A STING OP GETS ITS BITE BACK

Has sharp­ened the fo­cus on fe­male foeti­cide. BABA UMAR speaks to the two in­trepid jour­nal­ists who panned their cam­era over an en­demic crime seven years ago

Tehelka - - A BRUSH WITH DISSENT -

HRIPAL SHAKTAWAT and Meena­sharma­knew­the­pit­falls of­nail­ing­120­med­i­cal­prac­ti­tion­ers­in­volved­in­fe­male ­foeti­cide. ­And­yet, ­the­two­jaipur­based jour­nal­ists­se­cretly­filmed­doc­tors ­will­ing­to­abort­fe­male­foe­tuses­— ­some­times­for­a­pal­try­ 2,000­—­in­­pri­vate and­gov­ern­ment­hos­pi­tals­across­ra­jasthan,­mad­hya­pradesh, ­Ut­tar­pradesh and­gu­jarat­in­a­year­long­sting­op­er­a­tion­be­tween­2005-06.

Ret­ri­bu­tion­was­swift. ­Shaktawat­suf­fered­the­ire­of­doc­tors­across­­ra­jasthan and­else­where. ­He­was­ac­cused­of­black­mail­ing­and­ex­tor­tion.­his­house­was van­dalised­and­fam­ily­­harassed. ­Iron­i­cally,­the­er­rant­doc­tors­were­never ­pe­nalised. ­Many­of­them­were­pro­moted de­spite­the­over­whelm­ing­ev­i­dence against­them.

Seven­years­later, ­the­sting­op­er­a­tion is­back­in­the­news­af­ter­it­was­aired­as part­of­the­episode­on­fe­male­foeti­cidein­aamir­khan’s­tele­vi­sion­de­but Satyamev Jay­ate.

S­in­clud­ing­the­hospi­tal­staff, ­knows­it. ­But the­gov­ern­ment­has­cho­sen­not­to­act.” In­2005, ­a­news­pa­per­story­about­the­dump­ing­of­three­fe­male­in­fants­ina­jodh­pur­garbage­heap­caught­the­eye of­shaktawat, ­who­was­work­ing­with­tele­vi­sion­chan­nel­sa­hara­sa­may.­he­soon saw­the­tele­vi­sion­footage. ­Images­that he­saw­sent­a­chill­down­his­spine: ­three ­fe­male­foe­tuses­wrapped­in­a­po­lythene bag,­par­tially­eaten­by­feral­dogs. ­“It­was then­that­i­de­cided­a­sting­op­er­a­tion against­doc­tors­is­im­per­a­tive­to­­ex­pose crimes­against­women,” ­he­says.

From­her­child­hood­on, ­Meena­was also­wit­ness­to­­in­tol­er­ance­against women.­at­sa­hara­sa­may’s­of­fice­in Jaipur­where­she­heads­the­bureau, Meena,­33, ­re­calls­how­her­un­cle­broke her­cy­cle­into­pieces­when­she­rode­it­in her­vil­lage. ­She­also­re­mem­bers­how­a girl­who­had­topped­the­class­x­exam was­made­to­sit­at­home­for­the­rest­of her­life­and­years­later­how­an­in­sen­si­tive­gy­nae­col­o­gist­sug­gested­to­her­preg­nant­aunt­“to­go­for­bet­ter­treat­ment­in Jaipur­if­it­were­a­boy­or­elim­i­nate­the foe­tus­in­case­it­were­fe­male”.

“Fe­male­foeti­cide­was­very­com­mon those­days. ­Like­birth­day­bashes, ­mar­riage­cer­e­monies,­passin­gout­par­ties and­other­rou­tine­house­hold­chores, killing­fe­male­in­fants­was­nor­mal. ­Peo­ple­had­in­ter­nalised­this­act,”­she­says.

For­shaktawat, ­Meena, ­who­had­just joined­the­chan­nel­in­2005, ­was­the­right per­son­to­carry­out­the­sting­with. ­While Shaktawat­took­care­of­lo­gis­tics­and ­im­ple­men­ta­tion, ­Meena­had­to­con­vince preg­nant­women­to­act­as­de­coys.

“It­was­dif­fi­cult. ­No­one­wanted­to take­the­risk,” ­says­meena. ­“I­ap­proached­many­women­—­those­who sold­ban­gles­on­the­streets­to­the­ones who­worked­in­the­gov­ern­ment­— ­but­no one­wanted­to­be­our­de­coy. ­One­day, ­I ap­proached­my­preg­nant­sis­ter­as­well. She­re­fused, ­fear­ing­her­in­laws’­back­lash.­it­wasn’t­easy.”

Sift­ing­women­who­were­preg­nant with­boys­from­those­with­girls­proved to­be­a­dif­fi­cult­task. ­Meena­needed­only those­who­had­fe­male­foe­tuses. ­More than­500­preg­nant­women­were­ap­proached.­only­five­would­fi­nally­agree.

Mean­while,­shaktawat­pre­pared­al­ist­of­more­than­140­high-pro­file­and pow­er­ful­doc­tors­who­were­al­legedly­in­volved­in­sex­de­ter­mi­na­tion­and­abort­ing­fe­male­foe­tuses.

On­25­march­2005, ­the­jour­nal­ists taped­their­first­tar­get: ­the­then ­As­sis­tant­pro­fes­sor­( cur­rently­med­i­cal Su­per­in­ten­dent­at­chand­pole­janana Hospi­tal)­agree­ing­to­per­form­abor­tion on­a­de­coy­preg­nant­with­a­girl­child.

Soon,­shaktawat­had­five­case­stud­ies with­proof. ­“It­was­only­af­ter­five­cases that­i­in­formed­my­chan­nel. ­They­wanted­to­air­five­cases­and­break­the­news but­i­in­sisted­the­sting­be­al­lowed­to­trap the­re­main­ing­135­med­i­cal­prac­ti­tion­ers. The­chan­nel­agreed,” ­he­says.

In­one­year­( 25­May­2005­to­4­april 2006),­the­duo­man­aged­to­film­120 ­doc­tors­in­volved­in­the­crime. ­Everycase­in­cludes­a­footage­show­ing­the­first ­con­ver­sa­tion­of­doc­tors­with­meenaand­the­de­coys,­un­til­the­pa­tient­is­taken ­in­side­the­op­er­a­tion­theatre. ­More­than 80­doc­tors­were­taped­in­ra­jasthan, ­the re­main­ing­doc­tors­op­er­ated­in­ut­tar Pradesh,­mad­hya­pradesh­and­gu­jarat.

“A­lot­of­en­ergy­and­sweat­went­into

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