Vibrant Gujarat. Prosperous Gujarat. Enterprising Gujarat. By most (economic) standards, Gujarat is a developed state. During the Census decades of 1981-1991 and 1991-2001, Gujarat's rapid industrialization boasted an urban population of 37 per cent against the national average of 27 per cent. During these decades, Gujarat also witnessed a high literacy rate (69.98 per cent) and an equally impressive female literacy rate (58.60 per cent).
Recently, a study by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation - `Economic Freedom of States of India' - labelled Gujarat as the Number 1 state in economic freedom. The study, which took into account data up to the year 2001 (before the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom), stated that Gujarat was one of the few states where there is "safety of life, an essential component of economic freedom".
But in recent years, advocacy workshops held in Gujarat on sex selection and pre-birth elimination of females, have painted a grim picture of `vibrant' Gujarat. According to Census officials, women's activists and gynecologists present in such workshops, the girl child is not safe in the state. Prosperous Gujarat prefers the male child.
At a recent workshop, jointly organized by the NGO Chetna, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and the Population Foundation of India (a development agency), many quoted the 2001 Census figures to question this `dangerous prosperity'. The workshop was also attended by corporate leaders. The workshops are held periodically every two months to discuss this serious problem.
Gujarat's female-male child sex ratio is 883:1000, compared to the national average of 927:1000 in the 0-6 age group. Ahmedabad district was even lower: just 813 girls, according to the 2001 Census. Ironically, districts like Mehsana (797), Gandhinagar (816), Rajkot (843) and Ahmedabad enjoy a female literacy rate of above 60 per cent. But it is the backward and tribal districts of Dangs, Dahod and Narmada, with below 40-35 per cent female literacy rates, that have reported child sex ratios of 950 and above.
The unhealthy child sex ratio is a matter of concern among several groups in Gujarat. Dr Haresh Doshi, a gynecologist at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, is disturbed by this `vibrancy' of the state. The rate at which the female fetuses are being killed is astonishing, despite the amended Preconception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex
Selection) Act, formerly the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Misuse) Act, 1994, he says.
Doshi's 'guesstimate' is that in Ahmedabad city, which reported a low child sex ratio of 809 during the 2001 Census, an average of at least one sex selective abortion is conducted by each doctor every month. There are 550 gynecologists registered with the Ahmedabad Obstetrics and Gynecologists Society.
Although women's activists and some NGOs have been working on this issue for some time now, they say the road is rather tough.
Says Chetna's senior programme officer Ila Vakharia, who has been conducting a relentless campaign against female infanticide and feticide for over a decade now: "People can afford this modern technology of sex selection. Today you find ultrasound clinics in almost all the urban and rural areas of Gujarat. If you venture into the rural areas, the women do not understand any laws enforced against sex selection but they do know about the clinics that provide sex selection tests. So, our efforts are mainly focused on the ultrasound clinics that conduct such illegal tests. We try to keep a constant check on the doctors and their clinics."
Vakharia adds, "We also approach the Samaj Suraksha Kendras (social welfare centers), schools and colleges and talk about issues like dowry and discrimination against the girl child. Approaching the corporates and pursuing the prosperous class in society to help in spreading awareness about the importance of the girl child is another important objective of our organization."
Chetna sets up groups in various villages and cities that work as watchdogs over doctors. They also conduct workshops for men in the rural areas. In some areas, Chetna workers have also started an oath-taking programme - young women take an oath that they will refrain from killing the girl child and will respect her as a human being.
Chetna now plans to educate people about the value of the girl child through partnerships with corporates and politicians. They have already developed pamphlets and reference material in Gujarati to create awareness among corporates. Corporates like the Sarabhai group have come forward and given plans on how this problem can be specifically addressed in urban areas.
The Ahmedabad-based Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), one of the country's leading women's NGOs, provides knowledge on sexual health issues to men and boys in urban and rural areas. "We give importance to midwives' education and teach them how a boy or a girl is born," says Mital Shah, health coordinator at SEWA. "Even after seeing so many examples of woman power in urban areas, it is mostly the men who take decisions in the family. So, we want to educate men about the importance of a female child." SEWA members also conduct street plays based on themes like how the anti-sex selection law is implemented.
But this `save the female fetus' mission has several challenges. Ila Pathak, founder member of the Ahmedabad Women Action Group, who also decides (at the state level) on cases of violation of the PPNDT Act, says that till date, not a single case has been filed. "Our organization is trying to educate the women in the family to strongly oppose their husbands when they say birth should only be given to a son. But even today, a woman is never consulted when it comes to having sex, starting a family or deciding on the gender-mix of the family."
Women's activists and NGOs feel that it will take at least another decade for their efforts to show any impact.