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Shabana heads Punjab panel on foeticide
Gayatri Rajwade
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, October 17
With actor and activist Shabana Azmi at the helm of affairs, Punjab finally hopes to convey that it means business on the growing scourge of female foeticide across the state.

Despite the dubious distinction of having one of the poorest sex ratios in the country, Punjab has been unable to alter the situation at the ground level. However, Health Minister Surinder Singla is all set to change that by bringing in Shabana Azmi as co-chairperson of the State Advisory Committee on Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act.

Though the committee has been in existence for some time, it has been revived to meet the challenge posed by the killing the unborn girl. Today's was the first meeting of the committee which will meet at least once a month to review the progress achieved.

It was Azmi's summing up of the problem that spoke volumes about the extent of the issue. "Is it not strange that a state as beautiful as Punjab that has given so much to the country has such a dismal sex ratio," she asked.

What is needed, she insisted, is a "zero-tolerance approach" to female foeticide. "Women are achieving so much and yet they are not being allowed to be born. This is unacceptable," she said.

Relating a story from her own life, she talked of how her mother was asked to abort her because her father had to go underground being a member of the then banned Communist Party of India and there was no one to take care of her mother.

"She fought like a tigress to keep me and for someone who had never worked in her entire life, she said she would do anything to keep herself and her baby alive, that is how I came into this world," she recounted.

Azmi talked at length on how when assessing the progress of a state, one of the parameters should be empowerment of the women. "And the way to empower is education, which must stress on the fact that women are in no way inferior to men," she insisted.

Education, freedom and opportunity are the keys, she said urging women to fight for their rights and to keep the faith and confidence flying high, "because that is the only way society will listen," she declared. She said there was need to treat female foeticide as a "crime, a murder".

The meeting did come up with some concrete pointers and the recommendations, included an all-India meeting of DCs to share experiences and creating an immediate impetus (based on Nawanshahr DC Krishan Kumar's success in curbing female foeticide) along with the need for a comprehensive training module for anganwadi workers and ANMs in all villages to tackle the problem.

It was decided that a commercial mainstream Punjabi serial be produced on the girl child. Mr Singla agreed to provide finances for the serial while Azmi promised to find a writer and producer for the same. It was also decided that public service messages using celebrities would be telecast on a regular basis.

Singla spoke of changing mindsets, first of women whom he held primarily responsible for the skewed sex ratio. "After all, it is the mother who hopes for a boy child".

He said enacting more laws in favour of women will not help because they do not even assert the rights that already exist. He cited the laws of inheritance as an example.

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