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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 November 2005, 00:25 GMT
Religions target female foeticide
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Haryana

Swami Agnivesh addressing people in Haryana
Swami Agnivesh - 'save your daughter to save your religion'
A caravan of 25 vehicles and 200 people has been criss-crossing five northern and western states of India for the past 10 days.

The travellers are on a mission. They are campaigning against female foeticide, which has resulted in a gender imbalance in some parts of the country.

The campaign is being led by well-known religious leader and social activist, Swami Agnivesh.

"There's no other form of violence that's more painful, more abhorrent, more shameful," declares Swami Agnivesh.

The march started in Gujarat on 1 November, the Hindu festival of Diwali. It is due to conclude in Amritsar on 15 November, the birthday of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.

The campaign covers some of the areas which have the worst gender ratio in India - Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, and Gujarat. All of these states have less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.

"The crime has come to acquire such dangerous proportions in our society that the government is feeling very helpless. They think that unless people from the world of religion come forward and join hands and march together, the problem cannot be solved," says Swami Agnivesh.

He says religious leaders of various faiths, including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Jainism, are participating in the march.

Heads nod

Dressed in bright saffron robes and a saffron turban, Swami Agnivesh makes a striking picture.

And in the state of Haryana, his arrival is a cause of much excitement.

Haryana boy
Boys have traditionally been seen as superior to girls

Clusters of people wait by the roadside for a glimpse of the man. "If you want to save your religion, you have to save your daughter first. God created the same sun and moon for both the sexes, so who are we to discriminate against the girl child?" he asks a gathering of rural folk.

Heads nod in understanding. Marigold garlands appear from nowhere, and young college girls pester him for his autograph.

A decorated elephant carries him around the narrow streets in Hisar town in Haryana in a procession that lasts two hours.

There are horses, hundreds of people holding saffron flags and anti-foeticide placards, and school girls carrying swords.

A wedding band plays popular Bollywood numbers.

The march concludes at a square in the centre of the town where Swami Agnivesh addresses a huge public rally.

Travelling in Haryana with Swami Agnivesh is a Delhi-based Christian leader, Father Valson Thampu.

"The attack on the foetus does not begin in the womb, it begins in the minds of the human beings. And that's why we need to change the mindsets of the people. And only a spiritual revolution can bring about this change in mindsets," says Father Thampu.

Considered inferior

Experts say female foeticide in India is mostly linked to socio-economic factors.

Protesting against female foeticide
'No other form of violence that is more painful'

The girl child has traditionally been considered inferior and a liability.

It is an idea that many say carries over from the time India was a predominantly agrarian society where boys were considered an extra pair of hands in the farm whereas a girl was considered a liability for whose wedding the parents had to shell out huge dowries.

Swami Agnivesh says religion is partly responsible for the poor value accorded to the girl child.

"We may or may not be able to eradicate this evil completely," he says. "But a step has been taken in the right direction. As they say, instead of cursing the darkness, let's light a candle. And that's what we've been able to do."

Swami Agnives's words seem to have the desired impact on those who's come to hear him.

"No mother will ever kill her daughter willingly," says Ritu Bala, a college student.

"A woman goes for abortion only under pressure from her husband or her in-laws. It's wrong. I'll never do it."

Do you think the march against female foeticide in India will raise awareness? Are you aware of a gender imbalance in your part of India? Do you think female children are still viewed as inferior?

Your comments:

I am from Madurai, a southern part of India. The nearby villages femal foeticide does happen till date and is viewed as a normal practice especially among a specific community/caste. A sad heart breaking practice in a country where babies & women are worshipped as God.
Balachandran Kannan, Birmingham, UK

Anything to stop the evils of female foeticide is a welcome step.India is country where the age old and sterotyped views still prevail and are a fact of life. A nation of more than 1 billion people still look down upon their new born female baby. she's considered to be a burden on the family. On the other hand the birth of a male child is a time of celebration and joy .There are many socio-economic factors, which are responsible for female foeticide. It's most prevalent in the rural India but we do have cases from the urban areas too. Female education and women's empowerment can act like a catalyst and help in changing the status of women in India.
Nawal Thorat, Aurangabad, India

I tend to travel to India every year and whist the Indian Government is keen to implement laws to ban this evil practice, there will always be those individuals who find a way round the law. The only way to eradicate this evil is to start educating the Indian public that daughters are equal to sons and deserve the same opportunities whether it comes to education, employment or inheritance. Ajay Chowdhary, London, United Kingdom

This has been normal in India for ages, a march of 200 people won't change anything unless the government steps forward and acknowledges they have a problem, India never accepts any problems as their own, they only blame outsiders
John McAvoy, Chicago USA

India targets female foeticide
15 Feb 03 |  South Asia
India's lost girls
04 Feb 03 |  South Asia

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