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Amartya Sen To Aamir Khan

Posted: May 23, 2012

Aamir Khan’s recent appearance on TV in which he talks about sex-selective abortion in India seems to have woken up multiple Rip Van Winkles, however momentarily. Watching the Chief Ministers of Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharshtra and Madhya Pradesh wax eloquent about Aamir’s sudden discovery that sex-selective abortion is a horrible crime rampant in India made me sick to the core. (I didn’t see the episode and I don’t want to see it).

What’s new in what Aamir Khan said? We have known it all along, as have our honorable Chief Ministers; we were just waiting for a so-called celebrity to reduce this sickening reality to a TV show so we could shed our collective crocodile tears and join others of the chattering classes in showing our solidarity to Aamir and the great Indian TV tamasha. 

Our Chief Ministers and others who supposedly matter have probably neither heard of Professor Amartya Sen, nor are they aware of the series of writings that he had written in the late 1980s stating that about a hundred million women were ‘missing’ in the developing world as a result of unequal access to resources. Earlier (1961) Pravin Visaria had raised the issue of gender bias in mortality in the Indian context, but it was Professor Sen who had first termed this gender bias in mortality as among the worst catastrophes of the twentieth century. He demonstrated that the number of ‘missing’ women in the 1990s was more than all the casualties in famines in the twentieth century.

According to him, this figure also exceeds the total casualties in both the World Wars plus all casualties of all major epidemics of the twentieth century, including those in the current AIDS pandemic. Only continuous excessive morbidity and mortality caused by poverty, endemic deprivation and poor public services in developing countries has claimed more victims. [‘Missing Women’: Revisiting the Debate- Stephan Klasen and Claudia Wink in Feminist Economics 9 (2-3), 2003, 263-299]

To me female infanticide and feticide and other nauseous traditions that we are part of are manifestations of what Professor Sen, Jean Dreze, Visaria and many others have been trying to tell us all along- that gender bias reflects itself in mortality too- whether due to unequal access to resources or due to any of the many other reasons, (and what better way of conserving scarce resources than to get rid of girls as early as possible).

I am possibly digressing and see-sawing between mortality, murder and media, but coming back to the TV tamasha and before Aamir Khan was let loose on us; did we also know that a recent Thomson-Reuters survey has termed India the fourth most dangerous place on earth for women to live in? Only Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan are ahead of us, and we are followed by Somalia. And why is India so dangerous for women? The survey says it is because of rampant female feticide, child marriages, trafficking and domestic servitude. (No Chief Minister had heard of this survey either).

We recently had the DIG of police of Saharanpur, Satish Kumar Mathur telling a father whose minor daughter had eloped that if it were his daughter or sister who had eloped he would have shot her; we had a superintendent of police telling the media that if his cops were to chase every girl who went missing, who would chase the thieves?

There was also this news item in a national daily of April 4, 2012-

Father kills girl in womb- (Guntur, AP) “An unborn girl died at her father’s hands, battered inside her mother’s womb with an iron rod in a brutal abortion that followed apparently after a sex test revealed that the woman’s seventh pregnancy wouldn’t deliver a boy…The couple, who got married in 2000, have two daughters. A third died under suspicious circumstances when she was barely a few days old, neighbors said. Three fetuses were aborted…District Health Officer Dr. Gopi Naik said there were around 267 scanning centers in Guntur district where sex determination tests were conducted on the sly.”

Now, this Dr. Gopi Naik by his own admission knows that there are so many sex determination clinics in his jurisdiction, but what has he done about them- has he show-caused any of them; banned any of them; has any action been taken against him for gross dereliction of duty? Not that I know of; possibly they are waiting for a Telugu version of Aamir Khan’s show to momentarily wake from their slumber, make the right noises and go back into hibernation.

If Aamir’s show is any indication, soon various states will be employing actors, acrobats and other performers and reduce this serious issue into a circus, a TV show or a roadside nautanki. Take your pick.

Satyamev Jayate indeed.

Pic credit: Shrini (Used under a Creative Commons license)

I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management

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