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Where Are The Girls In Odisha?


03 February 2019

Shailaja Mohapatra


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Bhubaneswar: She is silenced before her laughter can spread joy in the surroundings. She is silenced before she can call someone ‘Maa’ or ‘Bou’. She is silenced before she can squeal out her first cry. She could have been a loving daughter, a caring sister, a helpful friend and a good human, but she is not even given the chance to see the light of the day. And that is the sad state of girls in this country.

According to the official data provided by the Office of the Registrar General of India using the Civil Registration System, the Sex Ratio at Birth (number of females per thousand males) for the year 2016 in India comes out to be 877 showing a decline from 2015 where it was 881. In terms of the State-wise decline, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu lead the board followed by Odisha where the sex ratio has fallen by 61 points and has come down to 858 in 2016 from 919 in 2007.

Activist and social worker Namrata Chadha said, “Not only in our Indian culture, but also in the entire world, boys are preferred most to the girls. Whatever religions are there, importance of a boy child has been explained in a far better manner and stress is laid on son. Hence, there is huge demand for son in a family, who considered to be a boon, while the daughter is often deemed to be a burden.”

During the years 2007 through 2016, the sex ratio in Odisha was recorded to be 919, 935, 925, 911, 902, 896, 886, 880, 866 and 858. In 2016, the State recorded over 4.1 lakh male births while female births stood at 3.5 lakh. This can be explained by the many cases of newborn girls being abandoned that have come to the fore over the past few months. Just five days ago in Koraput, a baby girl with a cleft was found buried alive near a culvert in the remote hamlet of Kebidi.

“It was never noticed in the tribal community. But, it is a sorrowful matter now as it is also being witnessed in tribal areas like Koraput. Due to the superstitious mindset and as technology is available for sex determination of a baby in the embryo, scores of female foeticides are coming to the fore which is resulting in constant lowering of the girl ratio in our society in comparison to the boys,” the social activist remarked.

In 2016, Odisha had registered 5921 female infant deaths and the districts leading in this category were Cuttack (769), Ganjam (521), Nabarangpur (519), Koraput (382) and Mayurbhanj (375). The teenage girls are also a pitiful state as over five cases of minor girls being pregnant have surfaced in January 2019 alone. All of these incidents either include rape or impregnation on the pretext of love and marriage.

“Today also in the Ashram schools, girls aged 12 and 13 years old are reported pregnant and giving birth to babies and the new-born is also dying in the jungle. The Government is stressing on ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ and lots of funds were spent on its publicity. Had that money been better spent at the grassroots level for mass awareness and stringent punishment to the guilty, this crime could have been checked. Such a deplorable scene is prevailing in our society due to the lackadaisical attitude and improper implementation of the Government,” Chadha strongly opined.

In India, sex determination and sex elimination go hand-in-hand. Since female infanticide has been traditionally practiced, the government brought in the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act in 1994. Under this law, sex determination with the help of medical practitioners is prohibited. With this Act, comes strict checks in clinics and hospitals following which doctors have termed it as ‘draconian’. Then, over the last decade, there have been several technological advancements to know the sex of their unborn child with no laws to combat them. These include methods like sperm sorting, implantation of male embryos during IVF, DNA testing using blood etc.

On being asked whether awareness is needed, she argued, “There is no need of awareness. Rather a couple should have the right to decide how many children they want. Giving birth to a child is an exclusive and private decision of a couple. But human beings shouldn’t decide on the birth of a boy or girl child as it is a divine boon. They shouldn’t decide on the fate of the would-be boy or girl child. The persons, who are illegally resorting to abortion or killing the girl child soon after her birth, should be punished stringently.”

Since the birth of the girl, Indian society sets a fear in the mind of the parents. This fear starts from the education of the girl till her marriage and everything in between. The general notion still prevails that boys are supposed to be the earning member of the household while girls are supposed to get married and have kids. Gender roles have made the society a difficult place to live in.

The feminist said, “We have to provide and assure a safe and secured environment to the girl child and our parents have to change the mindset so that the girl child blooms into a self-reliant and educated personality in this society. Unless and until this is set right, such deplorable act of female foeticide or post natal murder of girl child is not going to stop.”

In India, the number of girls being greater than number of boys might be a far-fetched dream. But with feminism and women empowerment taking the centre-stage, here’s to hoping that one day females will rise from the shadows and reclaim their lost honor and dignity because history has it, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

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Namrata Chadha, Activist and Social Worker