There has been a significant rise in the number of unmarried girls visiting the hospitals, health centres and private clinics across Kashmir to abort the fetuses. Without any government check and a weak family structure, the menace is growing in a ‘conservative’ society, Syed Asma reports
Sana, 16, a pale-looking young girl is waiting for her turn to see a doctor at a primary health centre in Nishat, Srinagar. Accompanied by her aunt, Haleema, Sana, a Class 10 student, has lost a lot of weight and doesn’t take her meals properly from the last few weeks.
After examining her, the doctor advises her to go for some clinical tests. There aren’t many people in the health centre today. So Sana and her aunt are asked to wait in the doctor’s room till the reports are prepared. To kill time, Haleema starts chatting with the doctor.
“She didn’t agree to attend a doctor but I literally dragged her and got her here.” Sana is living with her father and three sisters on the city outskirts. In the meantime, a medical assistant comes into the room with Sana’s medical reports. “Madam, the reports are positive,” says the assistant.
“Sana is pregnant,” the doctor says. Haleema is shocked and a pause follows. She starts crying. Sana, who is sitting next to her, is silent. “Sana must have known about it. She is pregnant from the last seven months,” says the doctor.
“Is this the reason why you used to sit in your room for the whole day? We thought you are busy preparing for your exams,” says Haleema as she slaps Sana, “What should I tell your father? You shameless girl, answer me.” Haleema, without giving a second thought, requests the doctor to abort Sana’s child. The doctor disagrees and suggests them to keep the baby as abortion might kill both the mother and the child. “She is not married, doctor! How can we keep the baby?” asks Haleema. Sana keeps silent. The doctor says she was not surprised to see an unmarried girl pregnant. “The number of these cases is increasing with each passing year. It is shameful but it is true!” says Dr Masarat Shafi, a gynecologist working at one of the primary health centre in Srinagar.
Doctors say the exact number of such cases is not available because the patients are not registered. But the doctors claims the frequency of these cases is rising. Besides, it is not in their rule-book to ask about the marital status of any patient.
“Such patients usually come to us when the labour pain is induced and leave quickly after delivering a baby,” says Dr Sahiba Riyaz, a gynecologist working in Lal Ded maternity hospital. “When the patient is in pain, they are not in a condition to answer any of our questions. So we have no idea if our patient is married or not.”
Due to the lack of a proper survey, there are no clear stats about such cases. Gynecologists say only 4-5 per cent of such cases reach them. Others are managed in medical shops and private clinics. Besides, some sub-district hospitals also allegedly help them to abort their babies, Dr Masarat says.
Sharing an incident, Dr Sahiba says there was a senior surgeon who used to carry out illegal abortion in his clinics, even under candle light. He was identified when his men were caught throwing body of a girl into Jhelum. “Most of these unmarried pregnant girls come to us after trying all the medication and techniques of aborting their children,” adds Dr Masarat. Doctors say most of them are school-going or college-going students.
Recently, a gynecologist, Dr Shan-i-Alam, from sub district hospital, Kupwara, was arrested along with his associates for killing a newborn baby. Dr Alam, was earlier running a clinic in Shraya, Tangamarg where he allegedly conducted abortions of unmarried girls against hefty amounts.
He is booked under various sections including 312 (causing miscarriage), 315 (Act done with intent to prevent child being born alive or to cause it to die after birth), and 304 (A) causing death by negligence, a police statement says. Dr Alam has been charge-sheeted in the case, which is under trial in the court.
Arisha, an undergraduate student has a similar story. When she visited a gynecologist, she apparently knew that she was pregnant but wanted to confirm it. When the doctor asked her to register herself, she refused and ran away. After two days, Arisha was spotted in a nearby medical shop purchasing medicines for aborting her baby. Coincidentally, the medical shop owner, Mushtaq Ahmed, recognised her. Ahmed is working as a medical assistant in the same health centre where Arisha visited to confirm her pregnancy.
Ahmed asked her to wait and called up the doctor in the health centre, the doctors say, “But when we visited the place, she had already left.” They never saw her again and do not know what she did. But they have other cases and experiences to share. As abortions are done, these babies are left abandoned and unattended on roadsides or in hospitals. Dr Peerzada Mohammed Amin, a sociologist, says a weak family structure, less accountability and unnecessary freedom given to the children has resulted in this menace.
(Some names have been changed, including those of doctors, to protect their identity)