Crackdown on female foeticide
The government had success in managing to add 17 girls to the sex ratio of 876 girls per 1,000 boys recorded in 2001, to make it 893. However, this figure is still well short of the national average of 940. The only consolation is that Punjab figures higher in gender ratio than the neighbouring Haryana (877) and far higher than Chandigarh (818), especially since the latter has the country’s eighth highest literacy rate, as compared to Punjab’s 17th position.
To its credit, the SAD government was more stringent in enforcing the PNDT Act compared to the preceding Congress government. Prior to 2007, it was not difficult for a pregnant woman to get her foetus aborted after getting the gender determined, usually done after 14 weeks of pregnancy. However, soon after talking over the reins in 2007, the government tightened the noose around medical establishments involved in this practice, making it difficult to get a foetus aborted after 10 weeks of pregnancy. This is believed to have contributed greatly to improving the sex ratio.
The stringent measures included a series of periodic crackdowns. During its tenure, the government suspended licences of 322 out of a total 1,296 ultrasound scan centres in the state, cancelled licences of 34 others and initiated 24 court cases, according to state Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) Satish Chandra.
As even the improved gender ratio shows, plenty more remains to be done in this direction.
Crime against women continued unabated
Looking at the crime statistics, it does not seem the state government was able to substantially improve the safety environment for women. Dowry deaths, rape, cruelty by a relative or husband, molestation, female foeticide, and desertion of wives by NRIs continued.
The high incidence of crime against women was serious enough for Member Secretary of the Punjab State Women’s Commission Sarvesh Kaushal to write to the state Chief Secretary in 2009, saying, “Despite the Domestic Violence Act already operational, such insensitivity to the cause of women is baffling. The same is also true of the other burning issue of female foeticide, in which only 11 cases have been registered in five months.”
He had cited figures for the first five months of 2009 (January to May), during which 153 women were raped, 222 kidnapped and another 130 molested. This was in addition to 70 women who were murdered, 55 who were driven to commit suicide and 39 who lost their lives for inability to “satisfy” their in-laws’ dowry demand.
Not until society pitches in
One hurdle in improving women’s lot is their status in the larger society, which continues to deny equality.
Gurdev Kaur Sangha, Chairperson of the Punjab State Women’s Commission, said: “We have taken up the issue of women’s rights violations and addressed a number of cases related to domestic violence. Unfortunately, despite all the government has done to empower women, the fact remains they are still facing discrimination at the hands of their family and society at large,” irrespective of whether they were rich or poor. However, she added the middle class were treating women relatively better.
Men used their clout and money and did not even allow women to get justice. “Just two decades ago, I used to think women would be treated well by their in-laws with women’s literacy on the rise. I believed educated mothers-in-law would treat their daughters-in-law better. Unfortunately, it has only led to the demand for gold in dowry being upgraded to diamonds,” Sangha said. No government could do much if the mindset did not change, she added.
Given the environment against women, Dr Rainuka Dagar, Director (Research), Gender Studies Unit, Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, said the Punjab government deserved credit for implementing the PNDT Act. “In 1901, the state had a sex ratio of 874 women per 1,000 men. Having a history of skewed gender ratio, the improvement in Punjab is rather encouraging. It is not easy to change the mindset of the people. I am glad political leaders have made a move and brought the issue to the forefront.