The sting activist
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As a young child, when Varsha Deshpande's mother towed her around the village to attend baby shower ceremonies, she wondered why only the idol of Krishna was ceremoniously decorated and placed on a silver cradle, next to the expecting mother. When Varsha asked her mother, she had to make do with vague and unsatisfactory replies. After three daughters, when Varsha's mother was still pressured for a boy, Varsha got her answer. That baby Krishna idol was an aspiration that Indian families held on to. A girl child was unwanted.
This skewed craze for a boy child has claimed as many as 4.7 lakh lives illegally in Maharashtra alone in past 10 years, according to official data. "Even if a girl's birth was not considered auspicious, our parents allowed us to be born and survive. But today's technological advancement ensures that a child is killed inside the womb," says 46- year-old Varsha Deshpande, a crusader against female foeticide.
A decade long agitation to bring an end to these surreptitiously-carried-out sonography tests by the doctors and with as many as 42 sting operations across Maharashtra, Deshpande along with her organisation 'Lek Ladki Abhiyan' has managed to expose 70 doctors for illegally determining the sex of the foetuses and killing them, only because they were female foetuses.
Deshpande, a law graduate from Belgaum who eventually shifted to Satara, says her entry into activism was coincidental. "I was keenly interested in theatre. I got involved with theatre groups and started performing with them. We had this very gripping play Mulgi Zhali (A girl child is born) enacted across the state. My social life was paved here."
Until 2003, Deshpande's work primarily focused on women's issues, mobilising them, setting up women bachat ghat (saving groups), fighting their domestic violence and dowry cases. But one evening at the group's meeting, two women nonchalantly mentioned how they had used Rs 4,000 earned from the group to have their daughters-in-law get the gender of the foetus identified and eventually get the pregnancy terminated. It shattered me," says Deshpande, adding that the NGO unknowingly paid for at least 15 such terminations. "We could not sit idle, we had to do something." In 2005, when sting operations were still unheard of, women from Deshpande's organisation dared to hide bulky handy cams and walkmans in their sarees and set out to collect evidences against erring doctors. "Sunday was a day for such activities. Clinics, which would otherwise not be open for patients, would have sonography tests conducted on Sundays," Deshpande says. She further adds that it was possible only after the amendment that was introduced in the Pre-Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act in 2003. "Until then, the mother was considered to be an accused. Only after 2003, did the Act identify woman as a victim."
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