I find it amusing everytime I see an advertisement or hoarding highlighting ‘1411’ . Yes, I am talking of the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign taken up by ‘Aircel’ and lately joined by NDTV. It’s a fact that almost all the elite schools and page 3 crowd does know about the number “1411”. It’s almost unsocial and ‘not so in thing’ if one doesn’t know, doesn’t talk about or doesn’t show concern about the losing battle of tigers in India. I wonder whether someone actually counted them to the exact 1411 (the number originally was popped up by WWF in 2008 as the ‘average estimate of India’s wild tigers’ ). Pardon my ignorance but what’s so average about 1411? No new cubs born since then? Or the newborns got neutralized by the killings/deaths by the same count and thus the magic figure of 1411 remains static over the years! If we bring Tiger from the woods to India, will it make it 1412? ( is he not wild? Oh, okay, I get it, he is not Indian wild!)
I was curious and went through the official site of Aircel & NDTV sponsored campaign . First thing that strikes is the numbers (of people) registered on the site (joined the roar as the site boasts) pledging their support and the number is 229171. Well, I wonder what that means. Since I am totally ignorant and a bit cynical, I went through the page – what can I do? And the headings are i) Roar online – share concerns online from twitter to blogs, from youtube to facebook; ii) donate – for the cause?; iii) be informed; iv) speak up; v) Tiger reserves and vi) be the change. I went through each of these heads in detail and I am still clueless as to how can I save even a single tiger/cub sitting in my air-conditioned room and surfing internet. Is it not armchair concern for a cause where common people like us can do little? Yes, I agree that the cause is good and that tigers must be saved and that their numbers must increase but is this kind of cheap blaring an answer? Is it not the case where problem lies somewhere else (Reserves- answer lies not in making them ‘tourist reserves’ but to leave them untouched and unvisited), the culprit is somebody else (tiger mafia who is organized and does deal in tigers systematically and often with the collusion of lower rung forest officials & involvement of traders, including exporters, who all are aware of the illegality and yet do it blatantly )and the agency who can do something to save the tigers (Government agencies and law enforcing agencies) and when such a campaign in not aimed at any of them then what’s the purpose of such a campaign? Is it not a clear case of mis-targetting an advertisement campaign? Wait…in that case, is it not self serving for the agencies who have initiated this campaign to carve out a carefully manipulated image of ‘corporate social responsibility’ ?
We – the great Indian middle class, are basically innocent gullible lot given to emotions and do feel like doing something good (giving alms to beggars, feeding leftovers to cows, talking about poverty in five star seminars and so on) and it is this middle class urban Indian spirit that these corporate agencies are exploiting in the name of save the tiger. Most of us have seen a tiger either in a movie or in a zoo and it is one of the remotest things to our daily cores. The best way, I sincerely feel is to keep it that way and let the concerned responsible for its extinction be taken to task so that it never happens. The more we talk about, the more is the premium attached to the tiger and the bigger catch it becomes in the process. Its reverse advertising and we are doing more harm to the tigers than any good (the site actually has a map of India showing the locations of tiger reserves and the number of visitors to these reserves increased manifold ever since this campaign has been initiated!
Well, a positive feature of ‘save the tiger’ campaign is that it has a close approximation of the number of tigers ( it may not be exactly accurate though). Now coming to a more grim issue- are we aware how many human fetuses ( a fetus or foetus is after embryo stage and before child birth) are aborted illegally in India every year just because they happen to be that of a girl? Any guess? It’s atleast a million(some estimates actually fear it to be around 2.5 million per annum – a million female fetuses get aborted every year in India. And the irony is that nobody talks about it. A mindset for ‘son-preference’ has led to a situation where parents, not desiring to have daughters, go for sex selective abortion if the fetus is that of a girl. This results in a million girl fetuses getting aborted every year due to “gender cleansing”. This ‘silent genocide’ is leading to serious imbalances in Sex Ratio at Birth. Despite having strong laws, which forbid the disclosure of the sex of the fetus, it is routinely violated. And it is the greed of making fast and easy money that there has been a volcanic mushrooming of Ultrasound Scan Machine in the country. Most of the States don’t have the record of these machines and some States such as Andhra Pradesh where records are maintained show an alarming growth of about 150% in the number of scan machines in just three years in some of the most backward Districts such as MahboobNagar. The malaise which was initially confined to urban pockets in North India, mainly in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in early nineties has quickly spread to semi-rural, rural areas and almost now afflicts all parts of the country. Reasons can be many for not wanting a girl child- dowry system, prevailing mindset, boy looking after ‘vansh’ and so on but all these are excuses and excuses can’t justify a murder – it’s a silent gendercide we don’t wish to talk. We wish to be in a denial mode. The Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) is falling at an extremely alarming rate and the ongoing census will be a shocker. I only wish it’s not already too late.
We think it’s not happening around us? Consider this – the worst affected areas from female feticide are the richest, poshest localities of South Delhi – South Extension & Greater Kailash . The profile of a typical parents going in for female feticide is middle & upper middle income, literate, single family and someone who is totally aware that doing such a thing is illegal. And what does the Government do – start a campaign (http://www.igovernment.in/site/india-announces-cash-incentive-to-save-girl-child ) where financial aid is given to the parents to bring up their daughters. But is the meager amount offered as a dole a big enough incentive for the murderous parents not to do so? True to our mindsets, these schemes are aimed at families ‘Below Poverty Line’ or those belonging to socially disadvantaged classes such as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes! But the data reveals that SRB is better in all these categories and that sex selective abortions is done in educated, affluent and socially ‘advantageous’ families. The Government’s action is to ensure that nobody can blame them for not doing anything and basically a feel good factor with closed eyes and without application of mind.
So, where lies the problem and what does one do? The problem lies in the blatant misuse of scan machines for sex detection leading to illegal abortions if the fetus is that of a girl. There’s an Act called ‘Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic (prevention of misuse) Techniques Act 1994’ and it has to be implemented properly. There are instances where proper implementation of the Act has ensured that the SRB is restored in favor of girls . Let us be honest and think how many of those known to us have gone in for such sex selective abortions? Are we not a party to it by keeping quiet or continue to be in a denial mode? It’s something that’s happening right in front of our eyes. We can control it. We need not look for excuses to change mindsets and wait for the day when dowry no longer exists. We can arrest this feticide today and now.
And this is an area I feel campaign such as ‘Save the tiger’ should focus on. There is ‘Save the girl child campaign’ but it doesn’t have the same visibility and status. Lets re focus our priorities and do something we can and feel proud of.