Doggedly exposing foeticide

BY mathur| IN Regional Media | 04/09/2006
Instead of collecting evidence on the basis of the visuals provided by them, the police have chosen to harass and prosecute the journalists.



Shipra Mathur


Introduction: "KOKH MEIN QATL"

Sting operations by media are largely aimed at uncovering scandals and corruption. Major scandals including Tehelka, the Judeo bribery, the existence of the casting couch or the case of MP’s taking money to ask Parliament  questions are some of the examples of the media exposes.  It was either money or sex that sensationalized these stories. But there are rare cases in the history of TRP-driven modern media when a sting is launched against social malpractices. Social stings is a term unheard of in the Indian media also because the sting operations in itself is a recent phenomenon. Hence, there is no documentation of sting operations dealing with issues of social concern in India.

One such operation titled KOKH MEIN KATL  (murder in the womb) has highlighted the severity of the discrimination against the girl child and the risk involved in conducting such operations. The operation was launched  by a team of journalists in Rajasthan. It was a campaign based on the personal commitment of the team. With this operation the genre of sting operation has entered a new era.

Suppression and discrimination of women was the starting point of this operation run jointly by Sripal Shaktawat, the Bureau Chief, Rajasthan, Sahara News and Dr. Meena Sharma, a freelance journalist. Sripal Shaktawat has been crusading against the social malpractices and atrocities especially crime against women for over a decade while Meena has been a young freelance reporter committed to the social upliftment of the society. Both of them have given new meaning to the sting operations led by media. Meena left her assignments with the local media and her college lectureship to devote herself to the operation.

They planned to launch a sting operation in February- March,2005 to expose the breed of doctors conducting illegal abortions after sex determination in the state. They travelled a distance of 13,000 km across the districts of Rajasthan and MP, Gujarat, and UP.

Methodology of this study

Personal interviews of the team and observation and continuous tracking of media coverage of the issue ever since the sting went on air. The writer also had access to the supporting documents including the VCDs of the sting operation and the written record of the subsequent impact and reactions.

Girl? Abort… is sixth months….Never mind kill in the womb….


Life can be bitter even before you are born

If you are a girl and still in the womb…….

We are celebrating the 59th Independence day but have failed miserably in liberating the Indian society of its prejudices against women. The declining sex ratio has rendered several villages of Mewat, Shekhawati and Marwar regions of Rajasthan virtually women less. Here women are imported from neighbouring states of MP, West  Bengal , Maharashtra and Karnataka for marriage.

If media acts responsibly as a change agent and fights for the social cause, rest of the three pillers of democracy begun to realize, reluctantly or willingly, their respective roles in  bringing change. Rajasthan has a poor record with respect to sex ratio. It is 922 as against the national average of 933. In the age group of 1-6 years however, the ratio stands 909 per 1000 boys a  figure a developing society  should be ashamed of.

Meena initiated, conceived and executed a Sting Operation to expose the Doctors colluding in female foeticide. They charged Rs 1000- Rs. 20,000 for MTP of 6-7 month pregnant lady which is an offence under PNDT Act.

 This sting " Kokh Mein Katl" was telecast on Sahara channel from 4th April,2006. The team had footage of about 100 doctors. Out of them 80 were telecast .Some of the footages were held back because of the poor quality. Together, the team travelled a distance of 1300 km across the districts of Rajasthan , MP, Gujrat, and Haryana. There were pressures from the political and social circles but the team continued to resist all pressures to expose the killer Doctors. The local media and journalist associations and social groups came in open support of the sting team.

The operation was conducted in the following phases:

The first Phase

Feb-March, 2005        Planning and strategy of operation

April- May- June,05-  Search for a pregnant lady to act as a decoy

After 4 month of search a lady got ready to help as a decoy in the operation

Her husband was taken into confidence

She was a graduate with 6 months pregnancy

Decoy did not demand any money in exchange

The operation began in Jaipur, Bundi and Kota districts

Meena impersonated as an attendant of the lady willing to terminate pregnancy after identifying a girl child in sex determination.

Took along a  camera in her bag

Hurdles:                     She was a beginner in camera handling, therefore the quality of shots was poor

She had been working as an anchor on regional channels and was recognized by the doctors who could not be trapped because of her disclosed identity.

