Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Let's play: "Shoot the messenger"

As you may or may not be knowing, we're expecting our second child. Come September, there's going to be another wailing voice providing backup vocals to the wailing 3-year old. Whether this voice would be male or female, we don't know yet, because the law prevents disclosure of the gender of the foetus. Female infanticide is a terrible problem in India. With modern technology, it is possible to know the gender of the foetus within 11 – 12 weeks of the pregnancy, at which point it is still medically safe to abort the foetus (I guess, but am not the expert). Thus, the Government of India passed a law in 1994, which stated that the determination of the gender of the baby, is a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The law was hailed by one and all as something which was a mighty fine thing to do. Most everyone I know supports the law, as do I.

Or I think I do.

The reason that I am not quite sure, is that in spite of the strict law, and the strong deterrent, the girls to boys ratio in India has gone from 906 per 1000 (bad enough) in 1996 to 835 per 1000 in 2005. This trend has been seen in almost every state in India, such that some experts suggest that over this 10 year period, somewhere between 4.2 million – 12.1 million unborn female fetuses were aborted through selective selection abortions. Given the range of the data, it is estimated that even rich, educated, well-to-do families indulge in this truly gruesome crime. The government believes that a large portion of this, has come through proliferation of illegal ultrasound centers who disclose the gender for a fee. The government is cracking on stricter implementation of the law and the illegal ultrasound centers are being sealed and closed. So the question to be looked at is:

Has the law helped in any way? How much have illegal USG centers contributed to the drop in the girl-boy ratio? I don't have the data to prove either way, but I do have a theory.

I believe the current approach is akin to shooting the messenger. We're going after these centers because they're illegal, which is ok, but we really won't solve the problem at hand, because it's not the machines that kill the babies, but the people who go to these centers that do. If we don't go after these cruel excuses for humans, we'll never solve the problem. We'll only get some other way by which people figure out how to get to their ultimate objective of this exercise.

Let's approach this through the counter theory, that let's say we were to (magically) eliminate all the illegal USG centers in India, would female infanticide (equally magically) go away? If your answer is yes, my follow up question would be to ask you, how confident you are in saying this. I'd say that you probably have some doubt on this happening. Primarily because no one has the data which says that how many of the 4.2 million mothers went to these illegal centers. Again, I don't have the data, but we've heard cases as to how the doctor signs the report in red ink if it's a girl and blue ink if it's a boy, or some version thereof, which is something you could do in a perfectly legal set up, with no evidence whatsoever. So I'd say there is some doubt in saying that getting rid of the illegal USG centers will kill the menace.

Another problem with the lack of data, is that it is tough to say how many of the total people who went to these illegal centers actually aborted the foetus. The reason I say that, is because I can confidently say that not everyone does that. A USG can cost up to 1200 rupees in a private hospital, and about 600 in a government hospital, both of which are somewhat expensive for a large portion of expectant families. Plus, if you've ever been to Sassoon, you're probably not going there again ever. In short, if the illegal center does it for 250, someone who actually cannot tell the difference between legal and illegal centers and cannot afford 600 might go there, and have a lifelong fulfilling experience as a caring parent.

A third issue with the lack of data is a bit more psychological. I think based on the data it is fair to say that there are some people in this country who are so against having a girl child that they'd be willing to kill. For a country with a relatively low homicide rate, I think that's a pretty chilling assessment. But without digressing, if there is some way by which I can be absolutely certain of not having this problem, with a small risk of being caught, many of these evil bastards will take it. Again, the risk is small simply because there is no data to prove that you're having a girl child.

The point is not that the law is an ass, but rather that there is no data on the basis of which we can devise solutions. We're working on solutions based on data which tells us there is a problem, but you don't need data to tell you the problem. The problem will exist regardless of the data. We need data to guide us to the solutions.

So I suggest why not flip the law?

Why not we make it mandatory to reveal the gender of the foetus to the parents? Those with no malicious intent will definitely prefer this, anyway. It also helps us to attack the core of the issue, which is that it prevents the very business model of the illegal USG centers. I don't see any incentive to set up an illegal center, if people can get the same thing at a legal center.

But most importantly, flipping the law gives us data. Data that can show us who does this, and some evidence that can be used to hang these people.

While we see posts of "post this to your FB status, or you're not a patriot, and while you're debating about posting you just killed 15 unborn girls" on various social media will anyone start a FB page for changing the law?

I don't have the guts.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Fable with no ending..

There once was a pond.

