Due to the social stigma involved and the miniscule few who are actually convicted in rape cases, several of the rape and incest cases go officially unreported. Infact a survey reported that 60 per cent of rape cases have no reports lodged with the police especially those performed in illiterate and economically weaker sections by the landlords, the rich and the powerful.
Abortion for these poor illiterate women, are an intensely private matter. There are several deterrants to these young women approaching the Health Centres and clinics. They are afraid of meeting any of their acquaintances or neighbor when they are seeking an abortion. The other problem is that government hospitals need a statutory signature from a male member, for unmarried or widows – the father for married – their husbands, on a statutory from giving their consent for abortion. This is a problem that becomes difficult, mostly due to the necessity of keeping it a secret.
The need to go to a quack, Dai or unlicensed medical practitioner is felt here. By merely focusing on the legal aspect of this, we are overlooking the desperation of these women who very know that these are illegal as well as dangerous, but are still forced to seek solutions from them. The only reason being that no uncomfortable questions are asked and they are more accessible. Most young women who are in need of illegal abortions are vulnerable to the wrath of family members, social reprisals and the stigma of being categorized as ‘loose women’.
Our social system overlooks the fault of the rapist, being a masculine oriented society but the poor victim is branded for life and the family ostracized permanently. Their siblings are likely to suffer from this and remain unwanted and unmarried with the parents living for the rest of their lives in shame. There have been cases where due to social ostracism, the families had to run away from their villages leaving home and hearth, with the poor victim, unable to bear the humiliation, committing suicide.
Medically safe and legal abortion remains a very unmet facility in our country even today. Our law makers should sit down and ponder as to how this can be made more convenient and easily accessible without sermonizing. Confidentiality is the first casualty in government hospitals. Most of the poor women going to these centres expect patient handing and a non-judgmental approach, instead they are questioned rudely by the staff members who choose to deliver long homilies. Instead of motivating the women who already have several children, these poor women are forced to undergo tubectomy after undergoing abortion. Naturally they shy away, as their only claim to any worth, is their fertility and ability to deliver children. The moment a woman is declared infertile, she becomes unwanted and an outcaste.
A survey, recently conducted, found out that for every legal abortion, there were at least 10 such illegal abortions. The result, that nearly 55 per cent of all maternal deaths between the age of 15 and 24 years are due to these abortions and nearly 40 per cent of the deaths between 25 to 35 years of age. This must be stopped, by empowering the women with unqualified rights to go in for a safe and cared abortion. What is needed is human service and post-natal care.
It must be clear to the powers that be, that all women going in for illegal abortion may not be rape cases. The poor, the needy, the physically weak also need to undergo abortions but those living in the rural sector do not have access to proper and legal facilities, They have to go to urban canters where because of the callousness of medical staff, They land in the clutches of middlemen and because of their illiteracy, land up in the hands if illegal practitioners.
What is important together with extending them the facilities is spreading information about it, it is necessary for the social organizations to join hands with government agencies, in spreading the message of availability.
Our laws need to undergo a drastic change so that instead of humiliating the poor raped woman in open court through vulgar insinuations and questions, the ones should lie with the accused to prove that he did not commit the crime. This is a suggestion put forward which is relevant to our oriental society only. The western and developed countries have a more liberal concept of women who is treated equally, at par with the male. The idea of dating applies to both men and women there and the institution of marriage is not as important as in our society, to be partners in life and live together. Live in relationships are an acceptable way of life there.
In India, a women who has an affair, who has been presumed to have had sexual relations or even forced sex with anyone also but her husband, is branded loose and immoral. She is a social outcaste and would be distanced from society. The institution of marriage is still a very religious and respected one. The first thing which comes to the mind of parents when their daughter nears marriageable age is to somehow get a decent groom for her. In a society where old maids and infertile women are considered inauspicious for religious functions, any hints of promiscuity or social innuendo by young maids would mean distancing them. In a society like ours could any woman dare to make a false report about being raped.
The other point is that due to lack of proper facilities most abortionists who are illegal make a mess of abortion and the survey figure stated earlier gives us the results. Together with penalizing these quacks we should be providing hassle-free facilities to all young women to abort or give birth to a child depending on their mental and physical condition.
Just penalizing those who become a messiah for women in trouble by performing illegal abortions will not retrieve a situation we have allowed to crop up our law makers need to address the reason why so many woman prefer to bypass the legal route and provide the necessary solution to this dilemma.