Friday, August 31, 2007

Navnoor: "New Light"

A recent piece in the UK Sunday Times speaks to the epidemic of "Gender Genocide" which statistics suggest has impacted nearly a million baby girls each year. The article focuses on a village called Dera Mir Miran, a prosperous community in terms of farming yet less prosperous when accounting for the number of girls born there.
[The village] saw the birth of four babies in the first six months of this year. Three were boys, just one a girl. The baby girl’s parents named her Navnoor, meaning “New Light”. But her mother wept because she was not a son. Navnoor’s mother, Jasmit Blaggan, moved in with her husband’s family when she married, as is the norm in India. When her mother-in-law visited her in hospital after giving birth to Navnoor, she found Jasmit crying. “I was not happy that I had a second daughter. I thought about the cost of dowry and I knew a second girl was not needed,” says Jasmit, her broad smile softening the harshness of her words. Jasmit is not alone in her concern for the future. Although sex-selection tests have been illegal in India since 1994, unwanted female babies are now being aborted on such a staggering scale that it is estimated India has lost 6 to 10m girls in the past 20 years, a large proportion of the abortions being carried out at five- to six-month term.

Regardless of the legality of sex-selection tests, it is clear that many of the areas physicians do not feel threatened by the existence of a law banning such practices. Their creative ability to convey the information cannot be underscored:
Many doctors skirt the law forbidding disclosure of the sex of a foetus by using signals such as handing out pink or blue sweets or candles after an examination. Some families talk instead of “miscarriages”. Given the demographics of villages like Dera Mir Miran, it seems many such “miscarriages” must have occurred.
The piece becomes increasingly disturbing as it discusses the quantitative evidence behind the problem.
nationally the number of girls born per 1,000 boys was 927. The natural birth rate globally is around 950; in China it is 832. But in Fatehgarh Sahib in 2001 it was 754, and in some villages less than 500. In Dera Mir Miran it was just 361.
The consequences of this practice are large and impact the human rights of women within the country.
Far from the shortage of women increasing their worth and standing in society, as some might imagine, the result is the opposite. Women are now being trafficked in increasing numbers from Indian states where sex ratios have declined less rapidly. Some are sold into marriage. Others are forced to engage in polyandry – becoming wife to more than one man, often brothers. Those that fail to produce sons are often abandoned, sometimes killed. This further perpetuates the cycle of prejudice and injustice, ensuring many women themselves prefer to give birth to a son to ensure no child of theirs suffers a similar fate.
India, similar to China, will shortly be piloting a project to make cash payments to couples when they register the birth of a daughter and later when they immunise her and enrol her in school.
Yet when Dr Bawa starts to discuss the reasons for it happening, the fact that this district has the lowest ratio of girls to boys anywhere in India seems less surprising. Initially he says the ratio is probably not as low as it seems, since parents immediately register the birth of a son but sometimes fail to register the birth of a daughter “because they are unsure she will survive”. Then Bawa changes tack and says the low ratio is happening naturally. “Naturewise,” he says, it is happening “just by chance, not related to female foeticide”. This may be due, he says, to “diet” or “behaviour and genetics” or “climate change”.
There's not enough space to devote to the stories of the women they discuss in the article, so I would recommend reading the piece completely.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Role of Religion in HIV/AIDS Awareness

There was a recent health-related post on SikhNet which discussed one Sikh activist's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS. Dr. Raghbir Singh Bains tells us about his experience with HIV/AIDS research across the globe and speaks about the struggles of educating the community about HIV/AIDS in Punjab.

I studied the menace of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda but shame shrouded every where in the world. It has been my personal experience that about ten years ago I was discouraged and tried to be dispirited by a number of religious and social organizations in Punjab (India), asking me not to talk about this evil in public. The community leaders at that time were under the wrong perception that talking about pre-marital, extra-marital sex and adultery in public was immoral and unethical.

What is the role of religious beliefs in understanding and sympathizing with those who have been infected with HIV or diagnosed with AIDS?

As a result of notional misunderstanding of philosophy, religions in the past denounced those who fell ill with the virus that causes AIDS. Such religious forerunners advocated that fate of the victims was divine punishment for their immoral behaviour. They believed that those who die of AIDS, will go direct to hell. Surely, the followers at that time fell short to understand the inner depth of the religious concepts. They forgot to conceptualize that service to sick, needy and vulnerable people was in fact the leading service to the humanity and Almighty Lord. Inattentiveness of social and religious overlords provided little or no support or co-operation to people struggling against the disease due to the nature of its main modes of transmission, including sex chaos and intravenous drug use. Instead of helping the needy people, even the political leaders used human beings either as a commodity or an object of political manipulation or an element of the production and consumption machine only.

The piece goes onto discuss how Sikh leaders have responded to the growing epidemic in Punjab.

Religion provides us with important moral and ethical guidelines and supports us in addressing the day to-day problems mounting in the society. Keeping in view the universal challenges thrown out by HIV/AIDS, the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib (temporal and spiritual throne of the Sikhs) issued an appeal to the global people during the year 2006 to help curb the menace of AIDS in the world. The Jathedar also led the huge rally from Amritsar to Khadur Sahib (India) in which thousands of youth participated. Such constructive campaigns are needed to be organized by other religious and spiritual leaders to stem the transmission of HIV.