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'Religion's anti-abortion stance counters save girl child campaign'

Written by: Staff

Ahmedabad, Apr 10 (UNI) Even as several religious leaders and wellness preachers like Sri Sri Ravishankar and Chidanand Saraswati have come forward to work against unabated gender selective abortions, social activists working for the cause have not been too enthusiastic about it.

While some fear that as most of these gurus talk of abortions as ''hatya'' (murder), this could have implications on the women's right to abortion in general, others feel that many also make contradictory statements, which sometimes reveal an ''anti-woman'' attitude.

While admitting that the religious leaders can influence the way people think, Ms Trupti Shah, of the Vadodara-based Sahiyar Stree Sanghathan, pointed out that they mostly speak of abortions in general and that goes against the women's reproductive rights.

''They condemn abortion. No religion allows it, be it Christianity or Hinduism,'' she said.

Women across the world had had to fight for years to get this reproductive right, though in India it was easy because of the booming population problem. In many cases, women may need to abort as they have no control over their sexuality and have no right to say no in this male-dominated society. Abortion is a right over one's body, but it cannot be used to discriminate on the lines of gender. There is fine line of differentiation,'' she told UNI.

She said the Gujarat government is involving many religious leaders and kathakars in its 'Beti Bachao Andolan' (Save the Girl Child Campaign). Most of them call for stopping abortions altogether. So one has to explain the differentiation between abortions and sex selective abortions as such. Women cannot be denied their reproductive right, which has been accepted by all UN Conventions, she emphasised.

Agreeing with her, Ms Ilaben Vakharia of CHETNA, who has been campaigning against female foeticide in Mehsana district, notorious for having the lowest sex ratio in Gujarat, with a bit of orientation, said the religious leaders could help in making people aware of the fallout of their actions and mobilise them to take an oath against such discrimination.

They could help the cause if they emphasised on equal status for women, give them rights to perform certain rites like lighting of the pyre, which till date is exclusively reserved for men, she stressed.

UNFA's Gujarat programme coordinator Rajeev Tewari said, ''All sections of the society including the saints and religious leaders, could be involved to take on the menace which has assumed alarming proportions in the past decade.'' There has been a national decline from 945 to 927 in the number of girls per 1,000 boys aged 0-6 between 1991 and 2001 in the country, with Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, showing a drastic decline to fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.

At a recent convention organised by the UNFPA, religious leaders had pledged to fight female foeticide through their 'pravachans' (discourses). Stating that female foeticide is a 'crime' against the whole society, Sri Sri Ravishankar had said, 'We need to tell people that (by indulging in sex selective abortions) they are ruining the lives of millions and bringing a bad name to our ancient traditions.

We must make them realise it is a sin to kill and can bring in the 'ahimsa tatva' or change the mindset. We can use the good offices of all the saints to promote the cause.'' Sayeed Kiberia from Ajmer Dargha Sharif had said by indulging in such abortions people are trying to interfere with the Nature's process. ''Life is God's gift. It is unfortunate we still differentiate between boys and girls.'' Swami Chidanand Saraswati had said people should realise that if one lady is lost, then the whole chain (of reproduction) is broken.

''From where will you bring Laxmibais and Kalpana Chawlas, if you are killing the source,'' he asked.

Father Cedric Prakash, a social activist in Gujarat, said that as per the Catholic Church, abortions are not acceptable and non-negotiable. ''Sex determination tests are against the rights of women and absolutely unethical. Religious leaders can contribute by making people aware about its fallouts. As people listen to them, they can use their good offices to influence them. One can have religious injunctions like 'God does not permit this'. They can also write and make their views public. This will definitely impact people,'' he told UNI.

Kathakar Asaram Bapu who in his discourses often focuses on social issues, in a message spoke of abortions in general as a sin and mentions sex selective abortions in that context. Cautioning women against it, he said, ''if they do so, they may get momentary happiness, but not bear children in their next birth.'' Gujarat University's Sociologist Gaurang Jani said, ''Religious leaders can be help to propagate the message of equality to women but only to a certain extent. They can influence people but not too intensively.'' Sometimes, they make contradictory statements which reveal an anti-woman attitude. On one hand they refer to woman as 'Mother' and eugolise her as Sita, and emphasise on a subservient role for them to maintain the balance in society.

What is more important is spreading education to all parts of the country, he told UNI.


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