If there was ever a fight that appeared doomed from the start then the battle against sex selective abortions in India would be the one topping the list.
Even as the government struggles to implement one policy over the other in its attempts to plug the genocidal manner in which girls are being wiped out from the demography of the country newer technology just keeps showing up to make the fight tougher at every step.
Cheaper and more easily accessible sex determination kits from the American shores have flooded the affluent male-child preferring fertility markets of Haryana and Punjab in northern India. With the test literally a needle's prick away and results assured in less than 48 hours it's a bargain for many. Online trading for the kits is just another aspect of the racket where doctors procure the stock only to be resold to expecting parents in the adjoining towns and cities.
And that really is what lies at the core of the losing campaign here. If the government and its machinery constantly engage in policies that try to combat technology available and punish those who make use of it, the battle is lost even before the war cry is heard. The guilty have to be punished and there is no argument on that. But the truth is that laws have been around and yet crime of every kind persists and often (as in the case of doctors abetting sex selective abortions) quite evidently flourishes. It is the age-old attitudes guiding customs and practises that predetermine the status of women as second-class citizens – and often not even that given that they are bartered off over bad debts or to buy cattle which is seen as a more profitable enterprise than a wife or daughter – that need to be challenged and changed. When a woman's status is hinged on being the mother of a son as opposed to one who has only borne daughters the markets are not very difficult to zero-in on.
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Yet hope stems from unheard of little nooks and corners of the country with the victims of these abuses taking up their own cause; not waiting for the government or the bureaucracy to intervene; not waiting for their own family and spouses to mediate on their behalves.
Banda a small village in northern India's state of Uttar Pradesh is harbouring its own vigilantes. A gang that rather dramatically calls itself the ‘gulabi gang' – literally meaning the pink gang – has chosen to take on the society and community they inhabit trapped within its own rituals and mores. Recognised by the colour of their saris (a sarong-style, full length traditional Indian garment worn by women), the women stake out incidents of child marriage and dowry deaths within the community as well as political cases of government apathy and corruption. Having suffered abuse themselves their own methods are far from non violent since they have known to have thrashed wife beaters and defended the cause of many backward castes by storming the local police station. In a social set-up that would have rarely allowed them a voice ever, their efforts are beyond commendable in a country where incidents of atrocities against women continue to shock a nation but hardly stir many.
While at one end of the spectrum are the voices of those brutalized by a patriarchal society hence looking at the choice of not having a girl child as the best option than putting her through the same ordeal; on the other end are these battle-hardened-willing-to-put-up-a-fight voices who from within the traditional context of their particular cultures choose to challenge everything that they perceive as unfair and unjust.
India's answer to the systematic killing of its daughters lies somewhere here.
Amongst the women who have lived the life of a daughter, of a wife and of a mother. Who have endured violence because of their gender, because of their caste, because of their socio-economic status. While poverty remains the nodal point of all these issues the fact is that sex selective abortions continue to be a malaise afflicting urban India and the more affluent states of the country, nevertheless spreading to other parts as well. Successful strategies replicate themselves. And choosing a male child over a girl child seems to have become the smart strategy for many able to ill-afford nurturing and subsequently providing for the dowry of their girls. Somewhere in the grand plans for a nation racing ahead it seems simpler to forget that we still need to fight dowry and the accompanied deaths because of it; that we still have to fight gender-based discrimination; that we still have to fight chauvinism of every kind. And we still have to fight mindsets clouded by orthodox beliefs and supported by age-old rituals that allow one human being to exploit the other.
And yet you have women who wrapped in yards of pink cloth have chosen to challenge traditions that they would have been made to believe are dictated by the scriptures. Employing techniques that shame the accused – a very effective tool in societies where honour dictates all – members of the gulabi gang fight what they perceive as social injustice. Not handouts by the government but a life of dignity and respect from, and for everyone. And while their techniques might be questioned by many the gulabi gang continues to do what the government and its machinery should be doing in the first place.
Here's raising a toast to these women of the real India.