17,000 Indian Doctors pledge to deliver baby girls free of cost to challenge sexism in society

Someone give this man a Humanitarian award. He certainly deserves it.

An Indian doctor's choice to alter society's negative attitude towards girls by delivering infant girls free is inspiring other physicians.

His example has prompted tens of thousands of other doctors to vow they too will provide the parents a significant reduction or deliver baby women gratis since Dr. Ganesh Rakh began his free deliveries seven years back.

It was one especially upsetting bedside scene in his obstetrics ward that prompted Dr. Rakh to take the step. A young woman had given birth to your baby girl, and her parents were enjoying the moment. Her husband fell right into a rage walked in and, on hearing it was a girl.

"He gave her a big slap, abused her parents and told them to take her home to their house. He was wild. He explained he was going to leave her and marry a lady who could give him a son," Dr. Rakh said.

The more "routine" version of the scene used to play out each day in his small hospital in Pune in the western state of Maharashtra. The husband and his relatives used to begin getting upset and crying, revealing their displeasure to the mom and becoming livid when faced with all the bill.

It was a choice he took to make his contribution to changing attitudes towards girls. Apart from not charging any fee, he celebrates the arrival of each girl. The staff gathers round the bed with candles, a cake and roses to shame the relatives that are scowling into behaving and also to make the mom feel special. More than 400 girls have been delivered without the parents being charged a fee.

As news of his mission spread, medical students and other physicians became interested. Dr. Rakh says that, when his office updated the figures last week, a total of 17,000 physicians had pledged to reduce fees or charge baby girls. Nothing at all, when

One such doctor is Dr. Satish Andhale Patil of Mauli Hospital near Pune who is delivering baby girls gratis, whether by Caesarian section or normal delivery, since last June. "I have seen 15 suicides of women who'd given birth to their second daughter and were in despair. When Dr. Rakh began, I knew I had a social responsibility to do the same," said Dr. Patil.

Outside New Delhi, in Gurgaon, social worker Sunil Sainiji, inspired by Dr. Rakh, visited hospitals and has got two to deliver girls free and one to offer a 50 per cent discount. He is also convincing medical laboratories and chemists to knock off a couple of rupees for evaluations and prescriptions for baby girls.

41, Dr. Rakh, is the son of a coolie and has experienced hardship and discrimination, a fact that made him feel compassion for the mothers-to-be growing increasingly restless as their delivery date approached.

"They are so stressed in their check ups that their hemoglobin and blood pressure levels fluctuate. It's the fear of hearing the words 'it is a girl,'" he said.

The cultural preference for boys stays entrenched in India. The result continues to be female foeticide and neglect of infant girls. Activists say that millions of female fetuses happen to be aborted within recent decades.

The law prohibits ante-natal ultrasound evaluations showing the gender of a fetus, but technicians and some unscrupulous doctors tell the parents that are expecting surreptitiously. They often use code phrases such as "your child will enjoy football" or "your baby will like blue skies" so that they can't be reported for doing so.

"We clearly don't tell our patients the sex of the fetus; it's against the law. I do the opposite. I tell families from the start that it's a baby girl even though I don't understand the sex of the infant. I keep saying this and also the effect is that it prepares them mentally so that they are not so disturbed when it happens," he said.

The most recent figures published a year ago, revealed that this had fallen with some states having as low a figure as 836 to 918 girls for every 1000 boys.

Dr. Rakh, with a daughter, says he will continue not charging a fee until society ends its approach towards girls.

"Of course I will be losing out financially but how will anything change unless we all do our bit?"

He has also got tens of thousands of physicians around India to support his campaign. "They might not deliver free of charge but some give a 10 per cent reduction, others a 40 per cent discount.

His work has won him the praise of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan who has been approached by the Maharashtra government lately to campaign contrary to the evil of female foeticide. Bachchan called the physician a "real hero."

Dr. Rakh says that, finally, he's beginning to see a slight change in approaches.

"The reaction is less negative these days. I am looking forward to the day when I will stop purchasing a great number of cakes."

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