A silent hero, Dr Ganesh Rakh, running the Medicare Hospital Foundation Trust in the Hadapsar suburb of the western Indian city of Pune, Maharshtra does not charge any fees if the infant delivered are a girl. Dr Rakh, who started a small hospital in 2007, says that whenever a pregnant woman came for her delivery, all her relatives would come with the hope that the baby would be a boy. "The biggest challenge for a doctor is to tell relatives that a patient has died. For me, it was equally difficult to tell families that they'd had a daughter," he says.
"They would celebrate and distribute sweets if a male child was born, but if a girl was born, the relatives would leave the hospital, the mother would cry, and the families would ask for a discount. They would be so disappointed….Many told me that they had taken treatment to ensure the birth of a male child. I was surprised, as I wasn't aware of any such treatment. But they spoke about consulting a holy man, or would talk of putting some medicine into the mother's nostril to ensure she delivered a boy", says the doctor. In 1961, there were 976 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven in India. According to the latest census figures released in 2011, that figure has dropped to a dismal 914. The 2011 census figures were an eye-opener for Dr Rakh, who dotes upon his nine-year-old daughter, his only child. They made him realize how grim the situation really was.
On 3 January 2012, Dr Rakh began his own "crusade" - by launching the Mulgi Vachva Abhiyan (which translates from Marathi into "campaign to save the girl child"). "I decided I would not charge any fee if a girl was born. Also, since a son's birth was celebrated by the family, we decided we [at the hospital] would celebrate a daughter's birth", says the doctor.
He has also been organising marches through Pune's streets to convince people that a daughter is as precious as a son. Dr Ganesh Rakh calls his "tiny contribution" to improving the lot of the girl child in a country where a traditional preference for boys and an easy availability of antenatal sex screening has resulted in a skewed gender ratio.
"I want to change attitudes - of people, doctors. The day people start celebrating a daughter's birth, I'll start charging my fee again. Otherwise, how will I run my hospital?” he asks.
In the four years since he launched his campaign, 464 girls have been born in his hospital and he has not charged the parents any fee. Today, his efforts have begun to bear fruit - ministers and government officials are appreciating his work and even the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan has hailed him as a "real hero". Presently over 3,000 doctors from the interiors of Maharashtra and various other places in India have joined him in fighting social biases and prejudices against girl child. Some doctors, such as Dr Pravin Dungarvar who runs Anand Hospital at Kunjirwadi at Haveli Taluka, Maharashtra started charging half the amount in case a girl was born, in a bid to show solidarity with Dr Rakh's initiative. While in Solapur district, in Maharashtra Vinod Kekan, the ‘sarpanch’ of a remote village had announced a prize of Rs 10,000 to any person who gave information or helped stopped female feticide.