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Sunday June 24, 2:57 PM

Indian religious seers call to end female foeticide

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By Anirban Roy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top religious leaders came together in New Delhi on Sunday to make a passionate plea to end a growing trend of aborting female foetuses.

Prominent seers representing a cross-section of faiths appealed to people, quoting from holy books and religious texts, to put an end to the practice, calling it "cold blooded murder."

"Female foeticide is a crime against humanity. People forget that to carry on with life, a girl child is a must," said Swami Jayaendra Saraswatiji Maharaj, the Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Kanchi, one of Hinduism's most revered monks.

The convention was organised jointly by the Indian Medical Association, the National Commission of Women and UNICEF.

Hindu seers dressed in traditional saffron robes and a naked Jain sadhu quoted from ancient vedic texts and scriptures on the role of women in Indian society, calling her a life giver, even a goddess.

"Women are forced to abort their female foetus owing to family pressure and the practice of dowry is responsible for this," said Swami Agnivesh of the Arya Samaj, referring to the widespread South Asian practice of men demanding huge sums of money and gifts from the bride's family during marriage.

Instances of brides who are unable to meet the demand being tortured, and sometimes killed after they are married, occur frequently, authorities say.

INFLUENCE MASSES

India's patriarchal society has traditionally preferred sons to daughters and the preference continues to be strong in the country's rural and semi-urban areas.

A 2001 census showed the country of 1.027 billion people had only 933 females for every 1,000 males, down from 972 in 1991.

A January report in the Indian Medical Association's "Family Medicine India" journal said it estimated about five million female foeticides are carried out in India every year.

Appeals from religious leaders would go a long way in curbing the trend as they wield significant influence over the masses, experts say.

A fall in the male-female ratio could lead to grave social imbalances, they add.

Experts and most religious gurus blamed the practice on the misuse of advanced medical technology like ultrasound and sonography to detect the sex of unborn babies and called upon the country's medical fraternity to end it.

The Shahi Imam of the Fatehpuri mosque in the Indian capital, Maulana Mufti Mukaram, told the convention foeticide was not allowed by Islam. "The detection of the sex of the unborn child has to be abolished to end this criminal practice".


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