Tags: Grisly | Find | Draws | Attention | Abortion | Horrors | India

Grisly Find Draws Attention to Abortion Horrors in India

Monday, 18 September 2006 12:00 AM

PATTRAN, India -- Manual laborer Gulzar Singh is haunted by the day he exhumed baby fetuses from a pit outside an abortion clinic in one of the grisliest chapters in India's fight against female feticide.

"Inside the well I found bones. Small ones. Little, little ones. There were some baby skulls too," recalled Singh with a shudder.

Singh was ordered by police in early August to dig up pits on the grounds of a private hospital in Pattran, a small town in the Punjab state, which was suspected of operating an illegal abortion clinic.

It was a job that would change his life.

Over the next few hours, he removed the remains of scores of unborn babies from two deep pits, an experience he says he will never forget and one which leaves him struggling for breath at night and unable to enjoy the company of friends.

Singh says he removed the flesh and bones of around 300 aborted babies. The authorities say it was somewhere between 20 to 100 fetuses and they assume that all were female although gender tests results will only be ready next month.

The scale of the abortions has shocked even the most hardened of observers, including Virinder Singh Mohi, a senior health official who supervised the exhumation of the fetuses.

"We have been very lucky to bust this racket otherwise this so-called doctor would have continued to kill hundreds of girls," said Mohi.

The clinic was run by an untrained, unqualified retired soldier and his wife.

"He used to induce abortions, put the fetus in acid and also break the bones so as to destroy the evidence," said Mohi.

The incident, which officials say was India's worst case yet uncovered of the abortion of healthy female fetuses, may be only the tip of the iceberg.

According to a study published in the British medical journal, the Lancet, about 10 million female fetuses may have been aborted in India over the last 20 years.

Traditionally, India's patriarchal society has preferred boys over girls. Across its rural landscape an often-used blessing for daughter-in-laws is "May you be the mother of 100 sons."

In Punjab and the neighboring state of Haryana, where many girls are believed to be killed in the womb or soon after birth, sex ratios have been heavily skewed.

According to the 2001 census, the latest official population data, the national sex ratio was 933 girls to 1,000 boys whereas in Punjab it was 798 girls to 1,000 boys in 2001, compared to 875 in 1991.

The drop in the number of girls is believed to be due to the availability of ultrasounds, allowing parents to find out their baby's gender before birth and clearing the way for an illegal abortion, rather than infanticide after childbirth.

The skewing of the populations in favor of males has meant that brides are scarce and men have to travel across the country to find a match. School classrooms are filled with boys.

Girls are not popular in Punjab and Haryana - so much so that in some villages, the various words for "girls" in the local dialect also mean "enough," "deathly," "kill" and "too much."

For generations, men in India have been the breadwinners, considered the pride and joy of their families. Girls were seen as liabilities for whom parents had to dole out huge dowries to get them married.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in one of his first news conferences, termed female feticide an "unacceptable" crime.

However, little has been done over the years to end the rampant violations of laws that prohibit sex-determination tests and provide tough punishment for violators.

In recent months, police have raided a number of abortion clinics and closed down several of them.

But campaigners say officials have to get much tougher.

When Gulzar Singh reached the hospital last month, hundreds of policemen and officials were swarming the grounds.

Scores of journalists fought for views down a nine meter (30 ft) pit dug in front of the main building.

Tethered to the end of a rope held by three of his friends, Singh was lowered toward the gruesome find but almost immediately shouted to be brought out.

"The smell was very foul," he said. "Exhaust fans were used to blow out the toxic gases before I went in again."

For the next several hours, Singh sent up buckets full of human remains, blood-stained gauzes and bandages, empty bottles of abortion-inducing medicines.

"Going by the amount of material I sent up, at least 60 to 70 babies must have been dumped," Singh said.

Two days later another well was discovered in the hospital's backyard in which Singh said he found "little, little" bones.

"There were some skulls too. This size," he said, creating a two-inch space between his thumb and index finger.

"I was in the well from eight in the morning until six in the evening, and every two or three minutes I was sending up a bucket of filth and bones."

The clinic opened its doors in 2002, ostensibly as a maternity hospital delivering babies.

Many people in the town said they had heard the couple who ran the clinic were carrying out abortions, including Puja Rani, a midwife who was once employed by the couple and is now the prosecution's main witness in their trial.

"I had told them I would only help them in deliveries," she told Reuters in her home, where she lives in fear of reprisals.

"I told them I would not help them in abortions but one night they told me to throw a female baby in the well. I refused and the next day they threw me out," she said.

The illegal hospital has been sealed and its owners arrested. They face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Patients seeking abortions were first taken for a sex-determination test - banned in India - using ultrasound machines at two facilities in the town.

If the fetus was found to be female, the woman would be taken to the private hospital where the baby was aborted for a fee ranging from 2,000-5,000 rupees ($43-108), she said.

After the abortion, the fetus would be dumped in the pits - at night.

($1=46.14 Rupee)

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.


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PATTRAN, India -- Manual laborer Gulzar Singh is haunted by the day he exhumed baby fetuses from a pit outside an abortion clinic in one of the grisliest chapters in India's fight against female feticide. "Inside the well I found bones. Small ones. Little, little ones....
Monday, 18 September 2006 12:00 AM
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