Book review- Missing Girls by Dr Manohar Agnani
Dr Manohar Agnani
Books for Change ,2006
Pages – 153
Price – Rs.180/-
Smt Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi
This book though small in size seeks to cover a vast gamut of issues connected with female foeticide. It has chapters devoted to what the Census 2001 brought out in terms of states and districts with low sex ratio. For a person looking for comparisons it gives a good foundation to compare the data now available in the Census 2011.
The author has criticised the National Population Policy (2000) for sending out a strong message about the small family norm while completely ignoring that that norm should have been linked to freedom from sex bias. He goes on to analyse the Millennium Development Goals; the National Development Goals and other policy documents pointing out that none of the programs address the problem of gender imbalance although the subject is of such critical importance.
In a subsequent chapter Agnani has tabled a few examples of ambiguous messages which not only confuse the public but are patriarchal and patronising in their own way.
In a chapter titled “Catching the Culprits”, he has shown that it is possible to nab the main players by scrutinising and verifying the data supplied in various returns which have to be filed under the schedules attached to the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (as amended). He has however repeated what various experts he has alluded to in ‘the author’s note’ have propounded but has not commented upon whether the failure to follow up on these prescriptions has been on account of connivance on the part of the district authority (Chief Medical and Health Officer CMHO) or it is due to inadequate technical capacity or any other reason. The author is in favour of implementing the existing law without seeking amendments and feels that it has sufficient wherewithal to address the menace of female foeticide. That begs the question as to why things have failed to fall into place.
The answer seems to lie in the chapter on the “Morena Experience” but the author has not said so in so many words.
On the whole the book is a sincere account of what the author observed and experienced and is based upon a sound public health grounding as well as experience of government functioning. Although one can differ with the author’s opinions at many places, he must be credited with bringing to the table a very useful and provocative account of the subject of female foeticide.
The book is by no means an academic piece of work because it does not reference portions where the author has relied upon the work of other experts and opinion makers. Although there is a bibliography at the end, it is not possible to make out which assumptions and conclusions have been made on the basis of the published work of various people and how much it is the product of the author’s own perception.
From the point of view of civil servants, particularly those working in the health sector, the chapter on Morena district presents a case study which is an eye-opener and should be taken forward for further analysis and discussion at the appropriate forum. In the chapter on “The Way out”, several suggestions have been given as to how a change in attitudes can be brought about. Some of these constitute simple prescriptions which can be implemented without any great change of policy at the national or state level and could form the basis for discussion along with the Morena case study, particularly during in-service training programs for civil servants.