Orissas unborn daughters

Published : Aug 10, 2007 00:00 IST

The female foeticide expose in Nayagarh points to a practice that is prevalent throughout the State.

PRAFULLA DAS in Nayagarh and Bhubaneswar

ONCE you leave Orissas fairly green capital city of Bhubaneswar and head towards the district headquarters town of Nayagarh, about 100 kilometres away, virtually everything appears greener. The rainwater-filled paddyfields and farmers at work make you feel everything is all right with Orissa.

But just 6 km before Nayagarh, at the Itamati panchayat headquarters, one gets an indication that this is not the case. A blue roadside signboard in Oriya reads: For safe termination of pregnancy and motherhood, Dr. Nabakrushna Sahu, MD (O&G) Utkal, Kalpana Complex, Nayagarh. The town recently hit the headlines for its network of doctors and owners of nursing homes and ultrasound clinics engaged in the unethical medical practice of sex determination and female foeticide.

Kalpana Complex has been very much in the news as it housed Krishna Clinic, a nursing home that has been pulled up for carrying out mass female foeticide. The clinic was owned by Nabakrushna Sahus wife Sabita Sahu. Sahu, who is still in government service, has been on leave for the past two years, apparently to manage his wifes clinic.

Sabita Sahu is now in judicial custody following her arrest, while Sahu is absconding. Sabita Sahus arrest came soon after the Nayagarh police retrieved large quantities of infant body parts from a 6-metre-deep pit that her clinic allegedly used to dump medical waste. Between July 22 and July 25, the authorities took out around 150 polythene packets containing medical waste, many of them had infant skulls and bones. Local people who watched the three-day action said that the body parts recovered would be of more than 60 foetuses.

On July 24, this writer found a large number of bones and skulls still lay scattered near the well sealed by the police. The size of the bones varied from 2.5 centimetres to 10 cm. The human remains were not very old or decomposed.

The crime came to light on July 14 when a 12-year-old schoolboy saw seven female foetuses packed in bloodstained polythene bags, while searching for waste bottles near Duburi hills close to Ramachandiprasad village, a few kilometres from Nayagarh town. People from nearby areas thronged the spot as the news spread. The well, situated on a site on the outskirts of the town and belonging to Krishna Clinic, is hardly 100 m away from the Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir school.

An Oriya television channel reported the incident the same day. However, the foetuses had disappeared by the time the Nayagarh police reached the spot in the evening.

The Chief District Medical Officer, M.M. Ali Baig, said that according to medical experts the infant body parts, particularly the long bones recovered from the pit, belonged to foetuses that were about five to six months old. Ali was transferred to Nayagarh on July 12, just two days before the racket was exposed. In fact, Nayagarh district has seen as many as 16 Chief District Medical Officers since 2000. This throws enough light on the way in which the health care system in the State is run.

Many womens organisations have accused the Nayagarh police of laxity. The foetuses were removed from the spot with police connivance, alleged Tapasi Praharaj of the Orissa unit of the All India Democratic Womens Association (AIDWA) after a visit to Nayagarh.

The accusations seem to have some basis. The police showed little interest in the case after the foetuses were found. The administration also did not take any action until more infant body parts were retrieved from another waste-dumping pit in the town. Raids on nursing homes and ultrasound clinics began in earnest only then.

An independent fact-finding team from Bhubaneswar, comprising social activists and office-bearers of various child rights organisations, visited the Duburi hills site on July 16. It submitted a report to the government and demanded a Crime Branch probe.

On July 21, the government ordered a Crime Branch inquiry into the case pertaining to the discovery of the seven foetuses at Duburi hills. The Crime Branch took over the case on July 22. However, neither the missing female foetuses nor those who destroyed the evidence could be traced.

The detection of the second pit led to the arrest of seven persons who managed nursing homes and ultrasound clinics in Nayagarh. The police said that more arrests were likely. Many of those running the clinics were untraceable.