A pond full of fish. Lots of them. With a strict hierarchy, where the big fish ate the small fish, who ate the smaller fish, who devoured the smallest fish. Promotions from smallest fish to smaller fish to small fish happened through how much time one had spent in the pond. In all this fish-eat-fish business, the fish were so busy eating other fish, that they hardly remembered what it was like when they were the smallest fish in the pond. Those who survived, did so by doing whatever it is that the bigger fish wanted them to do.. You couldn't blame them, since the alternative was to be eaten. The only way to get out of this pond alive, was if you were lucky enough to caught in a net, that would transport you into the wonderful world of fish tanks. The lucky few, who escaped to the fish-tanks, never returned.

That was the life, where every most fish lived and died in the same pond. And died even when living.

Over the years, the area started suffering a tremendous drought which caused heavy water shortages. Our pond also suffered much. So the authorities did the only thing they could do. They built a canal system between the various ponds of the area, so that every pond would have sufficient water. Slowly, but steadily, the water problem receded. And it provided the smaller fish a chance to travel upstream and downstream to different ponds. You grew by picking up whatever came up your way.

That's where things stand today. Smaller fish have a choice. You stay in a pond as long as you like it, else move on to a new pond. Stay there, or keep moving. Those who stayed in the pond, were there of their own choice.

This has led to an interesting little generational gap.

The big fish today, had grown big through their old method of staying in the same place, and devouring smaller fish. They were too busy surviving the drought to bother with moving out. They had always known just one way to grow – Stay in the pond.

The next level had grown by travelling far and wide and learning from their experiences. They knew what life was prior to the drought, and they didn't really want to go back to those days. They'd prefer growing by what they had learnt.

Those at the lowest level, really don't bother much, since they know that they don't have to spend the rest of their lives in this pond, if they aren't liking it. They never knew what life was before the drought.  

I wish I knew how this story ends.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Things I think I think

-          It's been a while since I wrote anything on this blog, and a lot longer since I wrote what I thought I thought.. Blame for this is free and therefore universally distributed.. But it's a damp, dull, dreary June afternoon, and for a change the monsoons seem to be on time. The tinted windows are making this place even darker than normal, and it feels like it is 8.30 and not 3.30.. So, with a cup of tea next to me, I write.
-          I have come to realize, that the more I write on this blog, the more personable I become. Call it therapeutic or whatever, but writing what I think (or rather what I think I think) seems to relax me. It's my way of showing some emotion, and it therefore helps me keep myself in check. But I don't (normally) blog from work, and I don't (normally) sit on the computer at home, so this becomes somewhat complicated. Facebook & Twitter etc, are not quite the same thing. MORAL OF THE STORY: if you want me to write more, hope for such a dreary sky in Pune more often J

-          It's close to half the year gone, and my New Year resolution (hope, actually) of writing a book is about half a paragraph in the making. My latest excuse (to myself, of course) for not writing is that I fear I will be so engrossed in the whole writing bit, that I would become my lead character (who that is, I have not really thought of) and start acting all weird in real life. Most of my inspiration and ideas come to me when I am driving, where it is neither practical nor safe to write.

-          The flavor of the month seems to be corruption as it was last month, and the month before, and the one before that, and also in January and February. I personally find it somewhat hypocritical for me to criticize the corruption in India, when I myself have contributed to it whenever it has been suitable for me. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the ones who have been arrested for the various crimes will not be convicted. Not because they're not guilty, or because they wield power and those in power go scot free. But more because it is very difficult to prove the crime that they have been arrested for.
-          Let's take Mr. Raja's case: The current money trail doesn't lead to his bank account. So, he could very well say that he never benefitted personally from anything. The money trail leads to the family of their dear leader. If anything, Raja is guilty of perjury where he swore on oath that he would be loyal to the constitution of India, but instead was loyal to Mr. Thalaivar (or whatever it is that the old man in dark glasses is called). But he's not charged for perjury, is he?
-          …And which politician not named Gandhi, Thackeray or Advani can confidently say that he wouldn't do the same?
-          As for Ms. Kanimozhi, or however it is that her name is spelled, a contract between two legally constituted company isn't illegal unless the money by either party is laundered to / from something else. Unless they can actually prove that the money was laundered, there really is no case. Maybe there was some laundering done, but I don't think she is being charged for money laundering.
-          As for Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare et al, I really don't think it is worth my time and my virtual ink to spend time discussing about them.
-          Fundamentally, we are not into taking responsibility for our actions. It is never my fault. It is my neighbor, my chai walla, my kaam waali, the guy at the traffic signal, the government, Barack Obama, God, that have made my life so fucked up. It is not my fault, it cannot be my fault. Don't you know, I am never at fault? It's your fault that you are even thinking that it is my fault. Me and Sachin Tendulkar are the only two things in this Universe which are completely blameless. Trust me.