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'Laddu' Means A Boy, `Barfi' A Girl

By Gargi Parsai

The Hindu
27 September, 2003

A `V' sign would normally mean `victory'. But in some northern States of the country, a doctor uses this sign after ultrasonograhpy of a pregnant woman to indicate, "Voila, it's a son!''

The other sign language that is used is "laddu'' for a son and "barfi'' for a daughter. If the doctor asks the patient to come back on a Friday, it means it is a girl she is carrying and she should return for an abortion. And if he says, "Let's meet on Monday'', it means its going to be a boy.

This sign language is the latest manner devised by unscrupulous doctors to circumvent the law which bans sex determination of an unborn child under the Pre-natal Diagnostic Tests (PNDT) Act to prevent female foeticide, which has the Government worried with declining female sex ratio.

"Just by registering sonography machines, as the Supreme Court has directed in its latest order, this problem is not going to go. Unless the State makes some examples by taking severe action against erring doctors, nothing will happen,'' demographer Ashish Bose told The Hindu here on Wednesday.

Dr. Bose recently conducted a study on female foeticide with Mira Shiva of the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, funded by the Department of Family Welfare.

The study, `Darkness at Noon', shows that "demographic fundamentalism" i.e. preference for a boy-child is on the rise in the country, particularly in North India resulting in declining sex ratio. "Our planners and policy makers have not understood the grip of the son complex in Indian society, nor have our sociologists and behavioural scientists done enough research on the subject,'' the study notes.

The study, which covered Kurukshetra in Haryana, Fateh Saheb in Punjab and Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, categorically states that female foeticide was the result of an unholy alliance between the traditional preference for a son and modern medical technology, increasing greed of doctors and rising the demand for dowry that makes daughters financial burdens. It also shows up the ineffectiveness of the PNDT Act and the liberal Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and the lack of any serious involvement of civil society in fighting this social menace.

It says that the force of the son complex cuts across religion, caste, socioeconomic group and place of residence. It increases with the rise of consumerism propagated by television advertising. "Female foeticide must be comprehended in the wider context of increasing violence against women and vigilance must be at the local level,'' it notes.

It suggests that one way to restore the gender imbalance is by giving 33 per cent reservation in jobs to women, both in private and public sectors. "Political empowerment is not enough without economic empowerment.''

The study stresses the need for redefining antenatal needs and educating public on the XY/XX chromosomes, which come from the father and are responsible for determining the sex of the child. Gender violence, sex determination, female foeticide, female infanticide and homicide and even forced suicides by women, must be addressed as a major public health concern.