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Updated: July 2, 2012 11:49 IST

The unsaid in reportage

Divya Trivedi
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SAVE HER: A rally for the girl child.
SAVE HER: A rally for the girl child.

The Press plays a role in shaping perceptions and practices around sex selective abortions

In a media saturated age, where news organisations work round the clock to interpret the reality of a day for rest of the people, lack of sensitivity in reportage goes unacknowledged.

Pamela Philipose, who heads the Women’s Feature Service, threw light on how the media is choosing not to tell a story or tell it in a certain manner only, in the context of female foeticide and infanticide.

“The important thing here is, not what one reports, but how it is reported and especially the things that get left out,” she said, speaking at the national media consultation on declining child sex ratio in the Capital recently.

More often than not, there is a delayed connect with the story, followed by a disconnected analysis and a general disdain for the female gender, which perpetuates a masculinised dystopia, she said.

The media needs to move away from its single point focus of ‘15 foetuses found in a gunny bag in Haryana’ and begin to talk.

“We need to meet the parents who have killed their girls and talk to them. We also need to change our language,” said Farah Naqvi, Member National Advisory Council. “It is not the foetuses that we dislike so much as the women they grow up into. The ultimate irony and mystery is that as we move towards urbanity, we like our women less and less,” she said.

The reportage needs to go beyond foetuses and talk about why India does not like its women. Also, in a haste to stop sex selective abortion, a roll back of the abortion rights that were won as a legal right through the MTP Act in 1971, should not happen. Words like foeticide and bhrun hatya, distort the distinction between abortion and sex selective abortion and give out false impressions.

Even the most conservative assumption of the total number of girl children murdered in the country in the past seven years comes to 38,15,798, said KK Pal, director, RIDDHI, a voluntary organisation, adding that the actual number would be much higher.

The sharp fall in child sex ratio (o-6 years) to 914 females per 1,000 males in 2011 from 927 in 2001, is alarming and makes the role of media critical.

“What, in 2001 was concentrated in the north western part of the country has now spread like wildfire in other parts as well,” said Mr Pal.

The child sex ratio at birth of neighbouring countries is, in fact, better, 962 for both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Sex ratio at 15 years of age in Bangladesh is 990, while in India, in some regions it is as low as 830 (Haryana). The only safe havens left for girl children in India, where sex selective abortions do not take place are Arunachal Pradesh (AP) (960), Chhattisgarh (964), Meghalaya (970) and Mizoram (971). Interestingly, these are all regions with a high level of tribal population. 94.5 per cent of the population in Mizoram is tribal, 85.9 per cent in Meghalaya, 64.2 per cent in AP and 31.8 per cent in Chhattisgarh.

Salem in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu has the highest tribal population and no foeticide, according to Mr Pal.

“Though modernity is being forced upon tribal populations and from there too female foeticide reports have come, they continue to treat their women with respect,” explained Mr Pal.

Sex selective abortions are a middle class urban phenomenon which is now penetrating the affluent classes in rural areas.

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