs hoping that it would kill her infant granddaughter.

After every story, I felt my heart bleed. I am a Mum of a gorgeous two year angel. The day we (my husband and I) were told it was a girl, our hearts leaped with joy and so did everyone’s in our family. She has been the apple of everyone’s eye. She is among the lucky ones. 

Female foeticide and infanticide is not a new issue in India or for that matter in many parts of the world that give preference to sons over daughters. But suddenly almost a billion people are discussing it with vigour and passion.

All this thanks to a Bollywood actor Aamir Khan whose new show Satyamev Jayate’s (Truth alone prevails) debut episode Daughters are Precious on Sunday on both national and satellite television in India and abroad featured horrific tales of atrocities against both pregnant mothers and their baby girls.

The show generated great shock and awe and got everyone talking, tweeting, writing, signing petitions etc. Like an epidemic it spread through the length and breadth of the country and beyond and got everyone talking.

The official figures released in 2011 show that the child sex ratio in India has dropped to 914 females for every 1000 males – the lowest ever since 1947 when India gained independence. Sex determination of the baby in a mother’s womb is officially banned in India. However ultrasound machines are widely procured by doctors of private clinics and portable one are often taken to villages where they have been used clandestinely to find the sex of the baby.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just the villages and those less educated that indulged in these practises. The affluent and the professionally qualified too resorted to crime against girls.My first realisation of this was a few years ago when my husband, a journalist reporting for a Mumbai daily exposed how the child sex ratio favours the males in the more affluent parts of Mumbai. The story was talked about only for a day or two.  Not surprising, a television sting operation that exposed over a hundred doctors indulging in the illegal sex selective abortions have seen little consequences of their action as they have neither been suspended nor booked for any crime since its telecast seven years ago. 

Dr Prabha Sivaraman from the Pall Mall medical centre in Manchester was caught on tape in a Telegraph UK sting operation offering a sex selective abortion
In February 2012, an Indian doctor from Manchester was caught offering sex selective abortions.Scientific advances have also given parents an easy access to determining the sex of their unborn child from seven weeks, due to an easy buy online kit that can test foetal DNA in the mother’s blood with 98% accurate results. Also some doctors and medical practitioners in the western world are promoting 'designer & customised' babies. Perhaps it’s time they look at India and refrained from opening this Pandora’s box.
But what is not being probed by either country is how hundreds of Asian families from UK are flying to India and other ‘home’ countries to quietly abort their foetus after determining it sex.  The pressures of producing a male heir are felt even by the seemingly wealthy and ‘progressive’ of Asians. UK based journalist-writer, Kiswar Desai’s book ‘Witness the night’, that won the prestigious Costa Books award, gives you some glaring examples of this trend and plenty of food for thought.
Time and again this gruesome atrocity has been exposed in many forms – though newspaper articles, television stings, books and policies. But nothing generated as much uproar as this celebrity hosted talk show. Within a week of the telecast, Indian government promised Khan, who approached them with a petition, that they would set up a fast track court and probe allegations against the doctors indulging in this illegal act and bring them to book. 

I just hope that in the end truth does prevail. Because if this cannot bring about change, then I shudder to think what will. But I just hope its not a publicity stunt and the show follows up on the government's promises. Aamir's show has garnered a mass following, so perhaps its time for it to lead this new wave of social change.

P.S. Message for SJ: 
Hated the promos, loved the show!  (I used to switch channels everytime the SJ promo came on air)
The concept and cases definitely overpower the seemingly well rehersed tears and scripted shock of the host. Being less of an actor will make Aamir a better connected host.

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