Realising the problem she left the anchoring and engaged herself with the operation. They encountered the inhuman doctors ready to abort a 6-7 month pregnancy for money.This realization forced the duo to re think and re- plan the entire exercise in a big way

The second phase

Watching the reality closely the team could visualize the  gravity of the problem in a wider perspective and smelled that there could be a wider network across the state. With this knowledge they widened the scope of operation

The team did not want to restrict itself to mere 5-6  exposes

Rather than touching the tip of the iceberg they wanted to reach the root and catch the perpetrators red handed on camera.

October -November,05-

Search for a pregnant decoy continued.

November- December,05- A decoy met them but after accompanying them to one clinic refused to  help

In order to prevent the leak ( of both the idea and the sting) they could not reveal and seek help openly

January- February,06  The search continued  and so the obsession with the issue

Meena was desperate and she asked her pregnant sister and sister-in- law and her aunt to act as a decoy.

All her close acquaintance disappointed her and refused to help her in the crusade.

The family members dissuaded her from continuing with the operation

February,06               Another decoy offered to help though she didn’t reveal it to her    family. Her husband agreed to the idea and they stayed with the team for 25 days.

                                    With her a major target was covered

                                    During this period the targets gave hint about the wider network extended to Agra, Gwalior, Palampur and Ahmedabad  

The team explored and planned to go beyond the boundaries of the state of Rajasthan.

The decoy left.

March,06                    Another decoy extended help

                                    The team covered 7 districts with her

30th March, 06          First ever arrest under PNDT Act in Palwal  foeticide case.

The team had planned to go to Haryana and Punjab but had to postpone plans after the judgement to play safe

Now the task ahead was more challenging than before

The strategy was changed and the further coverage was done with week long break after week long shoot

By this stage the team had collected enough evidences and caught the instigators of the offence in camera

The team had become more confident and cautious about handling the embarrassing moments

They did not hesitate to carry the camera into the chamber and  even to the Operation theatre

Hurdles-                     The operation slowed down because of the Palwal judgement.

Besides, all through the operation it was a major challenge to search and persuade a pregnant lady to join the operation as a decoy. Without their assistance this operation would not have reached to its destination.

Iit was risky to take along 6-7 months pregnant woman and travel long distances.

Interestingly all the five decoys had one child.

The team would take care of the decoy’s health, her child  and husband who would all travel along the team.

The camera was seen  by the doctors in Jaipur, Chittorgarh and Palampur.

The team had to run away to avoid any tussle and consequent disclosure of the operation and motive

There arose situations when the team allowed the decoy to be taken to the Operation Table and Meena accompanied her as attendant in the OT.

Narrating the incident during the live telecast and personal interaction Meena says that "…. I still shiver to recall the incident……the decoy was taken to the OT…the medicines were were unwrapped ….the injections were ready……Sripalji couldn’t enter the OT…..I barged and stopped the doctors ……and rushed back with the decoy …….and cried our heart out in the van ….. any untoward happening would have caused a life long burden on our conscience…."

 It was risky but this way only the team could record the conversation of the team of doctors and take the visuals of the illegal  MTP

The final showdown

The climax of the episode came as a shock to the team. On 4th April, 2006 a culprit, a Jaipur doctor at Deep Nursing Home manhandled Shripal and Meena, whose contribution through their bold participation at the risk of their and decoy’s life helped make this initiative one of the leading sting operations in the country, one that has added a new dimension to media activism. Dr Rekha Gupta of Deep Nursing Home hampered the further schedule of the Sting. Despite many hurdles from various quarters the team engaged in the sting operation successfully and managed to capture on camera around 140 doctors, among them 100 odd doctors seemed in great hurry to abort the girl child from the mother`s womb.

The undercover operation was recorded in last one year covering 36 cities. The team members travelled a distance of 1300 kms in four states. The faces exposed so far are just the tip of an iceberg; many more are yet to be exposed. …But financially and politically well connected medical practitioners were panicky and worked overtime for face saving.

