Twenty-seven years ago, she had just come out of a medical college. And one day she found that her medical degree was not just enough to soothe the pains of her patients. Social ills were rampant like an epidemic and were more corrosive in nature.
This young girl, who had grown up in a liberal family, started journey ploughing a lonely furrow. She had found her meaning of existence; save and give rights to girl child in a dysfunctional Indian society.
Since then Dr Sudha Kankaria, an ophthalmologist, has been ploughing a furrow and sowing ideas of female in a society that treats girls as a “burden” in a family. “It has been a long haul and I have miles to go before Indian society really starts nurturing girl child as “a nanni-munni gudiya,” she says.
Reminiscing about the start of her long voyage that has taken her to small hamlets, villages and towns smacking of caste-ism and misogynist culture, Dr Kankaria said: “It all started when a young woman in her late twenties came to me for eye treatment in Ahmednagar. I found that she was suffering from cataract. I found it surprising.
First of all, young people do not suffer from cataract. Examining her, I realised it was traumatic cataract . I started talking to her and the horrors she recounted shook me. I had never seen such discrimination in my life. My father was a journalist in Sakal newspaper and grandfather was a freedom fighter and I had all the freedom like every boy had. The patient told me that she was beaten because she had become pregnant for the second time and some Baba had told her in-laws that she will deliver a girl child. As her first child was a female, in-laws wanted her to undergo abortion. When she refused, she was beaten up, resulting in her eye injury.”
The incident left a stamp in her mind and the young doctor, after a lot of deliberation, began visiting parents who had first girl and was expecting another child; the interactions left her speechless, but it gave her an insight into the nightmare that a pregnant woman lives through if her first child has been a girl.
“I realised that it was a social problem and then I decided that it was time for me to move into public domain. The first step I took was to sensitize boys and girls in colleges and other educational institutions. The response was positive but then it also dawned on me that in order to tackle this issue the canvas needs to be bigger, and thus I approached zilla parishad, gram panchayats, youth organisations and others, primarily to provoke their thinking and force them to accept that their regressive attitudes have to be shorn off.”
In 2007, Dr Kankari formulated an 11-point save the girl child programme. Listing them, she said: “ I began making key people in gram sabhas to take an oath that they will welcome the birth of girl child and see that no pregnancy is terminated just because the foetus is that of a female. Then, I added more points like the gram panchayat will check out sex-ratio and monitor medical and health of girls between 0-6 years; ask families to felicitate birth of a girl child, mother and mother-in-law and moreover implement a voluntary donation of Rs 30 from every family in the village…the amount is then put in a fixed deposit in the girl’s name. In many places, even school and college children participated by donating Re 1 to welcome the birth of a girl child.”
But the doctor, now in her early fifties, did not stop just at fund collection. She said: “ Most of these social ills manifest in traditional practices and that is where I decided to strike. There is a common tradition in our villages called godh bharaiyee, usually it is done when a male child is born and we in turn felicitate families where a girl child is born. In our programme which is now quite successful in Maharashtra villages, we also introduced calling girl child Kuldeepika. It is quite common to hear boys being called Kuldeepak .
Apart from renaming the girls, who are called unwanted, the woman crusader also introduced eighth phera in registered and mass marriages wherein the couples take an oath to respect and save the girl child.
“You will not believe it but so far 5,000 couples have done it. And we also decided that it was important to dispel the myth that a woman is responsible for determining the sex of the child. Through simple scientific explanations our camps orient people, especially men as to how the sex of a child is determined. We also have a monitoring system to keep a watch on centres doing sex-determination tests.”
Source: DH,Prabhat Sharan,Mumbai.