The Big Story
For seven months in Chandigarh, a 10-year-old child was raped by her uncle. When it was discovered that she was pregnant, the courts – first a divisional court in Chandigarh and then the Supreme Court – acting on the advice of a medical board, denied her abortion on health grounds. Finally, she gave birth at 35 weeks, through a Caesarean section, apparently unaware of what was happening to her body. In this whole sordid episode lies a story of institutional failure.
The divisional court’s decision came when she was 26 weeks pregnant and the Supreme Court’s at 32 weeks. Between the two rulings lies six weeks of precious time in which the case would have wound through the tortuous processes of the justice system. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows abortion till 20 weeks. But the act allows for extensions in case of emergencies where there is a risk to the mother’s life. Last month, the Supreme Court allowed an abortion at 26 weeks on the grounds that the foetus had fatal abnormalities. In this case, the board ruled an abortion at that advanced stage would risk the mother’s life, but other experts in the field felt that an actual delivery would be even more so. It has also been pointed out that the board ruled a termination was not safe for either the mother or the foetus, when its primary concern should have been the 10-year-old girl’s life.
To prevent a repetition of this grim story, there need to be several changes in the laws and attitudes that govern institutions. First, activists argue that the government guidelines for safe abortion should allow termination for all victims of sexual abuse, and especially for girls under 18. Second, such cases need to be treated as medical emergencies. Courts cannot be expected to have the expertise to judge whether an abortion is clinically safe and time is lost in setting up ad hoc medical boards. Finally, they point to an institutional bias against abortion. Such prejudices have meant that safe, legal abortions are rarely available for women, pushing them towards unsafe procedures. Until these steps are taken and these attitudes corrected, courts and governments will have participated in an institutional violence against women.
The Big Scroll
Subha Sri B argues that to refuse that to deny abortion to the 10-year-old rape survivor is to inflict fresh violence on her.
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Nabina Das on how Partition entered poetry:
Smeetha Bhoumik feels inspired by Govind Nihalini’s Tamas. She thinks that forgetting history and past violence will lead to a repeat of the same mistakes. “Therefore, it is very essential to remember, document and share knowledge about our violent past,” she said.
Bhoumik trusts poetry as the apt medium of communication in this regard. Hence she writes that it’s a “kintsugi touch” that we “bring to our wounds of old...planting love where darkness steals.”