Fall Out :  Media as Change agent

The case has been registered against 33 doctors in all the states the sting was conducted. The most  speedy action was taken in Gujarat with the intervention of the state health minister. The sting was conducted at four clinics of Palampur. Just after the live telecast of the sting the government ordered immediate seizure of the clinics. The government also ran a campaign to check the F- form containing details of the patient undergone termination of pregnancy and cancelled registration of Ultra Sound Machines of about 58 clinics.

The issue has emerged as a major social blot on the progressive societies and a debate has begun at various forum. At some places the police have been proactive in registering the cases against the accomplices of the crime. There has been an awakening about the extent and gravity of the problem.

The government was initially reluctant to take action against the culprits. The journalists and the opposition party (Congress) boycotted the assembly (Rajasthan) proceedings until the issue was taken up for debate in the house. Because of the pressure of the journalists, political and social organizations, the issue was debated in the Rajasthan Assembly and the Home Minister had to make a statement  that the government will not spare the culprits.

The issue was also raised in the Rajya Sabha by Brinda Karat, Sushma Swaraj and other female MPs. The Health Minister Ramodas assured to launch a sting operation on behalf of the government. The central and the state governments and Rashtriya Mahila Morcha of BJP also appealed the religious leaders to sensitize the mass about this malpractice. The caste leaders and associations like Bhil Samaj , NGOs like Aangana Patel and Akhila-CEFAR expressed their concern with the issue and declared that the community will boycott the persons engaged in female foeticide. The political and social organizations staged demonstrations all across the country demanding urgent attention to the issue and arrests of the guilty. The local media especially the print media carried the follow up stories and editorials- campaigning the arrest and legal action against the culprits, sensitizing the masses and building opinion against the practice.

The visiblity of the issue in media and the sensitive treatment by the media persons is welcome change.  Since the issue came to the limelight there has not been a single week the newspapers did not publish a story on female foeticide and the trend continues. The gruesome  stories on throwing the foetus in the well now receive front page space. Recent cases ( in the month of July- August)  of a man carrying female foetus in polybag for dumping ( Bharatpur) or  three foetus lying near a lake in the lake city ( Udaipur) , 25 foetus in a well ( Patiala)  or a five month  female foetus and body of a new born girl child near government hospital ( Jaipur) have been highlighted in right earnest by media and cases have  been registered in all the cases.

        Fighting all Odds ……

It was unfortunate that some unidentified criminals stormed the house of Shripal and threatened his wife and children with dire consequences one night. It was April 19, 2006, and the perpetrators warned against the further telecast of the sting operation. The doctors offered money and threatened the team constantly. The police and politicians lay direct or indirect pressures on the team members and their family not to pursue the case further. The state government the state Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria not only ordered police cops to find out the decoy who helped in the  sting operation but said, " Hum kise ke saath anyaay nahi karenge. Nyaay ke liye zaroori hai ki un mahilaon ke jaanch ho ki w-oh garbhwati hai bhi ki nahi." ( we shall not do injustice to anybody. For justice  it needs to be investigated whether  the decoy who helped in the whole operation was pregnant or not?). One of the reasons for the government reluctance to take harsh action against the guilty doctors was the doctor brother Ashutosh Bansal of a Superintendent of Police who was one of the accomplices caught on camera at Deep Nursing Home engaged in sex determination tests. The district and the state authorities have suo motu powers to take action against violators of PC/PNDT and MTP Acts, but the CMHOs and the Directorate of Family Welfare hesitated to take any action. The harassment of the team still continues with the police-culprit nexus. The cases have been registered at various Police Thanas of the districts and the journalist duo have also been prosecuted for being the witnesses of the doctors’ involvement in sex determination and willingness to abort the female foetus.. They are being summoned at all the districts wherever the cases have been registered  for evidences.

Instead, the police should have collected the evidences on the basis of the visuals ( CDs) provided by the journalists rather than harassing and prosecuting the journalists. The dilemma the journalists face in such cases is whether to restrict themselves to alarming and mobilizing  the society and let the law take its course or fight the whole battle as an activist at the expense of their professional commitments.



Executive Head,

Mind Pool School of Journalism

(Supported by Rajasthan Patrika,Jaipur)




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