By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian police found 19 aborted foetuses dumped in plastic bags in the western state of Maharashtra while they investigated a woman's death after an abortion - uncovering what officials suspect is an inter-state female foeticide racket.
Police said on Monday they had teamed up with health officials to launch a major investigation into the case in a village in Sangli district near the border with Karnataka state.
A homeopathic doctor, suspected of performing illegal sex-selective abortions in the basement of his dispensary in the village, was on the run, police said.
Indian laws ban doctors and health workers from sharing an unborn child's sex with the parents, or carrying out tests to determine the child's gender. Only registered medical practitioners are allowed to perform abortions.
Nevertheless, female foeticide continues in parts of India, where a preference for sons runs deep.
Indian wedding customs mean girls are often seen as a huge cost with very little returns, partly because the practice of demanding dowries remains the norm, despite being illegal.
Sons, on the other hand, can inherit property, continue the family line, and play a vital role in important Hindu rituals.
Police were alerted by villagers after a 26-year-old woman died after undergoing an abortion at the clinic of the homoeopathist, who was not licensed to terminate pregnancies.
Their investigation led them to the foetuses in a sewer near the clinic, local media reported.
"We our presuming these could be female foetuses and our investigation is on this line," Satish Pawar, director of health services in Maharashtra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The recovered foetuses have been sent for DNA testing to determine their sex.
"We suspect radiologists in major cities would determine sex of the baby and direct cases to this doctor," Pawar said.
India's child sex ratio is 919 females per 1,000 males, according to government statistics. A 2001 government study had shown that Pakistan and Bangladesh had a better sex ratio than India.
Dwindling numbers of Indian girls, caused by the illegal abortion of millions of babies, has reached "emergency proportions", fuelling an increase in crimes such as kidnapping and trafficking, the United Nations has said.
A Maharashtra minister announced he would work with the Karnataka government to crack down on a trend of women seeking sex-selective abortions in border towns of the two states.
Investigation teams reached the village on Monday to seek out families who may have used abortion services at the dispensary and could direct them to ultrasound clinics they visited for sex determination.
Maharashtra officials said all health facilities in rural areas in the state would now be surveyed.
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)