Pune: The peace in Pune's Hadapsar area was suddenly shattered by a man banging away at a steel plate with a stick and ward boys and nurses running on the street offering "congratulations" and offering local peda sweets to people on the streets.
The commotion was created by the staff of the Medicare Hospital to celebrate the birth of a female child.
Locals are familiar with Medicare Hospital's revolutionary policy of free delivery for all females born there, propounded by its founder and owner, Dr. Ganesh Rakh.
"We provide all women free delivery, whether normal or complicated, and post-delivery care - for every girl child born here, since 2007. Till date, we have supervised the birth of around 270 females here," a proud Rakh, 39, told IANS.
Terming it as his "solitary campaign (in India) to prevent female foeticide and empower women right from birth by fighting gender bias and prejudices", Rakh said the hospital gives such free deliveries despite incurring a loss of an average of Rs.10,000 for a normal delivery and around Rs.25,000 for complicated cases requiring surgery.
"In fact, many affluent families even offer money, but we direct them to help out the poorest women like labourers and domestic workers so they can avail of three months' maternal leave without bothering about work. Like other women are given three or six months post-delivery bed rest - don't the poor women also deserve the same privilege?" Rakh asked.
When he started the hospital in 2007, after begging for loans from friends and relatives, most people, including his family members, ridiculed his plans. "If you don't charge for female child's deliveries, how will you repay your Rs.1 crore ($166,000) loans," aghast lenders demanded.
The son of a labourer, Adinath (now, 67), and domestic worker Sindu (now, 60) Rakh who qualified as a medico in 2001, set up a roaring private practice, simultaneously completed his gynaecology specialization and went ahead with his pet plans from day one which was the birth anniversary of social reformer Savitribai Phule (Jan. 3, 2007).
Hailing from a very poor family in Solapur, his parents migrated to Pune in search of work. As Rakh was good in academics, he secured scholarships in school and college till his medical degree.
"It is now my turn to repay society," Rakh said, though jeered and scorned even by the medical fraternity and piling up losses.
"Initially, nobody supported me. Later, my senior gynaecologist, Dr. Iqbal Shaikh, waived off charges for any female child's delivery. Then followed my two paediatric surgeons, Anil Chavan and Santosh Shind," Rakh said.
Soon, the entire hospital staff joined in and did not complain if their salaries were delayed occasionally as it was for a noble cause, Rakh explained.
In another major initiative by Aug. 15, Rakh will open a 15-bed neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) - also free for all female infants born premature or with serious problems.
The small candle lit by Rakh started emitting a bright flame and his reputation spread far and wide - in Ahmednagar, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Aurangabad and other parts of the state.
Since the past one year, Rakh has become a frequent traveller to remote places in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana for advising hospitals how to take up the cause.
"During the (2014) Lok Sabha elections, in a small town in Haryana, I was shocked to see the local men ready to vote for any party which could get them married! Most were in their late 30s and 40s and still bachelors; the effects of not protecting the female child in the past were now evident," Rakh said.
He said that the practice of female foeticide appears more rampant among the middle-class, upper-class and affluent sections than the poor classes.
"In cities, millionaires also desire a male child. If it is a female, the families are disappointed and abhor her; even the mother ignores her newborn child," he lamented.
For those coming for a "second chance" they conduct illegal sex-determination tests before going ahead with the pregnancy and others who beget a male child first simply avoid a second pregnancy - "just in case it is a female". The ill-effects of this will be visible after a few years, Rakh cautioned.
His services to society notwithstanding, the state and central health authorities have maintained a pregnant silence on his endeavours so far, especially on his pleas to enforce a blanket ban on all kinds of sex determination tests.
"Nowadays, sex tests are carried out through simple blood tests, conducted in the privacy of people's homes after six weeks pregnancy, by the local pathology lab. The authorities are sleeping over this. The era of sonography tests is passe. The central and state health ministries must tackle this seriously," Rakh urged.
However, Rakh, supported to the hilt by his father and helped by his wife Trupti and their sole daughter Tanisha, vow to continue the struggle - till society equally treats the birth of a male or female child.