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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Foreign Desk
India: Body Snatchers at Sohna
by Arnab Ray Ghatak
Author's Links
1. Dateline Sohna, Haryana

On the cigarette shop wall across the dusty bus depot in Sohna Chowk, is a painted advertisement for Arora Diagnostic Centre. It offers various tests at reasonable rates and - on public demand - it promises ultrasound tests twice a week (Tuesday and Saturday afternoons) for expecting mothers, courtesy of a doctor who drives down from the city.
      When you drive down from Delhi to this border hamlet in Haryana, you pass by several such centres. All offer Ultrasound tests - in-house or out-sourced. And in a rather unique instance of advertising subtlety, none mentions the biggest service each offers - determining whether or not the mother gave birth to a girl.

Gender Benders

The jeep arrives around 1.30 am. It has four women, their husbands and an elderly gent in it. The women wear shiny silver bracelets and anklets, and have their faces covered with bright pink saaris. Their husbands are non-smiling, muscled Jats - figures of tractor-driving patriarchal authority of rural Haryana. The elderly gent (probably the family uncle) who supervises the entire operation waits for the doctor to arrive.
     There are others too. Young-to-middle-aged women with their husbands or mother-in-laws in tow. They all wait for the doctor to arrive from Gurgaon. Further down the street are two more diagnostic centres - "One of which (Ashoka Diagnostic Centre) has its own Ultrasound set up," says the paanwallah across the street.

2. Mahinder Singh, Investigative Journalist

Mahinder Singh, one of the husbands waiting for the doctor, is curious. He doesn't understand why city people should be concerned with things as trivial as an Ultrasound test. "Why, in my village (Palwal, neighbouring Sohna), we get two such doctors every week," he says.
     When the problem of twisted sex ratios is explained to him and his companions, Mahinder (who works for a local courier company) nods and says the service is quite popular in the region, not to mention his own village, where each doctor has his hands full during each visit.
     "The doctors also perform abortions for a fee of Rs 1,500," Mahinder says, excited about being part of a news report. He wants to talk about it:      "A large number of women undergo abortions in our village, and abortions happen till the fifth month of pregnancy," Mahinder says.
     How many such abortions does he recall in the recent months?
     "At least 20 to 30 in a couple of months… most families here are large with frequent pregnancies." And they don't want girls? Some of them do, he says. "But most only want boys, and if it's a girl child that the mother has borne, they choose to terminate it." Do his fellow villagers know it's illegal? Mahinder says they are indifferent (the general populace favours freedom of choice). However they do know that termination of a foetus as late as the fifth month is illegal.
     "Would you like me call you when the doctor comes to Palwal next time?" Mahinder asks.
     That'd be great.
     "Is there going to be some kind of a reward?" ask Mahinder's companions, more concerned.
     Well, there just might be one.
     "But the doctors never give anything in writing, it's all verbal," they argue. No problem, we have a Dictaphone.
     "Only way we can take it in is through the husband or the kids who accompany the woman," the men plan, encouraged - it seems - by the thought of the reward.
     "But what about the police trouble?" one of the men asks. "The moment they find out who's got the press in, these doctors will bribe the cops to beat him up. What will you do save that man?"
     Well, we could take the police in confidence and make it a well-coordinated sting operation. The men like the idea. They nod and take down necessary numbers.
     "OK then, I'll let you know when he comes around," Mahinder promises. But there's a more important task at hand - with the three wives having undergone their check-ups, it's Mahinder's wife's turn now. So he excuses himself and walks into the tiny makeshift inspection room inside the diagnostic centre. To find out if it's a girl child his wife gave birth to.

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