By Quaid Najmi
Pune, Jan 3 (IANS) Nine years ago on this day, when a soft-spoken Pune medico, Dr. Ganesh Rakh, 46, announced ‘free delivery’ of all infant girls born in his Rakh’s Medicare Hospital (RMH), he was promptly dismissed as the ‘Mad Doc’ and scorned by the medical fraternity and society alike.
As the clock entered a new decade this week, Dr. Rakh’s small initiative — launched to coincide with the birth anniversary of the legendary social reformer Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (1831-1897) — has now blossomed into a global campaign.
Incidentally, the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2020) — released in December 2020 — underscored the “Mad Doc’s” far-sighted vision and the huge concerns in officialdom, as Indians seem to blatantly reject ‘Ghar-ki Laxmi’ and bet on a ‘Ghar-ka Chirag’.
“In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also called for ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ to highlight the importance of the girl child… However, five years later, the situation has turned even more alarming,” Dr. Rakh told IANS.
As per NFHS-5, the sex-ratio of the total population rose in 17 states and Union Territories, but dropped in five states — Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and Union Territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, compared to NFHS-4 (2015-2016).
“Despite the overall increase in the sex-ratio in Maharashtra, there has been a shocking 11-point decline in the sex-ratio at birth. These are only tentative figures and the real data may emerge only after the Census. But it is a very serious pointer indicating peoples’ fetish for a male child,” rued Dr. Rakh.
Not auguring well for the state’s demographic health, Dr. Rakh warns that “a falling sex-ratio at birth will be counter-productive on the socio-economic fronts in the long run with ‘irreversible consequences’ lest checked immediately.”
Besides, the data of 14 major states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and other UTs don’t figure in the NFHS-5 report released last month.
He cited the Indian Economic Survey report (2017-2018), stating an estimated 63 million female feticides in India (pre-birth), and the Lancet Medical Journal’s 2018 report, saying that ‘gender bias’ killed over 2.40 million girls in the 0-5 age group (post-birth) in a 10-year period, merely because they were born females.
Discussing the nine-year-old ‘Beti Bachao Jan Andolan’ (BBJA)’s report card, Dr. Rakh said that till date, his Pune hospital delivered 1,925 females, absolutely free of cost, an unparalleled feat anywhere.
This was irrespective of the financial status of the mother/family, whether normal (Rs 20,000), caesarian or complicated deliveries (Rs 50,000), all followed by a big celebration, plus free subsequent followups and other medical treatment for the mother-female baby.
“The costs on these ‘free female deliveries’ is offset from the routine OPD consultation fees or the bills of the male child births, which albeit leave thin margins for us,” said Dr. Rakh with a smile.
“Soon, the BBJA grabbed the attention of the Indian medical fraternity. Today, over 3,00,000 private Indian doctors, 13,000 organisations are part of BBJA. Another 2.50 million commoners to corporates work directly or indirectly for ‘Beti Bachao’ in the country,” he said with a tinge of pride on his unique initiative, first highlighted by IANS in 2014.
This is a sea change from the situation barely a decade ago, when families abhorred the birth of a female baby, the mother and child were humiliated by their family or community, some women were assaulted inside hospital premises for delivering a baby girl.
Many people decamped without clearing the hospital bills, newborn female babies were abandoned in the hospitals or dumped in garbage bins or gutters to become a meal for dogs and pigs, Dr. Rakh said of the horrors he experienced in his medical career.
The scene is different with many families happily accepting the ‘Ghar Ki Laxmi’ and even offering to pay, or ‘sponsor’ the delivery of some male child born to economically backward parents, et al.
The world-renowned Ajmer Sharif Dargah’s Haji Syed Salman Chishty, the present ‘Gaddi Nashin’ (hereditary custodian) and 26th direct descendant of Hazrat Khawaja Moinudeen Hasan Chishty (1142-1236 AD) joined the BBJA in 2019.
“Islam considers the birth of a female child as ‘Huzoor Ka Salaam’ (Greetings of the Prophet)…. Even the Hindu culture considers her as ‘Goddess Laxmi’, so how can there be discrimination,” Chishty remarked.
BBJA soon crossed the boundaries to reach Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Malawi, Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Middle-East and North Africa, and other countries with similar campaigns launched under Dr. Rakh’s guidance.
In February 2019, medicos in Zambia welcomed Dr. Rakh and his team to carry out a series on ‘Beti Bachao’ programmes to create awareness on the issue in that country, with wide coverage in the local media.
Born to extremely poor parents, the bright boy completed his entire education on scholarships and as Dr. Rakh, is now ‘repaying’ his debts to society through the BBJA, with full support of his wife Trupti and their daughter Tanisha.
By Quaid Najmi