Standing up for the girl child

CRUSADER

Standing up for the girl child

Asha Singh of Morena disctric in Madhya Pradesh has made it her life’s goal to fight against female infanticide and discrimination, notes Pamela Philipose

Life in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh is governed by a feudal subservience and fiercely patriarchal traditions, with women facing discriminations and biases at every stage of their lives. The 2001 Census only underlined this reality when it revealed that Morena district was one of the 10 worst performing districts in India in terms of its child sex ratio (CSR). Its CSR stood at 829 girls for every 1000 boys, as compared to the national average of 927 girls.

Hope of womenkind

There is something particularly telling, therefore, that it was a daughter of Morena who made the crusade against sex selective abortions her own. Meet Asha Singh, now in her early forties. She wears her hair short, prefers to don jeans and can ride the motorbike as well as any Chambal dacoit. Born in the small town of Morena, the district’s headquarters, she has been able to project the issue of the declining sex ratio at the national level.

Bold moves

Asha was ambitious about her professional future. “I had completed my graduation and post-graduation in political science but felt I needed a proper job. This led me to do my LLB,” she says. Training in legal studies introduced her to concepts like human rights. For the first time a woman who had always considered herself “one of the boys”, now understood that there was something known as gender discrimination. That realisation made her decide to work for the rights of women and children.

Patriarchal backwardness

The culture in which Asha had grown up had glamorised masculinity and made heroes out of gun-toting dacoits. It also accorded the most horrendous treatment to women. What was to be a turning point in Asha’s trajectory as a lawyer was a case of rape that came to her, “The husband of the raped woman, after filing a case against his wife’s attacker, agreed to withdraw it because the rapist had offered him two bighas of land as a bribe. I was so angry with his behaviour that I went up to him and asked, ‘Is this all you value your wife – two bighas?’ The woman herself was shaken but told me in piteous tones that she had no option but to go along with her husband.” That case proved how heavily the system was loaded against women. 

Appaling apathy

She elaborates, “I would be amazed to see that if a buffalo died in a village, the whole community would gather to commiserate with the family, but if a female infant died, nobody bothered to mourn. The pressure on daughters-in-law to have sons was so bad that many young hapless women were seriously affected. As for doctors, not one of them took the law against sex-selective abortions seriously; they were openly conducting these procedures.”Sting them right

Asha joined an NGO that worked in this field, and she and her colleagues discovered that sex selective abortions in Morena town were usually done under the cover of darkness, with foetuses being discarded late at night. She personally supervised sting operations under the Chahat Hain Jeene Ki (CHJK) intervention. 

In fact, once when she happened to be in Gaya, Bihar, with noted anti-sexing lawyer and activist, Varsha Deshpande, she posed as a pregnant woman wanting to test the sex of her child in order to expose a local doctor. 

A personal cause

Over the last decade, Asha has seen a lot of positive changes but understands clearly that the declining sex ratio is an issue that will continue to haunt India for decades to come, and she for one is ready to do her bit. 

Says she, “It disturbs me that modern technologies, meant to improve health care are being used in such a destructive manner. As a proud mother of a daughter, this is one social cause that has become a personal one.” 

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