Dr.Renu Raghupathi tells us a heart wrenching story, one of millions in a country like India, with skewed gender ratios and deep rooted inequalities. She shares her personal account.
Working as a doctor in the community, you get used to receiving all sorts of ‘fees’ for your services, be it a bunch of fresh drumsticks or a big carton of mangoes or the 4 members of the fowl family that run around in the backyard of my home, taunting my dog with their constant clucking and waking me up at 4am by being my live alarm. I soon learnt that it is a lot easier to accept these strange and unique gifts that are bestowed on you than to refuse and have to explain your reasons to all 100 villagers time and again. Like why I refused to accept the cow that Mani so sweetly gave me in gratitude for having delivered his first baby boy after four girls. As though it was the hands conducting the delivery that determined the child’s sex.
But of all the different ‘fees’ that I have been offered the one that struck the deepest cord in my heart was a couple of years ago. I was 24 and for the first time in charge of the antenatal ward in my community hospital, when a lady nearly at term walked into the hospital. Hardly 21 years old, this was her 3rd pregnancy but she seemed anxious and worried. She was constantly surrounded by relatives yakking away nonstop while she barely muttered a word. Between my patient load and her relatives, though I really wanted to speak to her and comfort her, I never managed to get beyond saying her baby was fine after a routine check up everyday at morning rounds.
It was December 20th, a dark, cold Friday morning, low lying fog surrounded us as she went into labour. The mother had some bleeding and the baby’s heart rate was dropping, we were all worried about the situation but after some struggle and an assisted delivery, a beautiful baby was born, loudly protesting at the unceremonious way that we had welcomed her into the world.
After ensuring that the mother and child were doing fine, I handed the baby over to the nurse instructing her to initiate feeding and left.
That evening when I met the new mother I was surprised to see her quite low. I asked her what they had named the little darling, for which one of the relatives rather disinterestedly informed me, that they hadn’t decided yet and asked if I could suggest one. I named the little one ‘Lakshmi’ explaining to the family that since she was born on a Friday she would bring prosperity to the house.
The next day, I found the mother weeping. My first instinct was to check and make sure the baby was okay and I was happy to find her peacefully asleep. For the first time since her arrival, there was no relatives surrounding her and I slowly asked her what the problem was. In response all I got was another fresh burst of tears. Nothing I could t say or do seemed to help. Finally after about an hour I left making a mental note to myself to call one of my psych friends and gather information on post partum depression and if it could present like this.
The situation didn’t improve over the next few days, till I finally told the nurse to inform me the minute any of her relatives turn up as I had to speak to them urgently..
Around noon I walked into the ward where the young lady sat with a women whom from the family resemblance I inferred to be her mother. I asked to have a word privately with the older women, and that is how I came to realize the issue. It was a GIRL! “It’s her third girl child” said the grandmother, “her in-laws are not happy about it, they are still deciding weather to take her home or not.”
“Doctor can you please take this child, we will just pretend it was never born. Anyways if she grows up with you, she will have a good life. Let her be your fees”
I had heard of people having such ideas but had never really seen it. I was shocked, dumbstruck.
I heard myself saying “I’m a girl, I’m a doctor, I earn as much as any man, I support my parents, what makes you think it’s bad to be a girl?” I knew they weren’t saying anything against me, but instinctively I felt it sting like a personal insult.. So many years after independence, education, fight for equality and my glass house was shattered. I realized how much improvement my country needed, how much the mindset of people had to change.
I did all I could for that little girl, I called in the husband and in-laws and spoke to them, counseled them for days. I don’t know what happened to that family after they left the hospital, I would like to believe that I changed the mindset of at least one of the million families, at least for the sake of little Lakshmi.
Learn more about Dr. Renu Raghupati.