Dr Harshinder Kaur, Ludhiana-based paediatrician and writer, has adopted more than 300 girls and has spent 15 years fighting the evil of female foeticide in Punjab almost single-handedly.
She has won several awards for her work, including the Dheen Punjab Di honour from her state, the Rani Jhansi Award from the Indian government, International Woman Rights Activist award, Bhagat Puran Singh award, and Baba Farid Virasat Award and was recently featured among 100 women nominated for a Women and Child Development Ministry award.
President of the Harsh Charitable Trust, Patiala, Kaur is also the author of several award-winning books and papers, including the best children’s book award from the Bhasha Vibhyag Punjab for ‘Dr Massi di Kahaniyaan’.
Excerpts from an interview with SheThePeople.TV.
What made you take up the cause of the girl child?
I attended a medical camp in a remote area of Punjab along with my husband, Dr Gurpal Singh, where I witnessed a scene that still haunts even though it took place 20 years ago.
Outside the village, a pack of wild dogs was tearing apart the body of a newborn girl child on a garbage dump. The villagers told us that the baby had been dumped by her mother because the mother’s in-laws had threatened to fling her and her three older daughters out if she gave birth to another girl.
I am the fifth child and the fourth daughter in my family. I never faced any discrimination due to my sex ever, in my house. That was the first time I came face to face with the grave threat of female foeticide and infanticide. This tragic incident gave me my mission in life and I decided to dedicate my life till its last breath to saving the girl child.
You have won many awards. Which of them is dearest to you?
Every award and honour is dear to me, but receiving an award from the President of India in January 2016, and having lunch with him thereafter was special.
Another honour which is very close to my heart is when an aged farmer from a remote village in Punjab who was so moved by my speeches that he brought a pot of saag and homemade kheer for me.
How do you fight female foeticide?
I attend social outreach programs conducted by NGOs and social organisations and deliver lectures to educate people about the ill-effects of gender discrimination. I have addressed around 223 schools, colleges and social functions over the years, and use radio and television to propagate my message. My articles on these subjects are widely published in various newspapers and magazines in India and abroad.
What are the programmes and awareness functions you organise?
When I started working 20 years ago, there was no awareness regarding these social evils. Now the general population is aware, and the governmental machinery is also sensitised. Steps to correct the skewed sex ratio are being undertaken at multiple levels. Some improvement is visible, but there is a long way to go before the curse of gender discrimination is wiped away.
I understand that until the underlying reasons responsible for perpetuating these evils are taken care of, mere laws cannot rectify this disturbed mental state. But I am encouraged when people respond to my messages.
What made you take up writing?
While interacting with my patients and their mothers, I realised that no credible information about the health and diseases of children was available to the public in their own language. So I decided to write about diseases in children in Punjabi. Slowly the writing expanded.
When I hear the tragic stories of my patients and their mothers, I suffer tremendous mental anguish which is relieved when I write their stories. I have written 36 books so far, urged by my late father who was a great Punjabi writer.
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