On April 18, 24-year-old Lakshmi Manigandan stepped into the Nakshatra hospital in Vazhapadi in Tamil Nadu to determine the sex of her unborn child. The pregnant woman already had a girl child who was two years old and was anxious to know if the baby she carried was female. She had been told that a doctor she was referred to in the hospital will give her the information she needed.
She paid a female medical practitioner, Dr.Selvamba, Rs.4000 and a quick scan later she was told that hear fears were true. She was indeed carrying another female child.
On the very same day, the doctor allegedly convinced that having another female child was not advisable as it would be a 'burden' and promised to help abort it.
Dr.Selvamba took Rs.18000 from the family and supplied Lakshmi with abortion pills and the promise that the child will be aborted by the next day.
Two days later, members of the health department from Chennai sealed Dr.Selvamba's clinic for not having required documentation in connection to her scanning equipment. But it was already too late for Lakshmi.
On April 19th, when Lakshmi still didn't feel the effects of the abortion pill, Dr.Selvamba gave her another dosage. That is when the excessive bleeding began. With no intensive care unit in place or facilities to care for the complications her patient was facing, Dr. Selvamabal then proceeded to remove the patient's uterus. It was only after this that she admitted that she was ill equipped to deal with the case and Lakshmi was referred to a multi-speciality hospital in Salem.
"It was too late by then, she was there at the hospital by 6 pm and died at 9.30 pm," says superintendent Kamalakannan from the Directorate of Medical Services. "We were on our way back to Chennai from Vazhapadi when we were informed of the death. So, on Monday, we went back and arrested Dr.Selvambal and booked her under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act," he tells TNM.
Dr.Selvambal is only the second person in the state to be arrested under this Act which aims at stopping female foeticide. The main purpose of the Act is to ban the use of sex determination techniques (after conception) and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex selective abortion. Under the Act, no laboratory or centre or clinic is allowed to conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
The first doctor from TN to be arrested under the Act was a practitioner from Salem, a raid at that doctor's clinic led police to the Vazhapadi facility.
"We had heard from our ground sources that the Saravana scan centre in Salem was conducting sex determination tests. So we took a pregnant woman with us to trap the doctor at the clinic red handed. We gave her Rs.4,000 and sent her into the centre," explains Kamalakannan.
The suspect in question, Dr. Dhamayanthi had already faced charges under the PCPNDT Act thrice and was even forced to pay fine in the court once. The other two cases are under trial, according to the officials. Scanning machines have been seized from her in the past and deposited in the Government hospital.
"But she continued to conduct illegal scans by buying machines in the black market," says Kamalakannan. "So, this time around we caught her red handed with a person we sent and booked her for sex determination".
"It was when we were waiting outside Saravana scan that another patient told us about Dr. Selvambal," says Kamalakannan.
The team set out to capture the practitioner red handed too but the pregnant woman they had employed for the purpose complained of fatigue and requested to be excused. With no 'set-up' in place, they could only pull her up for lack of documentation. Doctors were expected to keep records of pregnant patients for upto two years.
"When we were informed of the maternal death, we went back and investigated Dr.Selvambal. She initially denied having treated the patient. But we then found blood tests she had conducted. We arrested her immediately," says Kamalakannan.
But he feels his mission was not completely successful.
"Lakshmi's two-year-old child came up to and asked for her mother, it was just so saddening," he tells TNM. "But with such strong evidence against these doctors, we will ensure they face jail-time for what they have done," he adds.
Salem Collector Rohini Bhajibhakare who was aware of the raids tells TNM that these stringent measures to curb female foeticide in the district will continue. "We know these illegal activities are underway in certain pockets. So we are calling upon the people, men and women to help us stop it," she says.