She checked on Google maps. Nangloi was 18 kilometres from the North campus of Delhi University. The metro yellow line got her there in less than an hour. A newly-constructed three-storied building stood behind the mesh of electric wires hanging from a half-bent pole. The exterior was tinted silver glass fitted into copper panels. A yellow board declared the name of the doctor, boasting several international degrees and medals in gynaecology. The receptionist asked her to sit in the waiting room.
“There were three other women there, all in their twenties,” she recalls.
Mitra will never be able to conceive. She was forced to switch to the school of correspondence courses in Delhi University. She and her younger sister are hardly let out alone.
Under the Indian Penal Code of 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, abortion was a punishable offence both for the woman and the abortionist till as late as the 1960s. Liberalisation of abortion laws across the globe led to a discussion on changing the abortion law in India in 1964, in the context of the maternal mortality rate. Even though it was illegal, a large number of women were attempting abortions through unsafe methods, often risking and sometimes losing their lives in the process.
What happened with Mitra is an example of how much female sexuality is controlled, moralised, and stigmatised. On the face of it, abortion is legal in India—unlike in a number of Western countries—but women have hardly any control over their reproductive future.
Prerna, 28, is a producer with an English entertainment channel in Delhi. “Because I live with my parents, I had to find the farthest possible clinic to get an abortion.” Prerna was working on a documentary on yoga at that point and was in a relationship with Satvik, who is the same age as her and also a media professional.
Bestowing personhood on the foetus is a popular tool of “pro-life” crusaders in the United States, and Indian politicians are not far behind. Last year in July, Maharashtra health minister Suresh Shetty informed the state assembly of his intention to “send a proposal to the Centre to apply Indian Penal Code Section 302 (murder) on those, including family members and medicos, involved in forced abortions of female foetus”.
Shorter version published by Firstpost on October 18, 2013