Indian Doctor Delivers Baby Girls For Free In A Country Where They Are Valued Less Than Boys

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The three most dangerous words in the world are “It’s a girl”, according to a very powerful documentary with that phrase as it’s title. Released in 2011, the documentary was shot in India and China and focused on the horrific gendercide (murder based on gender) and feticide (abortion based on gender) that is happening every day.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 200 million girls are missing in the world today due to these atrocities. It stems from a widely accepted systemic notion that a girl’s life is fundamentally worth less than a man’s. In China, for many years they had a strict one-child policy but only allowed leniency if the first child was a girl, and parents wanted to try for another baby in the hope they would have a boy. Thankfully, they have now abolished this law.

In India, forced abortion is a reality for many women whose families do not want another female to look after. In the trailer for ‘It’s A Girl’, you see a woman who killed 8 of her own babies because they were girls, and thinks nothing of it. It’s hard to comprehend. Although India is a democracy with equality measures written into its constitution, it is the social stigma and dominant patriarchal culture that cannot be legislated, it has to be evolved one mindset at a time.

In the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, Jyoti Singh, the girl who was brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi in 2012, is a prime example of how a woman is treated by men who do not believe rape is wrong, if a woman is not “abiding” by the patriarchal order.

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Her parents are also featured in the film and talk about how when their daughter was born, they went against society and celebrated her birth. Friends and family couldn’t understand why they were so happy to have a girl. Nevertheless, they were determined to raise Jyoti to be a young woman armed with the knowledge that she is just as valuable to the world as any man.

It is this individual determination to subvert cultural messages about gender which will have the most meaningful impact on the quest for gender equality in India. One man who is proud to be part of this movement, is Pune doctor Ganesh Rakh. He started a hospital in 2007 and would deliver babies. He started to become shocked at the way parents would react when a baby girl was born.

“The biggest challenge for a doctor is to tell relatives that a patient has died. For me, it was equally difficult to tell families that they’d had a daughter,” he told the BBC in an interview.

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This epidemic is compounded by antenatal screenings where a mother is able to find out the gender of the baby and it can lead to forced abortion or murder of the girl child once she is born. This has had a major impact on the male-female ratio, says the BBC.

In 1961, there were 976 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven. According to the latest census figures released in 2011, that figure has dropped to a dismal 914.

Dr. Ganesh, a father of a daughter himself, says some of his patients, upon learning they were having a girl, would be disappointed, the mother would cry, and the family would ask for a discount.

“Many told me that they had taken treatment to ensure the birth of a male child. I was surprised, as I wasn’t aware of any such treatment. But they spoke about consulting a holy man, or would talk of putting some medicine into the mother’s nostril to ensure she delivered a boy,” he said.

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After learning about the 2011 census figures, Dr. Ganesh launched a campaign in January 2012 called Mulgi Vachva Abhiyan (which translates from Marathi into “campaign to save the girl child”) where he set about doing his part to stand against forced abortion, feticide and gendercide.

“I decided I would not charge any fee if a girl was born. Also, since a son’s birth was celebrated by the family, we decided we [at the hospital] would celebrate a daughter’s birth,” he said.

Since the launch, he has delivered 464 baby girls and has not charged the parents a fee. It is a noble crusade, especially for a doctor who doesn’t boast a high income by any means.

“We are economically not well off, so when he told me about his decision, I was worried as to how I would run the house,” said the doctor’s wife Trupti who initially opposed his campaign, as did his brothers.

But he was determined to do right by the girls being born, and since 2012 he has garnered the attention and praise of government officials and Bollywood superstars like Amitabh Bachchan (think the Indian version of Hollywood icons like Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, or Paul Newman).

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“I started a small thing. I didn’t know it would be received like this, but sometimes small things impact minds in a big way,” said Dr. Ganesh about his efforts.

Aside from his work in the hospital, he organizes community activism events such as marches in the streets of Pune to convince his fellow Indians that girls are equally as valuable to the world as men.

“I want to change attitudes – of people, doctors. The day people start celebrating a daughter’s birth, I’ll start charging my fee again. Otherwise, how will I run my hospital?” he asks. A feminist change-maker after our own hearts!

There are other initiatives happening in India to place value on the girl child on a number of levels. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign places emphasis on not just saving the girl child, but also ensuring she has access to education. This small village in rural India has developed an innovative way to ensure female babies are celebrated, by planting aloe trees when they are born, which in turn becomes a sustainable form of revenue for the villagers and allows girls to become valued members of their community.

These types of campaigns and initiatives need to become the norm, so that one day people like Dr. Ganesh CAN charge for his vital services, and a pregnant mother doesn’t need to live in fear of marginalization because she gave birth to a girl.

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