Monday, May 7, 2012

Response to Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate

Aamir Khan’s thoughts in his column in HT’s 7th May edition titled Daughters are Precious and his 6th May launch of Satyamev Jayate has seen a lot of euphoria (never mind the copying of the tune of the Euphoria band) being expressed all around. He is the new hero to take up cudgels for lost social causes and stir the emotions and guilt of the middle classes. He does this indeed very successfully.

The first episode deals with the burning issue of sex selection which has created a gender disaster in India. The child sex ratio over the last four decades has witnessed a rapid descent leading to a huge deficit of the girl child in Indian society. Aamir Khan has captured this social disaster very well with powerful cases being brought into our drawing rooms that shame us and overwhelm us with guilt and tears. (Dil pe lagegi as Aamir tells us). The daughter aversion depicted through the cases are indeed a very powerful exposure of the social ills linked to patriarchy but two very powerful by products of this message will cause more harm than good.

The first is the use of the term female feticide. Yes female feticide should not happen but the actual problem is sex selection facilitated by the use of medical technologies by medical professionals. The second is the undue emphasis on abortions and relating it to killings. The two taken together is not only an emotional trap but also fodder for the right wing enthusiasts. I am afraid the womens’ right to abortion comes under threat by projecting such a stance. Aamir and his research team perhaps lack the expertise to vet such sensitivities – the program development when tackling such sensitive social issues, and I believe the forthcoming ones would be even more so, needs consultation and debate with appropriate experts/activists who have devoted their lives to these issues.

Fortunately the column in HT refrains from discussing feticide and abortion and looks more at female discrimination within our social customs and mores. Again the views of Aamir in this column are well appreciated but like the TV show the column too has failed to take head on the root cause of this malevolence.

While there may still be a lot of social acceptance for sex-selection in our patriarchal world, the real perpetrators of this crime (yes it’s a crime today because there is a law that prohibits sex-selection and sex-determination) is the medical profession. Neither the TV show nor the column deals with the role of medical professionals as being central to this heinous issue. The complete absence of ethics in medical practice and the unfettered commercialization of medical care is the root cause for the deficit of girls we face today. If the doctors learn to say NO then the problem will be taken care of substantially. I say substantially because the misuse of medical technology is only one, though the overwhelming axis of the problem. The other axis is the post-birth discrimination and elimination of girls which also needs to be dealt with through social action.

The humungous documentation through sting operations by the two journalists from Jaipur was shown on the TV program and I think that is the real target for action. While I have no problems with writing letters to a chief minister, and why only Rajasthan – the sting operations were across 8 to 10 states, the focus of the larger public action must be on the medical profession. Doctors have to be booked like they did in South Korea.

Finally something about the audience also made me uncomfortable. There was no significant participation from the audience except for the emotional expression of tears which have been used impactfully by the program designers. To me things looked staged, even the few contributions of the external audience, like the comment on Salman Khan. I guess creating the drama around this program is part of the strategy but it could obviate away from the main cause and the proposed action.


  1. One aspect of female feticide in India which I do not understand is that most of the time, the initiative to find out if the fetus is a girl is started off by the mother-in-law. I've had umpteen number of occasions when the husband has come and told me about his helplessness in convincing his family that it is fine to have one more girl . . .

    1. While this may often appear to be the case it is only an indirect manifestation of patriarchy through the mother-in-law. The latter is a victim of the real culprit which is the patriarchal structure of our society. This happens not only with sex selection but also in the case of dowry, widow mistreatment etc.. Fortunately in the case of sex selection there is a third player, the medical doctor, who can make the difference if s/he is ethical and upholds the law of the land where it is in conflict with social practices.

  2. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

    Healthcare in India