Some days ago, the Bombay High Court spoke up for the right to life of the female foetus. "Sex selection is not only against the spirit of the Indian Constitution, it also insults and humiliates womanhood." The judgment was in response to the argument, put forward by a Mumbai-based couple, that the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act, 2003, was not constitutionally valid. Not only did it contradict the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), 1971, it infringed upon their right to "balance their family" and have a son, in addition to the two daughters they already had.
For those who are greatly concerned about India's skewed sex ratios and have followed the vexed debate on it that has been on for three decades in India, the case carries distinct intimations of future dilemmas. For one, it pitted a woman's right to abortion — although this is not directly acknowledged in the MTP Act — against the right of a female foetus to life. It also argued that those who can afford the costs should be allowed to choose the sex of their child. This particular couple stated that they did not plan to "destroy" daughters like those in 'less advanced societies", but to "balance" their family by using pre-selection technology to "select" a male embryo. Riding on these arguments are also the interests of extremely powerful medical professionals, doctors and technicians, who find the PCPNDT Act an anathema.
There are two broad critiques of this law. One, that it sets out to 'control' people, provides the state with the mandate to interfere in what is essentially a private matter and imposes a certain morality on individuals. It also makes individuals responsible for a social good like a more equal sex ratio. Two, there is also the argument, first posited by economist Dharma Kumar in her essay, 'Male Utopias or Nightmares?' (EPW, 1983), that the law of supply and demand can sort out the problem, so why resort to bans. If the supply of women gets reduced because of sex selection, they will only become more valuable.
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