In the news: 8 wedding pheras, not 7, to end gender discrimination

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From InfoChange India, originally posted from Central Chronicle and Asian Age

8 wedding pheras, not 7, to end gender discrimination

Saat pheras (seven rounds of the holy fire) at Hindu weddings are passé. It is now time for eight pheras; the extra one is for not indulging in gender discrimination and female foeticide

Priests belonging to Gayatri Parivar, a spiritual movement centred in Jaipur and spread across the world, will now make couples take an additional eighth phera at the time of marriage, promising not to indulge in gender discrimination and female foeticide.

Manoj Sengar, a Gayatri Parivar priest in Kanpur, says: “We have launched this initiative from June 21. We will inform anyone who comes to us for marriage, and if they agree we will solemnise the wedding. If not, they are free to go elsewhere.”

The Gayatri Parivar, which vows to remove social evils and make the Hindu religion less ritualistic, is catching on with the young generation, with more people opting for Gayatri weddings that cut out vulgar displays of wealth.

“Female foeticide is not only a criminal act but also a social evil. The man-woman ratio is increasingly imbalanced. This will endanger the human species one day,” Sengar explained. Members of the movement feel the “eighth phera” will not irk other Hindu priests. “We are not altering any ritual, we are merely adding something and that does not damage the essence of the ceremony,” Sengar said.

The Parivar believes the declining female sex ratio highlights a grassroots problem. The large number of atrocities and growing violence against women, despite a new-found prosperity across the country, shows that the root causes of discrimination and violence against women and girls are not being addressed.

Social activists say there are 39.7 million fewer women in India than there should be due to the strong son-preference in Indian society.

India’s overall sex ratio has consistently declined over the years. From 972 females per 1,000 males in 1901, it fell to 933 in 2001. The census (2001) also registered a decline in the juvenile sex ratio (0-6 years), from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991 to 927 girls per 1,000 boys — a drop of 18 points.

Though the country’s overall population rose by about 21% between 1991 and 2001, the child sex ratio plummeted rapidly. The fall has been particularly sharp in states like Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Maharasthra, where the ratio has declined to less than 900 girls per 1,000 boys.

Source: Central Chronicle, June 28, 2010
Asian Age, June 27, 2010

Three stories from Tamil Nadu

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I want to link and excerpt Pushpa Iyengar’s column (Chennai Corner) in the Outlook this week. The link may not work after this week, hence the excerpt.

The first two parts of the excerpt are about neo-natal deaths and infanticide. She then profiles two outstanding members of the Indian Administrative Service’s Tamil Nadu cadre.

The citation: Pushpa Iyengar, Chennai Corner, Outlookindia.com, August 20, 2008.

The links:

http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080820&fname=chennai&sid=1
http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080820&fname=chennai&sid=1&pn=2

The excerpt:

Is Tamil Nadu Really Progressive?
Tamil Nadu is seen as a progressive state with many of the parameters on different social indices better than many other states in the country. However, here’s a shocker from no less than the health secretary V. K Subburaj. He says 40,000 infants die every year within a month of their birth in Tamil Nadu. India accounts for 10 lakh neonatal deaths every year. Low birth weight and anemia among mothers/ pregnant women are believed to be among the major reasons.

What is of even more concern to public health experts is that while the infant mortality rate (IMR) is 37 (number of deaths per thousand live births), the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) shows that there are pockets in the state where the IMR is as high as 54. Not surprisingly these are the western districts which include Dharmapuri, Salem, Namakkal, Nilgiris, Coimbatore and Erode where female infanticide and foeticide continues to be a scourge. The best performers are eastern districts including Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur, Ariyalur, Perambalur, Tiruchi, Pudukottai and Karur where the IMR at 28 is the lowest. Even Chennai and its surrounding districts including Tiruvallur, Vellore, Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Cuddalore and Tiruvannamalai were higher at 32.

Just because Chennai is a metro city with malls and metrosexual men, it does not mean attitudes towards girl children are any different. The latest instance is of Kuppusamy of Kasimedu who refused to accept his newborn daughter at the Government Kasturba Women’s Hospital, Triplicane, claiming that the midwife had told him that his wife Sonia had delivered a boy. This, despite Sonia and the doctors who delivered her telling him that his newborn was a girl.

Bringing Down Female Infanticide
But Sheela Rani Chunkath can be credited with significantly changing the social attitudes to female infants in the western districts back in 1996 when she was posted as the director of Reproductive and Child Health.Sheela Rani, currently chairperson of Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation, has been given the Prime Minister’s Award for Public Administration for 2006-7 and she met CM Karunanidhi this week to show him the certificate and medal.

She says that back in 1996, she had a female infanticide map of Tamil Nadu drawn up to find out how much and how widely prevalent this practice was. And it was a revelation as well as evidence of the practice. While the rest of Tamil Nadu showed a gender differential of 4.6, Dharmapuri showed 61.8, Madurai showed 31.1 and Salem showed 28.3. Female infanticide cases which were 3,004 in 1994 had gone up to 3,417 in 1998.

The strategy, she says, was to destroy the social legitimacy of the practice. A traveling street theatre was formed and 3,000 performances over 40 days were held. “The dramas not only flayed the practice of female infanticide but also opposed practices like a son lighting the funeral pyre.” This awareness campaign combined with improved health care facilities including 24 hour health care delivery facilities resulted in female infanticide coming down to 64.

A Feisty Collector
The illegal extraction of sand whether from the sea or river poses grave environmental dangers and therefore what Jothi Nirmala, currently collector in Kanyakumari, did was daring as well as beneficial. Her fight against illegal sand quarrying and illicit arrack as a Revenue Divisional Officer in Padmanabhapuram Revenue Division, Kanyakumari district, back in 1995 fetched her the Kalpana Chawla Award – a citation, gold medal and cheque for Rs 5 lakhs – at the hands of CM Karunanidhi on Independence Day.

“It was just like in the movies. My team chased down country-made wooden boats carrying sand,” says Nirmala. Despite threats – in fact her response to threats was to carry out raids – Nirmala seized 175 boats and 250 lorries used to transport the sand. Her allies were also women, suffering at the hands of alcoholic husbands, who would tip her off about illicit brewing. “Sometimes they even helped me seize bombs and lethal weapons,” she says. Who says honest officials are not given recognition?