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Film exposes sex-selective abortions of baby girls


By Babette Francis, 13 October 2012

Pro-lifers, and even those who are not particularly pro-life, have been repulsed by the selective abortion of female babies in the womb, and the killing or abandonment of baby girls after birth in countries such as India and China. These societies traditionally have a strong preference for male children. However, with the permissive abortion laws in these countries — or, worse still, compulsory abortion in China after the first child — there has been little anyone could do about it.

Radical feminists, usually vocal on issues of perceived discrimination, have been notably silent. How could they protest the selective culling of girls when the feminist mantra is “taxpayer-funded abortion on demand at any time up to birth for any reason”?

Two doctors, originally from India, now Australian citizens, decided to do something about “gendercide”, the selective killing of female foetuses and infants in some developing countries. Ajay Rane is founding professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at James Cook University, Townsville, and vice-president-elect of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). Dr Sanjay Patole is professor of neonatology at the University of Western Australia. It is understandable that these two doctors, one of whom delivers babies and the other who treats sick and premature babies, would be appalled by the killing of babies for no reason other than that they are female. But Rane and Patole have gone well beyond the call of duty. They used half a milliondollars of their own money to produce a film, Riwayat — When Traditions Kill, the message of which is that it is unacceptable to kill baby girls. It is a two-hour film in Bollywood style with several songs, and is aimed at the Indian mass-market for maximum cultural impact. Patole is the writer and creative director, while Rane is co-producer.

They conceived the idea for the film while working together in Townsville in the mid-2000s, often spending a lot of time trying together trying to save individual babies. But, after reading an article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, about the 10 million missing female births in India in the past two decades, they felt they had to do something about the girls who were being killed.

They decided against producing a documentary, thinking it would be ineffective in reaching the masses. So instead they wrote a story about rural women in India. The film Riwayat was completed in 2009. Completing production was not the end of their efforts — despite their winning awards at film festivals. Indian distributors were reluctant to show the film because of the strong taboos against discussion of a matter of national shame. The provision of ultrasounds to identify the sex of an unborn child so that the females can be aborted is illegal in India. I exchanged many emails with Sanjay Patole, trying to figure out how to help him publicise the film, and he would sometimes tell me how he had been up all night trying to save a premature baby.In 2010, when a United Nations regional conference on the Millennium Development Goals was held in Melbourne, Endeavour Forum Inc. had a booth at which we displayed pro-life materials, including a big poster advertising Riwayat.

Almost on cue, feminists from an adjoining booth (for abortion-provider Marie Stopes International) objected to our pro-life displays. Initially, we were ordered to take down our posters. I immediately went to see the UN director of the conference and mentioned the 100 million missing girls in Asia. Surely, I argued, the survival of girls was part of the Millennium Development Goals? He agreed we were entitled to display pro-life posters in our booth. The Marie Stopes females looked sulky when our posters went up again.

Now Professors Rane and Patole have achieved the big breakthrough — one of Bollywood’s major stars, Aamir Khan, appeared in a television drama that tackled the issue of gendercide. The drama was watched by millions of Indians. As a result, the taboos against discussing female foeticide and infanticide are beginning to crumble. In early September, Riwayat opened in 250 theatres across India.

Any profits from the film, after Rane and Patole have recouped their production costs, will be divided between two charities: half going to an NGO providing education against gendercide and the second to treating women who suffer fistulas and other injuries during childbirth.

Professor Patole is keen to have Riwayat screened in Australia and New Zealand. Anyone who has contacts with theatres or who can help should email him it <skpatole@hotmail.com>. Professor Rane has also recently been in the news warning about the brutal practice of female genital mutilation and arguing that education is essential to eradicate this cultural “tradition”, which appears to persist in some ethnic groups in Australia. There have been two recent prosecutions, one in New South Wales and the other in Western Australia, for this illegal operation.

Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons) is co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN