By Varsha Torgalkar for Youth Ki Awaaz:
While probing death of a woman during an abortion, Maharashtra police have stumbled upon a major illegal abortion racket run by several doctors from Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Total 13 people, including three doctors, have been arrested so far. Police also found 19 foetuses buried near a stream in the village where the illegal abortions were done.
The probe started after Sunil Jadhav, the father of 26-year-old Swati Jamdade who died while undergoing an abortion at Bharati Hospital in Mhaisal, lodged an FIR. Swati Jamdade had died on March 1 at the Bharati Hospital in Mhaisal. On March 5, police found 19 foetuses, most of them decomposed, and sent them for a DNA test to Sassoon Hospital to determine their gender. Police have also arrested Dr Babasaheb Khidrapure, a 42-year-old homoeopath and owner of the hospital where Swati was undergoing an illegal abortion and lost her life.
During the investigation and search of the hospital, police came across startling facts. The two-storey hospital, that Khidrapure had illegally been running since 2009, did not have a registration that is mandatory under Bombay Nursing Home Registration Act. Despite being a homoeopath, Khidrapure’s hospital had an operation theatre, X-Ray machine and a stock of allopathic drugs. It should be noted that homoeopaths are not allowed to perform surgeries or prescribe allopathic medicines. Police also seized a huge stock of Unwanted Kit 200mg. The kit consisted of Mifepristone 200mg and Misoprostol 200mg that are used for abortions.
The superintendent of police in Sangli, Dattatray Shinde, who is leading the probe, said, they have arrested three doctors including Khidrapure, two medicine distributors, four agents, husband of the deceased woman and two assistants of Khidrapure. Dr Srikrishna Ghodake, a homoeopath, was arrested from Belgaum, Karnataka and two sonography machines were seized from his hospital. Another doctor, Ramesh Devagikar, was arrested with two sonography machines at his hospital in Bijapur, Karnataka.
Khidrapure and other doctors involved in the racket used to send women or couples, interested in knowing the sex of their child, to doctors like Ghodake or Devagikar in Karnataka. After sonography tests, these patients are sent back to Khidrapure or other doctors in Maharashtra for abortion. “That is why we did not find anything suspicious during the probe at Khidrapure’s hospital,” said Shinde.
Dhananjay Argade, a social activist who runs NGO Snehalaya that conducts awareness drives against foeticide, says: “All registered sonography machines in Maharashtra are connected to respective collector offices. Unlike Karnataka, Maharashtra government can track irregularities by finding out the number of tests done and kids born in the districts. So, people from Maharashtra go to hospitals in villages of Karnataka-Maharashtra border that are hardly 4-25 km away.”
The doctors in these shady hospitals conduct abortion mostly in the night. Patients are told to park vehicles far away from the hospitals. Doctors don’t even check blood pressure or blood count of women before the medical procedure. They do the abortion within two-three hours, and women are discharged in another two-three hours. Even if a medical officer or officials of health department get a tip-off, they are unable to reach the hospitals soon and so, these doctors don’t get caught easily, said Argade.
The doctors charge ₹5,000 to ₹10,000 per patient for sonography and ₹25,000 to ₹50,000, depending on patients’ economic condition, for abortion.
One of the police officers on the condition of anonymity said: “Agents play a key role in connecting patients to doctors. The agents look for couples interested in sex selection test and get them to the doctors. Often, people approach the agents. These agents get ₹1,000 to ₹2,000 as a commission from doctors for getting a patient for sonography and ₹5,000 to ₹10,000 for an abortion.”
What is shocking is that often, to earn easy money, doctors who conduct sonography send the couples for abortion by lying about the gender of the foetus.
Dr Sanjay Salunkhe, a civil surgeon in Sangli and a member of the team that is providing technical assistant to investigating team, confirmed: “People don’t understand medical terms or sonography/X-ray machine reports. They are given reports stating that the foetus is female. These patients on knowing they have girl child go for abortion to the doctors involved in the same racket.”
This is how the couple never comes to know that the foetus they are going to get aborted is male. These unscrupulous doctors have aborted several male foetuses, he said.
Social activists say that doctors and health officials were well aware of the racket. Nana Kambale, a social activist from Mhaisal, said: “Primary Health Centre is 200 ft away from Khidrapure’s hospital. The PHC staff needs to visit all clinics and hospitals every month. How is it possible that they never doubted that these hospitals that were not just unregistered but was also run by homoeopaths? Why didn’t they inform police or report the matter to the higher authorities?”
Recovery of the decomposed foetuses near the village stream wasn’t very unusual for the residents of the area. The villagers had sent several letters to the health department and collectors, informing them of the illegal activities at the hospital. After receiving one such letter in 2014, the former collector formed a committee, comprising the civil surgeon and district medical officer, to investigate the matter. But, despite the hospital having no valid registration, the committee declared that it had found nothing suspicious.
The district health department also found two more unregistered hospitals run by homoeopaths in the same village. These hospitals have now been served show cause notices.
“Mhaisal is a small village, and everybody knows about everything going on in this village. Poor people do not speak out for fear of their own security. The racket was busted this time because the father of deceased woman lodged an FIR and police had to begin a probe. Earlier, two women had died at the hospital, and condition of several women got critical during the abortion procedure. But the doctor managed to influence patients with money or threatened them against going to police by claiming political connections. The police, officials concerned and politicians are all aware but do not speak because they must be getting some percentage of the profits,” added Kambale.
Dr JM Momin, medical officer (MO) of Mhaisal, said: “We visit hospitals regularly. The doctors who ran the hospital earlier had registration. But the registration was not renewed after it expired.”
“Last year, Karnataka government had given a report to Maharashtra that more than 6,000 women had undergone sex selection tests in Karnataka in the last three years. But the state government neglected this report instead of taking concrete action,” said Varsha Deshpande, another social activist.