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Womens Empowerment – Against all odds

FPJ Bureau | Updated on: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 08:26 AM IST

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Since modern gizmos that are easy to use today weren’t available then, the women concealed the bulky handy-cams in their sarees for carrying out sting operations.

Advocate Varsha Deshpande’s sting operations against doctors and hospitals that carry out sex determination tests have resulted in many convictions. She has been fighting the battle for equality and justice for women, and is now focusing on preventing child marriages and creating a political movement against the sale of liquor in villages, says Dharmesh R Vats

It is an irony that the problems faced by the girl child begin with her very existence. Other factors come in much later. Though India seems to have woken up to the menace of female infanticide since over one and a half decade, the steps taken by the government seem too late and too little. It is extremely difficult to arrive at the right figure of female infanticide, but several reports have placed the number in millions. If we go by the 2011 census statistics, the female-male ratio in India stands at 976 girls per 1000 boys.  Aginst this backdrop is Advocate Varsha Deshpande, a social activist who has been fighting a tough battle to bring about a change in this grim situation.

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Varsha realised that a girl child was unwanted in families when she saw her mother being pressurised for a son despite having three daughters. It was then that she remembered having seen the idol of a decorated Lord Krishna so ritualistically placed on a pedestal near pregnant women whenever she tailed her mother to baby shower ceremonies in her village. Every Indian family yearned for a son, almost always.

When Varsha, a law graduate from Belgaum, shifted to Satara, she joined some theatre groups to satiate her keenness to do plays. A play, Mulgi Zhali (a girl child is born) left a deep and long-lasting impact on her. She began working for the upliftment of women in the early 1990s. She set up a legal aid centre and began taking up cases and solving them within two months by sending applications to both the parties and inviting them together. The number of cases coming to her has been on the rise.

Till 2003, she worked on varied issues for women that included their mobilisation, setting up of saving groups, and fighting their domestic violence and dowry cases under her NGO, Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal. It was one interaction with her group members that shook her up. A few of her NGO’s members told her that they had not only used their earnings from working with her on getting sex determination tests done on their daughters-in-law, but had  also had the female fetuses aborted. This shattered Varsha. She decided to expose such corrupt doctors and hospitals.

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In 2005, Varsha and her team were successful in exposing and bringing to book an influential doctor couple of Beed, Sudam and Saraswati Munde. In 2007, Varsha set up Lek Ladki Abhiyaan to save the girl child. Over 40 sting operations carried out so far across Maharashtra have led to over 18 convictions and her movement itself has led to about 500 cases being lodged. What irks her, though, is the fact that many erring doctors get released on bail.

She says that most of the Corporate Houses her NGO approached for funds under CSR, weren’t keen to support the cause. “I think they are more interested in associating with issues that bring them higher visibility,” she rues. “The cause of the girl child is limited to only sloganeering of ‘Beti Bachao’. Surat badalne se kisi ko bhi matlab nahin hai”. Hence, sourcing funds has been an uphill task for Lek Laadki Abhiyan.

Varsha, a member of the National Inspection and Monitoring Committee to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act, has been expanding her activities. In December 2015, she led a group of women to Satar’s Shanaishwar temple  where women were banned entry. At present, her NGO is involved in preventing more than 30 child marriages. She is also active in voting against liquor shops in gram sabhas and shutting down illegal liquor shops. “We are trying to free villages in Satara and Kolhapur of liquor and also trying to consolidate a votebank of women against intoxication. We want it to take the shape of a political movement”.

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Published on: Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 12:05 AM IST