Not too many dacoits are left in the ravines of Chambal (Madhya Pradesh) but the terror still persists - for little girls.
This threat can be traced to the falling sex ratio of the region. While the national average of women per 1,000 men is 933, and the state's figure is 920, the Chambal region shockingly has only 400 women per 1,000 men in some villages. This, despite a two-and-a-half fold increase in the district's population over the last five decades, and the PNDT Act (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques [Regulation and Prevention of Misuse] Act) having come into force in 1994.
The main reason for the grim sex ratio is the practice of female infanticide and female feticide. Sachin Kumar Jain of Right to Food Campaign, an NGO working in the area, says that this practice stems from the desire for a male child and the belief that a girl child is an economic burden. The flourishing of sex determination facilities under the veil of ultrasound or sonography clinics has only made the gender-specific killings more definite.
Ironically, the purpose of the PNDT Act is to prevent the misuse of such pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purpose of pre-natal sex determination leading to female feticide. Every offence under this Act is 'cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable'.
Yet, despite the legal deterrent, Chambal seems to tremble at nothing less than a dacoit.
Take the case of Morena district. In addition to the around 14 private nursing homes in the district, there are an estimated 23 sonography centers as well. The district administration had issued show cause notices to many clinics for violating the PNDT Act. In some cases, licenses were cancelled, but a few managed to get their licenses renewed.
A recent study conducted by the state's Department of Woman and Child Development throws light on just how grim the situation is in Madhya Pradesh. According to the study, the sex ratio in 50 villages of Morena district is between 509 and 800 per 1,000 men. In 18 villages of Porsa, it is between 716 and 800. In 24 villages of Sabalgarh, it is between 631 and 800. In 70 villages of Jaura, the ratio is between 458 and 800. In 41 villages of Kolaras, it is between 382 and 800. In 39 villages of Pahargarh, it is between 384 and 800, while in 55 villages of Ambah, the sex ratio is between 448 and 800 per 1,000 men.
Says Akash Tripath, District Collector, Morena: "The falling number of girls is alarming. In some places the number of girls is startlingly low. If the same trend persists, the day is not far when there will be no girls left at all." According to reports, in the village of Sihori (Morena district), of the 26 children born in the last year, surprisingly only six were girls.
Female infanticide is also a contributing factor. There have been cases where families have stuffed the tiny mouth of a newborn girl with tobacco or salt. Others have not let the new mother nurse the hungry child.
The administration plans to tackle the mindset and disturbing sex ratio is by encouraging religious leaders to speak to communities.
At a meeting of the State Supervisory Board formed under the PNDT Act, Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Ajay Vishnoi directed that cases against sonography centers engaged in sex determination should be directly filed in court so that erring centers could be punished at the earliest. He also said that it was mandatory for institutions registered under the PNDT Act to submit records with the Chief Medical and Health Officer every month, and that strict action should be taken against those not complying with the rules.
Meanwhile, several NGOs are working in the area of advocacy by organizing street plays in villages to inform people about the importance of the girl child. It remains to be seen whether all these initiatives bear fruit - and allow female fetuses and infant girls to flower.