Kashmir too ditches its daughters

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A decade ago, the state was touted as one where no female foeticide took place. So why are Kashmiris now aborting the girl child? Zahid Rafiq finds out

Endangered J&K has the second worst sex ratio in the country — 859:1,000
Endangered J&K has the second worst sex ratio in the country — 859:1,000
Photo:AFP

WHEN SEX ratio statistics from the 2011 Census were made public, many Kashmiris were shocked. But not Hameeda (name changed). The 54-year-old nurse working at Srinagar’s only maternity hospital, Lalla Ded, knew that the girl child was fast becoming an unwanted species in Kashmiri households.

Jammu & Kashmir, which was once hailed by Unicef in its 1994-96 study as a place where no female foeticide took place, has suddenly become averse to the fairer sex.

The child sex ratio of J&K in the age group of zero to six years has nosedived from 941 females per 1,000 males in 2001 to 859:1,000 in 2011. In the nationwide hall of shame, J&K is at second spot, just behind Haryana, which has a ratio of 834:1,000.

The 2011 Census figures raised concerns and drew statements from across the political spectrum and civil society who were outraged at the revelation. But Hameeda had long seen it coming.

As an attendant at the Lalla Ded Hospital for more than 25 years, Hameeda has been watching the growing reluctance of parents to have a girl child. “I always see pregnant women praying for sons in the labour rooms, anxious husbands waiting for the delivery and enquiring first about the sex of the child, and the falling shoulders. And disappointed faces when a girl is born. The population of girls will keep going down,” warns Hameeda.

Over the past five years, it has become common to see expectant couples undertake gender tests. “They use their connections, beg and try to offer money to check their unborn baby’s gender,” says Hameeda. “Mostly we refuse but sometimes, the connections are too strong and we are forced to reveal the gender. But that is all we do, nothing more happens here,” implying that the hospital doesn’t do illegal abortions.

In 2001, six districts showed a positive sex ratio in the 0-6 age group, including Kulgam (1,046:1,000), Kupwara (1,021), Shopian (1,011) and Ganderbal (1,014). In the latest census, the number of girl children in these districts has slipped into the 800s.

According to Health Services Director Dr Saleem ur Rehman, the clue lies in the mushrooming of ultrasonography clinics that abort female foetuses for a price. “We recently sealed more than 60 such clinics and a hospital that was found to be doing abortions,” he says.

The clue lies in the mushrooming of ultrasonography clinics in J&K, says Dr Rehman

University of Kashmir law faculty Gul Afroz Jan, who did a survey on female foeticide in 2007, found that 13 percent of the diagnostic centres in the Valley carried out gender determination tests despite it being illegal. Of the 100 respondents, about 10 percent said they have gone for such tests. Of those, 30 percent had done the test for the second time and had already aborted a girl child.

The reasons for aborting the girl child, Jan says, were pressure from the husband (in 30 percent of the cases), pressure from in-laws (40 percent), joint decision of the couple (20 percent) and the wife’s choice (10 percent).

Jan’s study was not taken seriously then but now it is much sought after and a chastened Health Department is raiding clinics that deal in selective abortions.

But the problem seems to be only as much with these clinics as with society, which does not want a girl child. In Kashmir, kori moul (a daughter’s father) is a commonly used phrase and everyone understands the melancholy of both the man and the word. A kori moul is seen as poor, wronged and burdened because he has a daughter. At some point, the families decided that they could do without a daughter and slowly but surely the daughters have started to disappear.

Zahid Rafiq is a correspondent with Tehelka.
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