The State Health Department has sealed all the eight nursing homes and five ultrasound clinics in Nayagarh. Investigations revealed that seven of the nursing homes did not have the licence to operate. The ultrasound clinics were running without official approval.

Several of the nursing homes have questionable records. One of them, with ultrasound facility, was run by a woman who studied homoeopathy. She is absconding. Another nursing home, adjacent to the district headquarters hospital, was operating even though its owners had informed the district health officials long ago that they were winding it up.

Local residents are convinced about the involvement of government doctors in the sex determination and female foeticide cases. While Dr. Sahu had his last posting at Bolagarh, about 25 km away from Nayagarh, several doctors posted at the district headquarters hospital were rendering their services at nursing homes in the town.

According to a government doctor, most of the private nursing homes and ultrasound clinics in the small town had sprung up in the past six years. The authorities also knew that sex determination and termination of pregnancies were conducted in the clinics.

According to Dr. B. Sukla of the district headquarters hospital, the then Chief District Medical Officer of Nayagarh, Dr. A.K. Das, had written to the State Health Department and other authorities in 2005 informing them about these activities. But no action was initiated.

Meanwhile, a massive fake medicine manufacturing and marketing racket was unearthed at Kantabanjhi town in Bolangir district on July 20. Four persons, including a doctor, were arrested even as medical shop owners in several towns dumped large quantities of fake drugs into rivers, canals and nullahs.

An unnerved Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, who had already ordered a Crime Branch probe into the female foeticide cases, ordered a similar probe into the fake drug racket. As criticism started coming from various quarters and the Centre sought a report on female foeticide cases, the State government on July 25 announced that separate task forces would be created at the district level to control the fake medicine menace and the problem of female foeticide. A four-member monitoring committee headed by the Chief Secretary would be formed to oversee the functioning of the task forces, the government said.

However, Opposition parties and womens organisations are not satisfied with the action taken in the two cases. Many political parties demanded that heads should roll in the police, the administration and the Health Department. The Congress demanded that Health Minister Duryodhan Majhi should step down.

Womens organisations, which have been raising for long the issue of falling child sex ratio in the State, particularly in the coastal districts, are up in arms. Those in the government only know how to shift responsibility. The Women and Child Development Department says that it was the duty of the Health Department to implement the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act. Moreover, nobody in the government seemed ready to talk about the unborn child, said Bisakha Bhanja of the National Alliance of Womens Organisations.

Asha Hans of Sanskriti blamed the State for ignoring requests to deal with the issue of the declining child sex ratio. The 2001 Census data presented an alarming picture of the child sex ratio in the State.

There had been a decline of 17 points, from 967 in 1991 to 950 in 2001, she said. Not surprisingly, Nayagarh had the lowest child sex ratio 901. Female foeticide and a skewed gender ratio were more prevalent in the urban areas of the State.

The Nayagarh female foeticide case is only the tip of the iceberg, said Tapasi Praharaj. Female foeticide is prevalent in almost all districts of Orissa. Those involved in female foeticide and the authorities who support them should be punished immediately; all government departments concerned should work in coordination to check the menace, she said.

The women activists lamented that the preference for the male child was growing in Orissa. They said that the two-child norm for those who wanted to get elected to panchayati raj institutions in Orissa had made people in rural areas opt for gender-selective abortion.

National Commission for Women member Manju Hembram, who headed the Commissions three-member team to Nayagarh, expressed shock over the manner in which female foeticide had been committed there. She blamed it on the administrations failure to implement the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act.

With the Nayagarh female foeticide case bringing the crime against unborn girl children to the fore, there is unanimity in the belief that the practice is prevalent in other parts of the State as well. There is a demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the whole episode.

Many people feel that the mere formation of task forces by the government will not help curb female foeticide. Action against errant private clinics and diagnostic centres and an aggressive campaign against female foeticide and the decreasing sex ratio are necessary to deal with the challenge.

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